Giovanni Falcone (1939 – 1992), judge
Giovanni Falcone (Palermo, 18 May 1939 – Palermo, 23 May 1992) was an Italian prosecuting magistrate born in Palermo, Sicily. From his office in the Palace of Justice in Palermo, he spent most of his professional life trying to overthrow the power of the Mafia in Sicily. After a long and distinguished career, culminating in the famous Maxi Trial, he was killed by the Corleonesi Mafia in May 1992, on the motorway near the town of Capaci.
His life parallels that of his close friend Paolo Borsellino. Both men spent their early years in the same poor neighbourhood in Palermo. And though many of their childhood friends grew up to be Mafia figures, both men fought on the other side of the war as prosecuting magistrates. They were both assassinated in 1992 with the use of car bombs within months of each other. In recognition of their tireless effort and sacrifice during the anti-mafia trials, they were both awarded the Italian “Medaglia d’oro al valore civile” (Gold medal for civil valor). They were also named as heroes of the last 60 years in the 13 November 2006 issue of Time Magazine.
Falcone was born in 1939 to a middle class family in the Via Castrofilippo near the seaport district La Kalsa, a neighborhood of central Palermo which suffered extensive destruction by aerial attacks during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. The Mafia was present in the area but quiescent; Tommaso Spadaro, a boy with whom he played ping-pong in the neighborhood Catholic Action recreation center, would later become a notorious Mafia smuggler and killer, but mafiosi were not a major presence in his childhood. As boys Falcone and Borsellino, who was born in the same neighbourhood, played soccer together on the Piazza Mangione.
His father, Arturo Falcone, the director of a provincial chemical laboratory, was married to Luisa Bentivegna. Giovanni had two older sisters, Anna and Maria. After a classical education, Giovanni studied law at the University of Palermo following a brief period of study at Livorno’s naval academy. Graduating in 1961, he began to practice law before being appointed a judge in 1964. Falcone eventually gravitated toward penal law after serving as a district magistrate. He was assigned to the prosecutor’s office in Trapani and Marsala, and then in 1978 to the bankruptcy court in Palermo.
First trial against the Mafia
In early 1980, Falcone joined the ‘Office of Instruction’ (Ufficio istruzione), the investigative branch of the Prosecution Office of Palermo. He started to work at a particularly tense moment. Judge Cesare Terranova, a former parliamentary deputy and Antimafia reformer who had been the main prosecutor of the Mafia in the 1960s, was to have headed this office, but he was killed on September 25, 1979. Only two months earlier, on July 21, 1979, Boris Giuliano, head of the police investigation squad investigating heroin trafficking by the Mafia headed by Rosario Spatola and Salvatore Inzerillo, had been assassinated. Taking Terranova’s place was Rocco Chinnici.
On May 5, 1980, Giuliano successor in investigating the heroin network, Carabinieri captain Emanuele Basile, was killed. The next day, the prosecuting judgeGaetano Costa signed 55 arrest warrants against the heroin-trafficking network of the Spatola-Inzerillo-Gambino clan. From Sicily heroin was moved to theGambino crime family in New York, who were related to the Inzerillos. Chinnici appointed Falcone to investigate the case, one of the biggest Antimafia operations in more than a decade. Costa signed the indict¬ments after virtually all of the other prosecutors in his office had declined to do so – a fact that leaked out of the office and eventually cost him his life. He was murdered on 6 August 1980, on the orders of Inzerillo.
In this tense ambiance, Falcone introduced an innovative investigative technique in the Spatola investigation, following “the money trail” created by heroin deals to build his case, applying the skills he had learned unraveling bankruptcies. He was probably among the first Sicilian magistrates to establish working relationships with colleagues from other countries, thus developing an early understanding of the global dimensions of heroin trafficking, while enhancing the ridiculously meager investigative resources of his office.
He learned that the chemists of the French Connection had moved clandestine labs for refining heroin from Marseilles to Sicily. At the end of 1980 he visited the United States and started to work with the U.S. Justice Department which would result in “some of the biggest international law enforcement operations in history” such as the Pizza Connection. The inquiries extended to Turkey, an important stopover on the route of morphine base; to Switzerland, where bank secrecy laws facilitated money laundering; and to Naples where cigarette smuggling rings were being reconfigured as heroin operations. At the end of 1981, he finalized the Spatola case for trial, which enabled the prosecution to win 74 convictions, based on Falcone’s “web of solid evidence, bank and travel records, seized heroin shipments, fingerprint and handwriting analyses, wiretapped conversations and firsthand testimony” that proved that “Sicily had replaced France as the principal gateway for refining and exporting heroin to the United States”.
Falcone was plagued by a chronic lack of resources in his capacity as magistrate. In May 1982, the Italian government sent Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, a general of the Italian Carabinieri, to Sicily with orders to crush the Mafia. However, not long after arriving, on 3 September 1982, the General was gunned down in the city centre, his young wife by his side. Sicilians rose up in outrage. Outside the church, the politicians who attended were jeered and spat on, and blamed by Sicilians for tolerating the Mafia for so long. In response, the Italian government finally offered Falcone the backing he needed.
Falcone’s responsibilities as a magistrate put tremendous strain on his personal life. When he married his fiancée, Francesca Morvillo, Falcone had MayorLeoluca Orlando himself conduct the ceremony. It was held in total secrecy late on a Saturday evening to the astonishment of Orlando’s secretary. Neither family members nor friends were present, no photos were taken.
He became part of Palermo’s informal Antimafia Pool, created by Judge Rocco Chinnici. This was a group of investigating magistrates who closely worked together sharing information and developing new investigative and prosecutorial strategies. Most important, they assumed collective responsibility for carrying Mafia prosecutions forward: all the members of the pool signed prosecutorial orders to avoid exposing any one of them to particular risk, such as the one that had cost judge Gaetano Costa his life. Next to Falcone, the group included Paolo Borsellino, Giuseppe Di Lello and Leonardo Guarnotta.
The Antimafia pool laid the groundwork for the Maxi Trial against the Sicilian Mafia at the preliminary investigative phase. After Chinnici’s murder in July 1983, his successor Antonino Caponnetto headed the pool. Falcone led the prosecution for the trial, which began 10 February 1986, and ended on 16 December 1987. Of the 474 Mafiosi members originally charged, 360 were convicted of serious crimes, including 119 in absentia.
One of the most important factors in the trial was the testimony of Tommaso Buscetta, one of the first ever Sicilian Mafiosi to become an informant (pentito). He was on the witness stand for an entire week. It was Falcone to whom Buscetta preferred to speak when revealing the secrets of the Mafia, and Buscetta later claimed that whilst other magistrates and detectives patronized him, Falcone treated him with respect.
During 1988 Falcone collaborated with Rudolph Giuliani, at the time U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in operations against the Gambinoand Inzerillo families.
After Falcone’s successes in the Maxi Trial, the seriousness of Tommaso Buscetta’s warnings that the Mafia would stop at nothing to end the magistrate’s life, became clear. Despite the care he took with his safety, in June 1989 as Falcone relaxed outside his beach house, a security guard noticed an abandoned sports bag at the water’s edge. It contained 58 sticks of plastic explosives, primed to explode if picked up. The bomb did not go off. After the incident, he was heard to remark the following to Liliana Ferraro, a long-term colleague and friend: “My life is mapped out: it is my destiny to take a bullet by the Mafia some day. The only thing I don’t know is when.”
On 23 May 1992 on the orders of Salvatore “Toto” Riina, a half-ton bomb was placed under the motorway between Palermo International Airport and the city of Palermo. Riina’s men hid in a building above the road and remotely detonated the device. Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and body guards Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani were killed in the blast. The explosion was so powerful that it registered on local earthquake monitors. Thousands gathered at the Basilica of San Domenico for their funeral. The funeral was broadcast live on national TV and all regular television programs were suspended. Parliament declared a day of mourning.
The murder was organized by Salvatore Riina as revenge for Falcone’s conviction of dozens of mobsters in the Maxi Trials. Riina reportedly threw a party, toasting Falcone’s death with champagne, according to the pentito Salvatore Cancemi. In the major crackdown against the Mafia following Falcone and Borsellino’s deaths, Riina was arrested and is now serving a life sentence for sanctioning the murders of both magistrates as well as many other crimes. Another Mafioso convicted of the murder of Falcone is Giovanni Brusca, also known as lo scannacristiani (the people slaughterer). He was one of Riina’s associates who admitted to being the one who ‘detonated the explosives.
Palermo International Airport has been named Falcone-Borsellino Airport in honor of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. A memorial of the pair by the local sculptor Tommaso Geraci can be found there. Falcone was posthumously awarded the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Prize, which recognizes “extraordinary heroes of conscience”.
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