Mugshot of Girolamo Piromalli in 1974
October 7, 1918|
Gioia Tauro, Italy
|Died||February 11, 1979
Gioia Tauro, Italy
Girolamo Piromalli (October 7, 1918 – February 11, 1979), also known as Mommo, was a historical and charismatic boss of the 'Ndrangheta, a Mafia-type organisation in Calabria (Italy). His criminal base was his home town Gioia Tauro on the Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria. He was the capobastone (head of command) of the Piromalli 'ndrina.
Before becoming one of the most feared criminal power brokers in the Gioia Tauro plain, Mommo Piromalli was a cowherd. In 1939 he was charged with illegal carriage of firearms, in 1940 for grievous bodily harm, in 1944 for robbery with violence and in 1950 for murder. In 1967, the court imposed a five-year mandatory internal banishment (soggiorno obbligato) to remove Piromalli from his home town and criminal associates.
Together with Antonio Macrì from Siderno on the Ionic coast and Domenico Mico Tripodo, the boss of the city of Reggio Calabria and the surrounding areas, the Piromalli brothers formed a sort of triumvirate since the beginning of the 1960s until the outbreak of the First 'Ndrangheta war in the mid 1970s. Their senior position was recognized by all other heads of 'Ndrangheta families and their advice was in most cases followed without protest.
Establishing the Santa
Mommo Piromalli and the bosses of several other families established La Santa at the end of the 1960s. They were eager to modify the traditional rules of the 'Ndrangheta in order to be able to access contracts for public works in the region and start illegal activities such as drug trafficking, which were prohibited by the traditional code but promised to be very profitable. Through the membership of covert Masonic lodges the 'Ndrangheta bosses were able to contact law enforcement authorities, judges and politicians that were necessary to access to public work contracts.
According to Gaetano Costa (the former chief of the Messina Mafia family turned state witness), "it was Mommo Piromalli who – given the enormous interests which the existed in the Reggio Calabria area (the railroad stump, the steelwork center, and the port in Gioia Tauro, etc.) – entrusted himself with the rank of santista, in order to assert his higher authority and hence directly control the public works. He said that this rank had been given him directly in Toronto, where there was a very important 'ndrina."
These innovations and the new institution of La Santa were opposed by the more traditionalist bosses such as Antonio Macrì and Domenico Tripodo. Only at the end of the so-called First 'Ndrangheta war, which took place in 1974-76 and led to the deaths of Macrì and Tripodo as well as the rise of Piromalli and the De Stefano brothers as the new leaders of the Reggio Calabria 'ndrine, was the new institution fully recognized.
Drug trafficking and Getty kidnap
In 1973 he was charged of heroin trafficking when an undercover operation by the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) targeting Saverio Mammoliti revealed that Mammoliti needed permission of Macrì and "Don Mommo" Piromalli.
On March 23, 1974, police arrested Piromalli and charged him helping to mastermind the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, grandson of the oil tycoon and multi-millionaire J. Paul Getty, in July 1973. Getty's ear was cut off and sent to the family to induce his grandfather to produce a ransom. After 158 days, the malnourished and bruised Getty was released on December 15, 1973. He was left behind at an abandoned service station, shivering in a driving rainstorm.
Piromalli was picked up without resistance in Gioia Tauro during a series of early morning raids on more than a dozen homes in Calabria. A 100,000 lire banknote found in his home in January 1974 was part of the USD 2.8 million ransom paid for the release of Getty Jr. In July 1976, Piromalli was acquitted in the trial against the kidnappers. Nine men had been arrested. Two minor perpetrators were convicted and sent to prison. The ransom was used to buy the trucks needed to establish a transport monopoly in the construction of the Gioia Tauro port.
Together with his brother Peppe Piromalli, Mommo redirected the 'Ndrangheta clan from its rural base to an entrepreneurial criminal organisation assuming dominance over several public works in the Gioia Tauro area, particularly in the construction and operation of the new container seaport.
When in 1974 businesses involved in the expansion of the port and steelworks in Gioia Tauro offered a three per cent kickback to be left in peace the three leading 'Ndrangheta families at the time, Antonio Macrì, the Piromalli clan and the De Stefano clan rejected the offer and wanted to be sub-contracted on work carried in order to control the project.
The 'Ndrangheta exploited the construction of the steelworks until the project was abandoned when the government decided there was no economic base for it. In 1977 disagreements about business interests emerged between Piromalli and the De Stefano clan. A hit squad headed by Peppe Piromalli killed Giorgio De Stefano. Some 1,000 people were killed in clan wars over the construction contracts.
On February 11, 1979, Mommo Piromalli died of cirrhosis of the liver in a prison hospital in Gioia Tauro. He was succeeded as head of the clan by his younger brother Giuseppe "Peppe" Piromalli. Piromalli also had contacts with Sicilian Mafiosi such as Angelo La Barbera and Stefano Bontate.
- Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 31
- Arlacchi, Mafia Business, p. 51
- Arlacchi, Mafia Business, p. 20
- (in Italian) Esposizione introduttiva del Pubblico ministero nel processo nei confronti di Giulio Andreotti, Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia Palermo, 1994, pp. 102-3
- Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 60
- Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 115
- (in Italian) Guarino, Poteri segreti e criminalità, pp. 14-15
- (in Italian) 'Ndrangheta 2005 at the Wayback Machine (archived September 29, 2007), Nisio Palmieri, Dossier della Fondazione Cesar e dell’Associazione Sicurstrada per conto della Consulta Nazionale dei Consigli Regionali Unipol Assicurazioni
- Arlacchi, Mafia Business, p. 152
- (in Italian) Gratteri & Nicaso, Fratelli di Sangue, p. 165
- Getty Case Suspect Arrested in Italy, The New York Times, March 23, 1974
- J. Paul Getty III, 54, Dies; Had Ear Cut Off by Captors, The New York Times, February 7, 2011
- (in Italian) Gratteri & Nicaso, Fratelli di Sangue, pp. 152-53
- 2 Getty Kidnappers Sentenced in Italy, The New York Times, July 30, 1976
- Arlacchi, Mafia Business, p. 87
- (in Italian) Gioia Tauro: boss Giuseppe Piromalli, 84 anni, muore agli arresti, Giornale di Calabria, February 21, 2005
- Arlacchi, Mafia Business, p. 106
- Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 168
- Spotts & Wieser, Italy, a Difficult Democracy, p. 188
- Dickie, Mafia Republic: Italy's Criminal Curse, p. 140
- Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 49
- Arlacchi, Pino (1988). Mafia Business. The Mafia Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-285197-7
- Dickie, John (2013). Mafia Republic: Italy's Criminal Curse. Cosa Nostra, 'Ndrangheta and Camorra from 1946 to the Present, London: Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 978-1444726435
- (in Italian) Gratteri, Nicola & Antonio Nicaso (2006). Fratelli di Sangue, Cosenza: Luigi Pellegrini Editore ISBN 88-8101-373-8
- (in Italian) Guarino, Mario (2004). Poteri segreti e criminalità. L'intreccio inconfessabile tra 'ndrangheta, massoneri a apparati dello stato, Bari: Edizioni Dedalo ISBN 88-220-5340-0
- Paoli, Letizia (2003). Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-515724-9
- (in Italian) Sciarrone, Rocco (1998). Mafie vecchie, mafie nuove: Radicamento ed espansione, Rome: Donzelli Editore ISBN 88-7989-435-8
- Spotts, Frederic & Theodor Wieser (1986), Italy, a Difficult Democracy: A Survey of Italian Politics, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-31511-5