Secrets of the Sicilian Mafia’s ten years of crime in London

The London Daily News, March 12 1987

London learned yesterday of the arrival of the Sicilian Mafia in the capital, when a powerful godfather and his three lieutenants were jailed at the Old Bailey. They had been caught with consignments of heroin and cannabis worth a total of £78 million.

As yesterday’s London Daily News disclosed, this was only a fraction of their criminal work. From his palatial mansion in Surrey, Francesco Di Carlo moved heroin, cannabis and cocaine around the world, buying in the Far East, smuggling it through London in hidden compartments in furniture, and relaying it on to the lucrative black markets of North America.

A trusted aide of Sicily’s most famous criminal family, the Corleones, Di Carlo had been active in the United Kingdom since 1977. He is wanted by Italian police for drug trafficking and murder, and his family has been implicated in the assassination of some of Sicily’s most senior policemen, one of whom was shot dead after visiting London to exchange intelligence on Di Carlo.

Customs investigators arrested Di Carlo in June 1985 found he had been working with two other senior Mafia figures, Alfonso and Pasquale Caruana. They lived in equally luxurious homes in Surrey, and ran a secret network of Mafia accounts which laundered millions of dollars around the world. They escaped arrest, and are now on the run.

Di Carlo’s arrest has disclosed for the first time that Britain’s long immunity to the Mafia is over. Now, as the true picture emerges, it is clear that Di Carlo’s massive operation is not the end of the story. The Mafia’s roots in London run even deeper.

The Sicilian Mafia moved quietly into London more than ten years ago. The story of their secret operations in England since then goes far beyond the massive drug-smuggling ring whose destruction culminated in yesterday’s long jail sentences at the Old Bailey.

London has now joined Chicago and New York as a major centre for Mafia activity. Law-enforcement agencies in Britain, the United States, Switzerland and Italy have pooled resources to gather damning evidence that Sicilian gangsters living in the UK have:

* Made London a key staging post in their global heroin trade, valued at $1,000 million a year;

* Attempted to corrupt police and prison officers in order to evade justice;

* Invested in London property and companies to launder the profits from their crime;

* Ordered the murder of two senior policemen in Sicily and an Italian drug-smuggler in Holland Park.

Their discoveries are startling. Organised crime has never done more than flicker on the horizon of British crime, and the Sicilian families have never figured at all: New York mobsters have tried and failed to move in on West End casinos; City fraudsters have been known to deal with Mafiosi abroad; but the Sicilian crime syndicates, who have sunk their roots deep into the United States and other European countries like France and Italy, have never been found in Britain. Now, that innocent illusion has been shattered.

The Mafia moved into London in two phases, prompted on both occasions by their changing strategy in the international heroin market.

In 1976, they sent their first wave to set up phony London companies to absorb some of the huge profits they were making from heroin and then took advantage of their presence in London to open new drug routes, particularly for cannabis.

In 1982, they moved again. For more than ten years, the Mafia had been smuggling raw opium out of Turkey and Thailand, refining it into heroin and moving it on to the American market. The early refineries had been in Marseilles, but this French Connection was busted in 1972. They transferred their laboratories to Sicily and trained their own chemists, only to see them raided by the Italian police in the early 1980s.

They then came up with a new strategy – to refine the opium in its country of origin. But cargo from known heroin areas was liable to be searched as it entered the USA and so they looked for ‘neutral countries’ through which to channel it. They turned to London and moved the operation here into a much higher gear.

London is now known to have played host to at least three Godfathers. The first was Liborio Cuntrera, the uncle of Di Carlo’s associates Alfonso and Pasquale Caruana and part of a family heroin empire which has grown from the village of Siculiana in Sicily to straddle Europe, Canada, the United States and Venezuela.

He was moved from Montreal to London in 1976 with the task of building the new front for money-laundering. He rapidly set up a group of phony London companies, some of them using British businessmen, which pretended to trade goods between the UK and Italy to justify the transfer of ‘hot’ money between the two countries. He ran the London Connection until he died of cirrhosis of the liver on May 27 1982, aged 55.

He was succeeded by Francesco Di Carlo, who had already been active in London and who now moved here permanently. His first task was to ship Liborio Cuntrera’s body back to Sicily. From their mansions in Surrey, he and the two Caruana brothers built a multi-million-dollar conduit, which poured heroin, cocaine and cannabis into North America until it was destroyed by Customs. But at least one UK Godfather survives.

He is known to his associates as The Lily. He is not Sicilian, but he is the boss of a powerful Mafia family from the Puglie region in the heel of Italy, where the families work hand-in-hand with their Sicilian counterparts. In Puglie, his family has been deeply involved in drugs and protection rackets. Before moving to London in the late 1970s, he lived in the United States and married an American woman. He is treated with all the traditional respect afforded to a Mafia don, and those who have met him socially speak of his men in London kissing his hand to greet him.

With Di Carlo neutralised, The Lily is believed now to be the dominant Mafia figure in London. His right-hand man runs a popular West End restaurant, whose lease is owned by a Mafioso in Milan. He lives in a £600,000 house nearby. He has been questioned about smuggling cocaine and possessing firearms, but he has never been charged. He boasts of having had an affair with a London policewoman. Italian police have had warrants for his arrest since 1972.

These senior figures have been served by a small army of ‘men of honour’: Alfonso Colli, who smuggled drugs through London until he was caught setting up a £350,000 fraud and fled to Spain; Ulisse Marazzi who worked for The Lily until he was gaoled at the Old Bailey for ten years for drug smuggling; Giuseppe Bellinghieri who smuggled 3,000 kilos of cannabis into the UK in secret compartments in lorries, fitted with devices to detect short-wave radio activity by police or Customs.

Drugs have been the heart of the business for the UK Sicilians, but they have diversified wherever they found an opportunity.

They have set up frauds. They ran a garage in north London which sold Fiat cars – and stole money from its customers. Di Carlo made a series of fraudulent insurance claims for antiques which he claimed had been stolen. One one occasion, they lodged a diamond with a bank, sent one of their members along to pick it up, then denied all knowledge of him and claimed the insurance for its ‘theft’.

They are suspected of having procured a contact in the Italian embassy who has supplied them with false passports. Di Carlo’s passport expired in April 1983. In Italy, the authorities refused to give him a new one because of his Mafia activities. Nevertheless he travelled to Kenya for a conference of Mafia money-launderers, to Malta for a holiday, to Canada to arrange heroin deals, and all over Europe when he is believed to have been smuggling drugs in his Ferrari.

They are also implicated in murders. Italian police believe Di Carlo was behind the assassination of two of their most senior policemen: Boris Giuliano, who was shot to death as he left a Palermo cafe in July 1979; and Nino Cassara who was shot dead after visiting London to exchange intelligence on Di Carlo. The Italians made an unsuccessful attempt to extradite Di Carlo for the murder of Giuliano after he was arrested here in June 1985.

According to Italian intelligence, Di Carlo’s family was also behind the most dramatic Mafia assassination – the murder of General Alberto dalla Chiesa, who was appointed by the Italian government to crush the Mafia and was gunned down with his wife in September 1982.

One London murder is also being laid at their door. Sergio Vaccari, the son of a wealthy Milanese publisher, was stabbed to death in his luxury flat in Holland Park in September 1982. Police believe he was dealing in cocaine. He is reported to have been stabbed in the mouth, a punishment for a Mafioso who informs. A Sicilian who was suspected of taking part in the murder was recently arrested in England for possession of firearms. He was carrying addresses from the Woking area where Di Carlo based his operation.

They also invested heavily in London and the Home Counties in an attempt to soak up and recycle their profits. When the Caruanas bought their mansions in Surrey, worth a total of £750,000 they paid cash. Di Carlo bought into the Hotel Parco in Argyle Street, A-Viaggi Travel Agents in Denbigh Street and Leo’s wine bar in Streatham – and paid cash. He then used the businesses and two off-shore companies registered in the Channel Isles to process other drug profits.

The London Mafia now also owns at least three Italian restaurants, two in the West End, one in North London; three other travel agencies in the centre of London, one of which is linked to a sex shop; and an investment business based in the suburbs. Italian police believe that in addition to laundering their own profits, they have helped Italian gangsters to recycle the proceeds of kidnaps.

But the London Mafia’s greatest achievement has been to avoid the police. It is an achievement which is now causing concern, for Di Carlo’s presence in the UK was no secret to Scotland Yard.

In February 1980, Italian police issued a warrant for Di Carlo’s arrest for a murder in Sicily. They told Scotland Yard that they believed he was in England. The Yard said they could not find him. Five months later, the Sunday Times carried a front page story naming Di Carlo as a Mafia drug dealer and giving his then address in Croydon. The Italians sent a telex to Scotland Yard stressing that he was wanted in Sicily. But there was no arrest.

Five more months later, in December 1980, Di Carlo was directly implicated in cannabis smuggling when Customs found 350 kilos of Lebanese Gold cannabis hidden under boxes of tinned tomatoes in a lorry arriving in Dover. The driver ran off. But Customs traced the lorry to a London firm, Fauci Continental, in Lambeth Road, where Di Carlo was listed as an employee. They asked Scotland Yard if they had any intelligence on the firm and were told that police not only knew of the Fauci operation, but were about to raid it.

Customs were told to drop the job. A few weeks later, they received new information on Di Carlo’s drug-smuggling and passed it on to the Yard. Then they waited for the raid. It never happened. Had they acted, the Yard might have nipped the new Mafia colony in the bud. For in addition to Di Carlo, Fauci Continental also employed Girolamo Fauci, who carried on trafficking in cannabis until he was arrested on the Swiss/Italian border in July 1982; and Filippo Monteleone and Antonio Luciani who were eventually charged with heroin smuggling with Di Carlo in 1985.

The Yard’s failure to act remains a bone of contention between police and Customs to this day, encouraging speculation among Customs officers that the police are not to be trusted.

According to one Whitehall source, there has also been an internal inquiry into claims by a New York mobster, Toni Di Stefano, who was gaoled for fraud in London two years ago, that he had paid £12,000 to a London detective for favours.

More recently, the Home Office has been alerted to reports from Brixton Prison that after Di Carlo was sent there in June 1985, prison officers were observed drinking in a restaurant owned by the London Mafia and that soon afterwards a prison officer’s wife was given a job there.