|Palermo|  Michele Cavataio

Born:  1928 (?)

Dead:  December 10, 1969

Early Mafia career

Cavataio was seen as an exponent of a ‘new’ Mafia of Americanised gangsters that appeared in the mid 1950s. After World War II, he made his fortune selling petrol that was stolen from the Italian Navy. The Acquasanta Mafia family controlled the docks of Palermo that were situated in their area. They acted as strike breakers against the dockworkers, and did not hesitate to shoot at the strikers if necessary. In 1955, the bosses of the Acquasanta Mafia clan, Gaetano Galatolo and Nicola D’Alessandro were killed in a dispute over the protection rackets when the fruit and vegetable wholesale market moved from the Zisa area to Acquasanta, disturbing the delicate power balances within Cosa Nostra. The killer of Galatolo was never identified, but Cavataio was suspected. Cavataio became the new boss of the clan and had to agree to split the profits of the wholesale market racket with the Greco Mafia family of Ciaculli, who traditionally controlled fruit and vegetable supply to Palermo wholesale market.

Cavataio actively participated in what is called the ‘sack of Palermo’ during the reign of Salvo Lima as mayor of Palermo. Mafia bosses were granted building licenses through contacts with politicians. The construction boom destroyed the city's green belt and villas that gave it architectural grace, to make way for characterless and shoddily constructed apartment blocks.

First Mafia War

Cavataio was one of the protagonists of the first Mafia War in 1962-63. According to the pentito Tommaso Buscetta it was Michele Cavataio who deliberately escalated a dispute between different factions. The conflicted erupted over an underweight shipment of heroin. The shipment was financed by Cesare Manzella, the Greco cousins from Ciaculli and the La Barbera brothers. Suspicion fell on Calcedonio Di Pisa, who had collected the heroin and had organised the transport to New York.

The case was brought before the Mafia Commission, but disagreement on how to handle it, led to a bloody conflict between clan’s allied with the Greco’s, headed by Salvatore 'Ciaschiteddu' Greco, and clan’s allied with the La Barbera’s – in particular when Di Pisa was killed on December 26, 1962. The Greco’s suspected the La Barbera’s of the attack. However, it had been Cavataio who had killed Di Pisa in the knowledge that the Greco’s would blame the La Barbera’s and a war would be the result. Cavataio –having his own problems with Di Pisa and wanting him out of the way, and on bad terms with the La Barbera’s as well – contrived Di Pisa’s murder in such a way that the La Barbera’s would appear responsible. He kept fuelling the conflict with more bomb attacks and killings. Other Mafia families who resented the growing power of the Sicilian Mafia Commission to the detriment of individual Mafia families backed Cavataio.

Cavataio then participated, along with Buscetta and another Acquasanta capo, in several car bomb attacks on the Greco’s and their allies, considered enemies because of their intrusion in the wholesale produce market. He was responsible for a car bomb that exploded near Greco’s house in Ciaculli on June 30, 1963, killing seven police and military officers sent to defuse it after an anonymous phone call. The outrage over the Ciaculli massacre (where several police officers were killed by a bomb) changed the Mafia war into a war against the Mafia. It prompted the first concerted anti-Mafia efforts by the state in post-war Italy. The Sicilian Mafia Commission was dissolved and of those mafiosi who had escaped arrest many went abroad. Cavataio was arrested. The Ciaculli bombing made the other Mafia clans aware of Cavataio’s manipulation of the Mafia War. When the bomd exploded, Salvatore La Barbera was already dead and his brother Angelo La Barbera had fled to Milan, where he was seriously wounded. It became clear that Cavataio – and not the La Barbera’s – had planted the bomb and fomented much of the trouble.

Killed by the Mafia

Michele murdered. Cavataio received a four year sentence at the Trial of the 114 against the Mafia in Catanzaro in December 1968, despite an indictment for ten murders. He was sentenced for criminal association and soon left jail when in appeal his sentence was reduced to two years. However, by then the Mafia had realised Cavataio’s double-crossing role in the Mafia war. In retaliation, during a meeting in Zürich several top Mafia bosses decided to eliminate Cavataio on the instigation of Salvatore Ciaschiteddu Greco who had come all the way from Venezuela. Greco had come to subscribe to Buscetta’s theory about how the First Mafia War began.

Cavataio and three of his men were killed on December 10, 1969, in the Viale Lazio in Palermo by a Mafia hit squad including Bernardo Provenzano, Calogero Bagarella (an elder brother of Leoluca Bagarella the brother-in-law of Totò Riina), Emanuele D’Agostino of Stefano Bontade’s Santa Maria di Gesù Family, Gaetano Grado and Damiano Caruso a soldier of Giuseppe Di Cristina, the Mafia boss of Riesi. The killers entered the office of the construction company of Girolamo Moncada, the builder that previously was connected with Angelo La Barbera and now with Cavataio. Cavataio was able to shoot and kill Calogero Bagarella and wounding Caruso before Provenzano killed him. Provenzano saved the situation with his Beretta 38/A submachine gun and earned himself a reputation as a Mafia killer with the attack.

The composition of the hit squad, according to Buscetta, was a clear indication that the killing had been sanctioned collectively by all the major Sicilian Mafia families: not only did it include Calogero Bagarella from Corleone, and a member of Stefano Bontate’s family in Palermo, but also a soldier of Giuseppe Di Cristina’s family on the other end of Sicily in Riesi. The Viale Lazio bloodbath marked the end of a ‘pax mafiosa’ that had reigned since the Ciaculli massacre until the end of the Trial of the 114.

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