I began my series of Le Madrine della Mafia Italiana with Assunta “Little Doll” Pupetta from the Camorra, this time we take a look at another ‘Lady of the Life’, but from the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta. Giuseppina Pesce, better known as ‘Giusy’, who in 2010, in an operation known as ‘All Inside’, turned government witness on her ‘Ndrine. Forty-one-year-old prosecutor Alessandra Cerreti (pictured left) had recently arrived in Calabria, she had an air of cool professionalism, always dressed meticulously, slim, with short, sophisticatedly neat hair. Cerreti had grown up as a child in Sicily, she left Sicily for Milan, where the Mafia was immensely disliked. She arrived in April 2009 and saw that no one was taking the women seriously. As you will read, women of the ‘Ndrangheta did not have it easy, so most prosecutors believed women played no role in the life.

Before we begin our look at Giusy, I’ll first give a brief introduction to a ‘Ndrine and the organised crime group based in Calabria, Italy the ‘Ndrangheta.

Giuseppina ‘Giusy’ Pesce
Giuseppina ‘Giusy’ Pesce

The ‘Ndrangheta formed in the late 19th century was always thought more as a rural type Mafia. However, from the 1990’s, the ‘Ndrangheta became the powerhouse of organised crime in Italy, spreading their wings far and wide, from London to Queensland, Australia and from the Netherlands, Europe to New York. The name ‘Ndrangheta is said to come from the Greek andragathia meaning manly goodness. ‘Ndrangheta is a collection of what is known as ‘Ndrina (‘Ndrine in the singular). These are the families that make up the ‘Ndrangheta. Our featured lady, ‘Giusy’ Pesce comes from the extremely powerful Pesce ‘Ndrine, her uncle Giuseppe ‘Don Peppino’ Pesce created the ‘Ndrine in the 1950’s, and along with the growth of the ‘Ndrangheta, the Pesce’s become a large organisation bringing in 100’s of millions in cash. On his death in 1992, the running of the ‘Ndrine fell to the Dons cousin and brother, Antonio and Salvatore to head up the family. Salvatore Pesce is the father of ‘Giusy’.

Giuseppina ‘Giusy’ Pesce
Giuseppina ‘Giusy’ Pesce

Giuseppina ‘Giusy’ Pesce was born to parents, Salvatore and her mother Angela Ferraro, on September 24, 1979 in the ‘Ndrangheta stronghold of Rosarno, Reggio di Calabria in the province of Italy located on the southern tip of the country.

Reggio di Calabria
Reggio di Calabria

Dare I say that the ‘Ndrangheta are misogynistic in their views of women, and the women of the ‘Ndrangheta are treated second rate very much, whilst also playing a part in the life. There is no secondary education for girls growing up in a ‘Ndrina of the ‘Ndrangheta also girls are not permitted to leave the villages/towns of their ‘Ndrine. So! At the time of her uncle “Don Peppino”s death in 1992, Giusy’s education was over, or at least school education.

‘Ndrangheta women would be used as; messengers, delivering pizzini’s, which are coded notes on folded up pieces of paper to those in hiding and to those in prison. They would launder money and in some cases be head of the family, issuing murder orders as well as running the family affairs. However, regardless of whether their husbands were dead or alive, any ‘Ndrangheta wife caught committing adultery would be beaten to death in front of the whole town. The wife of an imprisoned man would basically be placed under house arrest during his incarceration, allowed out of the house only to carry out basic chores; as in shopping, dropping the children off at school and so on. You can NEVER leave, not with your life, as an ‘Ndrangheta member. This is the environment that Giusy grew up in which culminated with operation ‘All Inside’.

She met her future husband around this time, Rocco Palaia who worked for the Sardignoli cousins a powerful ‘Ndrina in their own right; “After the birth of our first child, my husband began to treat me and our daughter badly,” Giusy would tell magistrates at the trial of her family. “He neither respected my role as mother nor his as father. I tried to leave him several times, but my family stopped me.” Giusy realised early on, that in order to gain more freedom than the women she saw, and friends she grew up with, joining the family business would be the only way. She took the typical route of smuggling messages to men in jail and laundering money. However, with her husband in prison, Giusy had no way of supporting her own family. Her father opened a supermarket in which Giusy worked, this was not to last long as the store was quickly placed in bankruptcy and was closed. She then went to work for her father-in-law which manufactured and produced crystallised fruits. It was here that Giusy broke a cardinal ‘Ndrangheta rule, as a married woman with her husband in prison, she met and fell in love with another man. As someone, personally, that has been in prison, it is not an uncommon event, however, for Giusy, it was a guaranteed death warrant, especially for a wife in a ‘Ndrina of the ‘Ndrangheta. Towards the end of 2009 Giusy began an affair, the man was Domenico Costantino, whom she had met at the factory her father-in-law owned. “The first man to respect me as a woman, the first whoever loved me” said Giusy from the witness box.

Also, in 2009 prosecutors started a campaign against the ‘Ndrangheta, they wanted to shut down the cocaine smuggling operation which was going through Gioia Tauro. Italy’s President at the time, Giorgio Napolitano sent messages of support, declaring war on the ‘Ndrangheta. On January 3, 2010, just as the sun was coming up on another cold winter’s day, the ‘Ndrangheta made it known they were up for the fight. At the judicial offices of Reggio Calabria, a bag was left by the passenger on a scooter, as they sped off the bag exploded – it was later reported the device was a gas cylinder with a piece of dynamite attached to it – apart from the decorative iron gates the damage caused was minimal, it was a message designed to show the ‘Ndrangheta will fight back.

Alessandra Cerreti, anti-Mafia prosecutor for Rosarno and Gioia Tauro, and her team went after the Pesce ‘Ndrine. So, on the morning of April 26, 2010 operation ‘All Inside’ was put into action. They raided private addresses and businesses in Milan, Bergamo, Reggio and Rosarno arresting 30 people, including 7 women. The charges ranged from Mafia association to murder, including drug smuggling, money laundering and extortion. Ten managed to escape, one of whom, was Francesco Pesce, the son of Antonio, Francesco Pesce was eventually arrested on August 9, 2011.

Cerreti, already with one woman scared for her life and that of her children, Lea Garofalo, as a witness, started to work on two more women, Giusy and her friend Maria Concetta Cacciola – whose husband Salvatore Figliuzzi, once held a gun to her head – both had married their husbands at a young age, both giving birth, before their sixteenth birthdays, to their first child, both had endured beatings and being isolated, their only escape, the brief moments spent together as friends only in their daily chore routine and when on family business. In 1981, Giusy’s cousin Annunziata Pesce, who had run off with a policeman, was kidnapped, and with her elder brother in attendance, who casually left after the murder, was shot.

Giusy, who was looking at a long prison sentence, was in a dilemma, if a mother is killed or sent to prison then the raising of the children falls to the ‘Ndrine. Giusy had three children, Elisea, Gaetano, and Angela, before she would be released, she knew her two daughter’s will be married off to ‘Ndrangheta men and her son will soon be part of the family business. This was not Giusy’s only problem, a local paper had reported that Giusy was arrested with a man who she was with. “Someone who betrays and dishonours the family must be punished by death,” she said. Aside from taking her own life, which Giusy knew would still mean her children will be taken in by the ‘Ndrine. There was only one way out for Giusy and Cerreti held all the cards.

Reluctant at first, Giusy – who was married at 13, treated like a slave and beaten, gave birth to her first child whilst still herself only a child, imprisoned in her own home – chose to assist the prosecution “It’s not what I want,” she said. “It’s what I must do for my children.”

I could never condone ratting. However. Tough one?

“You don’t live,” she once said, of the constrained existence of an ’Ndrangheta wife. “You just survive in some way. You dream about something, anything—because nothing’s worse than that life.” In desperation, Garofalo collaborated with prosecutors to put Cosco in jail. (The Women Who Took on the Mafia – Family loyalty made the Calabrian Mob strong, but its treatment of women was its undoing. By Alex Perry1)

David Breakspear
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