Giovanni Brusca (born February 20, 1957 in San Giuseppe Jato) is a former member of the Sicilian Mafia. He murdered the anti-Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone in 1992 and once stated that he had committed between 100 and 200 murders but was unable to remember the exact number. He was sentenced to life in prison in absentia, captured in 1996 and started to cooperate with the authorities.
A pudgy, bearded and unkempt mafioso, Brusca was known in Mafia circles as "U' Verru" (in Sicilian) or Il Porco or Il Maiale, (In Italian: The Pig, The Swine) or "lo scannacristiani" (people-slayer; in Italian dialects the word "christians" often stands for "human beings"). Tommaso Buscetta, the Mafia turncoat who had cooperated with Falcone’s investigations, remembered Giovanni Brusca as "a wild stallion but a great leader."
Born in San Giuseppe Jato, Giovanni Brusca seems to have been predestined for a life in Cosa Nostra. His grandfather and great-grandfather, both farmers, were made members of the Mafia. His father Bernardo Brusca, a local Mafia patriarch, served concurrent life sentences for numerous homicides. Bernardo Brusca allied himself with the Corleonesi of Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano when he replaced Antonio Salamone as capo mandamento of San Giuseppe Jato, paving the way for his three sons’ careers – apart from Giovanni, his younger brother Vincenzo and elder brother Emanuele – in Cosa Nostra's most powerful and ruthless clan.
By the age of 20, Brusca was reportedly working as a driver for Bernardo Provenzano. "All the pentiti have described him as a kind of butcher with a lot of instinct and little charisma," says longtime Mafia observer Francesco La Licata, a journalist working for La Stampa newspaper. Giovanni Brusca became part of a Corleonesi death squad which reported directly to Riina. He became capo mandamento of San Giuseppe Jato after the arrest of his father in 1989.
Nothing better demonstrated Brusca's ruthlessness than the kidnapping and murder of 11-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo. The boy's father, Santo Di Matteo, took part in the 1992 Falcone killing and, following his arrest, under the pentito system named others involved in the plot. Brusca had the boy kidnapped in November 1993. According to the confession of one of the kidnappers, Gaspare Spatuzza, they dressed as police officers and told the boy he was being taken to see his father, who at that time was being kept under police protection on mainland Italy. Instead they held the boy for 26 months, during which time they tortured him and sent grisly photos to his father in an attempt to force him to retract his testimony.
Di Matteo made a desperate trip to Sicily to try to negotiate his son's release but the boy was finally strangled on the orders of Brusca. Subsequently he had the body dissolved in a barrel of acid to prevent the family being able to mourn at a proper funeral. This deliberate added indignity of concealing or destroying the victim's body is known colloquially as the lupara bianca. It also hinders investigation by destroying evidence.
Brusca once had to face Di Matteo, in court. Di Matteo told the judge: "I guarantee my collaboration but to this animal I guarantee nothing. If you leave me alone with him for two minutes I'll cut off his head."
Giovanni Brusca was one of the most powerful Mafia leaders between Riina’s arrest in January 1993 and his own in May 1996. He was involved in the campaign of terror in 1993 against the state to get them to back off in their crackdown against the Mafia after the murders of Anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Following the months after Riina's arrest, there were a series of bombings by the Corleonesi against several tourist spots on the Italian mainland – the Via dei Georgofili in Florence, Via Palestro in Milan and the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and Via San Teodoro in Rome, which left 10 people dead and 71 injured as well as severe damage to centres of cultural heritage such as the Uffizi Gallery.
On May 20, 1996, then aged thirty-nine, Brusca was arrested in a small house in the Sicilian countryside near Agrigento, where he was dining with his girlfriend, their young son and his brother Vincenzo, his sister-in-law and their two children. The investigators were able to pinpoint their exact location when the noise of a plainclothes officer driving by the house on a motorbike was picked up by officers listening to a call intercepted on Brusca's cellular phone.
When Brusca was hurried into Palermo's police station some 90 minutes after the arrest, dozens of police officers cheered, honked their horns and embraced each other. As the scruffy-bearded Brusca emerged from a car, clad in dirty jeans and a rumpled white shirt, some ripped off their ski masks, as if to say they no longer had anything to fear from the Mafia. One reportedly managed to slip past guards and punched Brusca in the face.
Brusca had received a life sentence the previous year after being convicted in absentia of murder and he was subsequently convicted of the bomb attack that killed the Anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone near Capaci. In court Brusca admitted detonating the bomb, planted under the motorway from the airport to Palermo, by remote control while watching the magistrate’s convoy through binoculars from a hill.
Collaborating with Italian justice
After his arrest Brusca started to collaborate. Initially, his collaboration met with scepticism, fearing his 'repentance' could be a ruse to escape the harsh prison terms reserved for ranking Mafia bosses. Under question was whether the state should offer not only protection but also a salary and the promise of judicial leniency to a man nicknamed "U Verru" ("The Pig"), who had punished a Mafia pentito by dissolving the body of his 11-year-old son in an acid bath. In the first three months, much of what Brusca said turned out to be either unverifiable or false, and a growing chorus of politicians called for a tightening of the whole collaboration system.
Despite having confessed numerous murders and other criminal activities, he was not granted the status of full collaborator until February 1999. Until that time Brusca was described as a dichiarante, or talking witness. Although much of his evidence eventually was judged to be credible, suspicions remained that his collaboration was part of a strategy to emasculate other pentiti and subvert the course of justice.
Brusca has offered a controversial version of the capture of Totò Riina: a secret deal between Carabinieri officers, secret agents and Cosa Nostra bosses tired of the dictatorship of the Corleonesi. According to Brusca, Bernardo Provenzano "sold" Riina in exchange for the valuable archive of compromising material that Riina held in his apartment in Via Bernini 52 in Palermo. Brusca also claimed that Riina had told him that after the assassination of Falcone, he had been in indirect negotiations with interior minister Nicola Mancino on a deal to prevent any further killings. Mancino later said this was not true, but in July 2012, Mancino was ordered to stand trial for withholding evidence on 1992 talks between the Italian state and the Mafia and the killings of Falcone and Borsellino.
In 2004, it was reported that Brusca was allowed out of prison for one week every forty-five days to see his family, a reward for his good behaviour as well as becoming an informant and co-operating with the authorities. Relatives of his many victims were angry at such seemingly soft treatment for a multiple-killer.
The Brusca family land was seized by the government and in 2000, handed over to an organization called the Consortium for Legal Development. It restores property confiscated from imprisoned mafiosi and gives them back to the community. The small stone farmhouse at San Giuseppe Jato some 40 minutes from Palermo was renovated in 2004. It is Sicily’s first anti-mafia agriturismo – or farmstay. Tourists can enjoy organic pasta milled from wheat grown on Brusca’s land and organic wine made from his vineyards by the Placido Rizzotto cooperative, named after the union leader from Corleone, who was shot by the mafia in 1948.
According to Lucio Guarino, the organization’s director, returning the properties sends a powerful message: "The Brusca family controlled the fortunes of this territory for nearly thirty years. So it’s an incredible symbol. Here land equals power. And this project shows that with the will of the people, it’s possible to confiscate and restore mafia land". It has not been easy reclaiming confiscated mafia land for the community. The first year after the cooperative had just sowed their crops, a flock of sheep came from nowhere to destroy them. The day before the project's first grain harvest, every combine harvester in the area mysteriously disappeared.
- (Italian) Lodato, Saverio (1999). Ho ucciso Giovanni Falcone: la confessione di Giovanni Brusca, Milan: Mondadori ISBN 88-04-45048-7
- (Italian) La deposizione del collaboratore Giovanni Brusca.
- "The Pig" is Penned, Time Magazine, June 3, 1996
- Head to head with Cosa Nostra, The Guardian, February 14, 2000
- (Italian) "Uccisero il piccolo Giuseppe Di Matteo", La Repubblica, January 16, 2012
- Jamieson, The Antimafia, p. 217
- (Italian) Di Matteo assale Brusca: "Animale, ti stacco la testa", La Repubblica, September 15, 1998
- Freed mafia grass a marked man, The Guardian, March 14, 2002
- (Italian) Autobombe del 1993 cronologia dei principali avvenimenti
- Italian police arrest the Mafia's 'boss of bosses', The Independent, May 21, 1996
- Fugitive Mafia Boss Arrested By the Italian Police in Sicily, The New York Times, May 22, 1996
- Mafia 'Butcher' talks his way out of life behind bars, The Times, October 14, 2004
- Italy Treats a Top Mafia Leader's Repentance With Caution, The New York Times, August 24, 1996
- Backlash threatens to silence informers, The Independent, May 2, 1997
- Folain, Vendetta, p. 150
- Italy: Ex-interior minister implicated in mafia negotiations, AND Kronos International, July 25, 2012
- Sicily offers safe taste of mafia life, BBC News, June 11, 2004
- Giving Mafia Property a Makeover in Sicily, Deutsche Welle, December 18, 2006
- Jamieson, Alison (2000). The Antimafia. Italy’s fight against organized crime, London: MacMillan Press ISBN 0-333-80158-X.
- Dickie, John (2004). Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia, London: Coronet ISBN 0-340-82435-2.
- Follain, John (2008).The Last Godfathers, London: Hodder ISBN 978-0-340-93653-5.