The Cocaine Cowboys

Ceci­lia Ane­si, Luca Rinal­di, Giu­lio Rubi­no, Loren­zo Bagno­li OCCRP In a non­de­script shop­ping mall in the indu­strial outskirts of Veni­ce, a major new Euro­pean drug rou­te is taking sha­pe. Anto­ni­no Vada­là, a hot-hea­ded man who domi­na­tes the room, sizes up his poten­tial part­ner, a local busi­ness­man he hopes will help him import hun­dreds of kilos of cocai­ne into nor­thern Ita­ly and Slo­va­kia. The plan is to use legal goods to disgui­se the drug shi­p­men­ts. “We load bana­nas, cereal, nuts, we load some bull­shit,” Vada­là says. “We ship it to your com­pa­ny … and we pay off customs. We clear it with them when [the con­tai­ner] arri­ves.” Vada­là, 44, a Cala­brian expa­tria­te who lives in Slo­va­kia, is a mem­ber of the second gene­ra­tion of Ita­lian men to lea­ve their mafia-domi­na­ted home­to­wn to set­tle in the Cen­tral Euro­pean nation. Offi­cial­ly, he rai­ses cat­tle and sells beef. But pro­se­cu­tors in Veni­ce alle­ge that Vada­là is also a drug traf­fic­ker who wor­ked with the Ndran­ghe­ta, one of the world’s most power­ful orga­ni­zed cri­mi­nal groups, to open a major new cocai­ne rou­te into Euro­pe.

This report is based on two indict­men­ts from courts in Veni­ce and Milan and inter­views with detec­ti­ves and pro­se­cu­tors. Jour­na­lists from IRPI and Investigace.cz, both mem­ber cen­ters of OCCRP, began loo­king into Vada­là in 2016 in col­la­bo­ra­tion with Ján Kuciak, a Slo­vak inve­sti­ga­ti­ve repor­ter who had come across Vadalà’s name in his work. Kuciak found that a young fema­le assi­stant of Slo­vak Pri­me Mini­ster Robert Fico had once co-owned a busi­ness with Vada­là — and that the Ita­lian had alle­ged­ly scam­med the Euro­pean Union out of 120,000 euros in agri­cul­tu­ral sub­si­dies. On Feb. 21, 2018, Kuciak and his fian­cee, Mar­ti­na Kuš­ní­ro­vá, were kil­led in their home in a Slo­vak vil­la­ge. Within days, OCCRP and its mem­ber cen­ters publi­shed seve­ral sto­ries they had been wor­king on with him. Now, a year later, repor­ters are in a posi­tion both to dig dee­per into the cir­cum­stan­ces of Kuciak’s death and to con­ti­nue his work. In par­ti­cu­lar, they’ve been able to tra­ce the rise and fall of Vadalà’s ambi­tious Vene­tian enter­pri­se.

A New Route

The shop­ping mall mee­ting whe­re Vada­là tal­ked about sta­shing cocai­ne amid legal impor­ted goods took pla­ce in Sep­tem­ber 2014. The mall, Vale­cen­ter, was in a stra­te­gic loca­tion. Three high­ways cros­sed near­by: one lea­ding to the air­port, one hea­ding north toward Austria, and one going sou­th­we­st. If you dro­ve far enou­gh in that direc­tion you’d reach Reg­gio Cala­bria, the Ita­lian pro­vin­ce whe­re Vadalà’s fami­ly is based and whe­re the Ndran­ghe­ta coa­le­sced as a mafia syn­di­ca­te in the late 1800s.

Any of the high­ways could pro­vi­de a quick esca­pe in case loo­kou­ts spot­ted poli­ce. It was here, to Veni­ce, that Vada­là wan­ted to import loads of cocai­ne across the ocean from Ecua­dor and Peru. The com­mer­cial har­bor here was less stric­tly poli­ced than the one in Cala­bria. It also had two other advan­ta­ges: It was free from the domi­nan­ce of any one mafia clan, and it ser­ved as a home base for Fran­ce­sco Giral­di, the import-export entre­pre­neur Vada­là was tea­ming up with. Whi­le Vada­là and Giral­di tal­ked busi­ness, each was super­vi­sed by a senior Ndran­ghe­ta mem­ber: Leo Zap­pia, 61, was the­re to gui­de Vada­là; and Vit­to­rio Atti­lio Vio­li, in his mid-50s, was over­seeing Giral­di.

Whi­le the four men met, two others were on guard, loo­king for any sign of law enfor­ce­ment. Vio­li — some­ti­mes cal­led “peg leg” for the limb he lost after a 2010 shoo­tout in Cala­bria — led the Vene­tian ope­ra­tions of the Mora­bi­to, a Cala­brian clan that ope­ra­tes under the Ndrangheta’s umbrel­la. The group is also kno­wn as Tira­drit­tu (the straight-shoo­ters) after the nic­k­na­me besto­wed on its founder’s father for his wil­ling­ness to shoot his ene­mies and his accu­ra­cy when he did so. Vio­li ser­ved as an impor­tant Ndran­ghe­ta chief in Veni­ce, making it his job to export the syndicate’s prac­ti­ces and ope­ra­tions from Cala­bria to the nor­thern Ita­lian port city and sur­roun­ding pro­vin­ce. It’s in that capa­ci­ty that he had been scou­ring Veni­ce for an import-export part­ner to hand­le Vadalà’s pro­po­sed drug shi­p­men­ts. That’s how he met Giral­di.

Zap­pia, “the whi­te-hai­red one” in atten­dan­ce as Vadalà’s more senior advi­ser, is Ndran­ghe­ta ari­sto­cra­cy: His uncle, Giu­sep­pe Mora­bi­to, was one of the most power­ful bos­ses the syn­di­ca­te ever had, and once led one of its three major man­da­men­tos, or bran­ches. The elder­ly Mora­bi­to is now ser­ving a life pri­son term, but his clan’s power is still felt all over the world throu­gh his disci­ples — among whom Zap­pia is king. “I want to ship 200, 300 kilos at a time,” Vada­là said to Giral­di. “You under­stand? Mini­mum 200, 300.” This would be enou­gh cocai­ne to fill the trunks of seve­ral cars, and he nee­ded to know whe­ther Giral­di, the impor­ter and expor­ter, could real­ly deli­ver enou­gh Latin Ame­ri­can fruit or other legal goods to con­ceal such a volu­me. Vada­là was par­ti­cu­lar­ly inte­re­sted in legi­ti­ma­te pro­duc­ts from Ecua­dor and Peru, two coun­tries whe­re he had exi­sting con­tac­ts and from which he was plan­ning to secu­re his sup­plies. From the­re, the drugs could be ushe­red throu­gh Giraldi’s import busi­ness in Veni­ce (via shi­p­men­ts orde­red by Vadalà’s Slo­vak com­pa­ny) and end up either in Ita­ly or in Slo­va­kia.

Coke is King

Cocai­ne is the most com­mon­ly used illi­cit sti­mu­lant in the world. An esti­ma­ted 17.5 mil­lion Euro­peans bet­ween 15 and 64 years old have tried it in their life­ti­mes, accor­ding to a 2017 report by the Euro­pean Moni­to­ring Cen­tre for Drugs and Drug Addic­tion. And it’s hard­ly harm­less: About 46,800 peo­ple sought treat­ment for a cocai­ne habit in Euro­pe in 2016. Thou­gh the illi­cit natu­re of the tra­de makes relia­ble data hard to come by, the U.N. Offi­ce of Drugs and Cri­me esti­ma­tes that 1,410 tons of cocai­ne were deli­ve­red around the world in 2016, with an appro­xi­ma­te Euro­pean street value of $73 per gram. Secre­ting cocai­ne in refri­ge­ra­ted ship­ping con­tai­ners has beco­me the most com­mon method of moving the illi­cit pow­der around the world. Fruit gro­wn in Latin Ame­ri­ca, like bana­nas and pineap­ples, help speed the drug throu­gh customs, becau­se peri­sha­ble pro­du­ce can’t be allo­wed to lin­ger too long in port. Customs agen­ts are less like­ly to check such shi­p­men­ts, or do so quic­kly to keep them moving. (Read an ear­lier OCCRP inve­sti­ga­tion about how cocai­ne disgui­sed in bana­na shi­p­men­ts was smug­gled into Bel­gium.)

On that day in Veni­ce in 2014, Vada­là and his asso­cia­tes wan­ted to ensu­re they could grab their share of the lucra­ti­ve Euro­pean cocai­ne mar­ket. The men discus­sed a ple­tho­ra of prac­ti­cal details: how to orga­ni­ze shi­p­men­ts, how they’d be loa­ded, who to use as their Latin Ame­ri­can sup­pliers, and so on. Giral­di clai­med to know relia­ble custom offi­cials in the Veni­ce port. “The com­pa­re kno­ws his job,” Zap­pia said, refer­ring to Giral­di. Vio­li smi­led in agree­ment. “The com­pa­re kno­ws his job very well,” he said. As the mee­ting came to an end, with the men agreeing on how to start their new ven­tu­re, Vada­là poc­ke­ted a busi­ness card for Giraldi’s com­pa­ny, Gi.Fra, which they plan­ned to use as an impor­ter.

Anto­ni­no Vada­là, also kno­wn as Bovi­no (mea­ning “veal”), was born in 1975 in a small town on Italy’s Cala­brian coa­st. He grew up in a rural area sur­roun­ded by hills and bor­de­red by the Aspro­mon­te moun­tains, a rug­ged­ly beau­ti­ful but poor region kno­wn for cat­tle bree­ding. Sin­ce the 1980s, orga­ni­zed cri­mi­nal groups have con­trol­led all busi­ness in the area, poli­ce say, thou­gh Anto­ni­no Vada­là fami­ly hasn’t histo­ri­cal­ly played a major role. Antonino’s move abroad came after Reg­gio Cala­bria anti-mafia pro­se­cu­tors indic­ted him and two bro­thers for aiding an Ndran­ghe­ta fugi­ti­ve in 2001. (All three were later acquit­ted of the char­ges.) The bro­thers esca­ped to Slo­va­kia, whe­re Antonino’s futu­re father-in-law, Die­go Rodà, was wai­ting.

Rodà had decam­ped to eastern Slo­va­kia in 1993 at the same time as wave of bloo­dy mafia feuds roi­led his Cala­brian home region on Italy’s eastern coa­st. His next step was to build the same type of cat­tle busi­ness that his fami­ly ran in Cala­bria. Even­tual­ly, it made him a mil­lio­nai­re. Accor­ding to Veni­ce Finan­cial Poli­ce Major Sal­va­to­re Rub­bi­no, Vio­li was recor­ded descri­bing Rodà as one of the Ndrangheta’s bos­ses in Slo­va­kia, but he has never been inve­sti­ga­ted or char­ged with any cri­mes. Rea­ched by repor­ters, Rodà’s law­yer Anto­ni­no Cura­to­la said any sug­ge­stion that his client was invol­ved with orga­ni­zed cri­me was “ground­less.” Rodà “was never inve­sti­ga­ted in Ita­ly for such a thing,” Cura­to­la said. In 2001, Vada­là joi­ned Rodà in Slo­va­kia and later even mar­ried his daughter Eli­sa­bet­ta. In his new home, Vada­là built a legi­ti­ma­te cat­tle bree­ding and import-export busi­ness. He also began deve­lo­ping a net­work of con­tac­ts among regio­nal poli­ti­cians and influen­tial per­son­nel within the Slo­vak secret ser­vi­ces. One of his cat­tle com­pa­nies, Bovi­nex Euro­pa, even ren­ted sto­ra­ge spa­ce to the customs ser­vi­ce in Bra­ti­sla­va.

A 2015 inve­sti­ga­tion by the Finan­cial Poli­ce of Veni­ce (the Guar­da di Finan­za) sheds light on some of Vadalà’s less legal acti­vi­ties during this period. Inve­sti­ga­tors con­clu­ded that his busi­ness dea­lings had long inclu­ded drug traf­fic­king and that he and his rela­ti­ves made a prac­ti­ce of fin­ding pro­tec­tion with public offi­cials in the coun­tries whe­re they ope­ra­ted. It was around this time that Vada­là appears to have made a deci­sion to grow his drug traf­fic­king busi­ness — and to work with senior Ndran­ghe­ta figu­res. To do so, he nee­ded a bles­sing from a power­ful clan back home. The most logi­cal choi­ce were the Mora­bi­tos, not only becau­se they are the drug traf­fic­king lea­ders within the Ndran­ghe­ta, but becau­se Vadalà’s home­to­wn was under their con­trol. This clan’s invi­ta­tion for him to par­ti­ci­pa­te in their drug deals would be his “magic entry point” to the syndicate’s glo­bal cocai­ne tra­de.

Pro­se­cu­tors say that Vadalà’s fami­ly paid the Mora­bi­tos 1 mil­lion euros in cash to secu­re this pri­vi­le­ge. Leo Zap­pia — the man who would end up super­vi­sing Vada­là during the shop­ping mall mee­ting — was alle­ged­ly the one who recei­ved the cash. The con­nec­tion had been made throu­gh an old friend. “It appears that Vada­là was con­nec­ted to Leo Zap­pia throu­gh his father-in-law, Die­go Rodà,” Rub­bi­no said in an inter­view.

Hand-in-Hand With Customs

By April 2015, six mon­ths after mee­ting in Veni­ce for the fir­st time, Vada­là and Giral­di were rea­dy to start their cocai­ne shi­p­men­ts. Legi­ti­ma­te cover busi­nes­ses were impe­ra­ti­ve: The more legal pro­duc­ts and money that flo­wed throu­gh the import com­pa­ny, the less like­ly it was that the car­go would be sub­ject to ran­dom customs checks. Vada­là was well pre­pa­red. “I have com­mer­cial acti­vi­ties, I have com­pa­nies,” he said in a recor­ded con­ver­sa­tion. “I once bought 20 mil­lion euros of meat [in Latin Ame­ri­ca] throu­gh real con­trac­ts. I sup­plied Anka­ra, the Tur­kish sta­te, for a year. And now I’m signing a con­tract with Uru­guay, Para­guay, and Bra­zil.” The poli­ce “can check any­thing,” he added. “Finan­cial flo­ws? I have eve­ry­thing ok.”

Vada­là plan­ned to open a com­pa­ny in Ecua­dor to buy goods that would mask the real pur­po­se of his new tra­de rou­te throu­gh Veni­ce, inve­sti­ga­tors con­clu­ded. The idea was for the con­tai­ners to stop in Veni­ce, have the drugs unloa­ded, then car­ry the legal car­go on to Slo­va­kia. Ano­ther option was to have the con­tai­ners go straight to Slo­va­kia, be clea­red by customs, and then go to Veni­ce. This is whe­re Vadalà’s Slo­vak con­tac­ts and busi­nes­ses came in han­dy. “I have five hec­ta­res at Slovakia’s lar­ge­st customs depot,” Vada­là said. “The head … the­re is my man, I put him the­re.” He pro­mi­sed Giral­di coo­pe­ra­tion from cor­rupt customs offi­cials as well as from the SIS, Slovakia’s intel­li­gen­ce agen­cy. “I know them all,” he said. It was the kind of sta­te­ment that would get him and his drug ring busted. Vada­là wasn’t just tal­king to Fran­ce­sco Giral­di, impor­ter-expor­ter — he was tal­king to under­co­ver agent 8067 of the Veni­ce Finan­cial Poli­ce. Giraldi’s enti­re iden­ti­ty — inclu­ding his import-export busi­ness — had been built by law enfor­ce­ment to infil­tra­te the Ndran­ghe­ta.

Two Police Operations

Vadalà’s drug tra­de with Giral­di didn’t begin very smoo­thly. His fir­st shi­p­men­ts were sup­po­sed to come from Ecua­dor. In that country’s main port of Gua­ya­quil, Vada­là had asso­cia­tes he could count on to load the cocai­ne onto con­tai­ners that would car­ry fro­zen shrimp. Vada­là used his Slo­vak com­pa­ny, Ter­ra Real, to trans­fer 125,000 euros to Giraldi’s busi­ness in Veni­ce, adding ano­ther 50,000 euros in cash. The money was used to pur­cha­se the shrimp and 70 kilos of cocai­ne. But when the load rea­ched Veni­ce on May 16, 2015, it con­tai­ned only shrimp. Appa­ren­tly the­re had been a miscom­mu­ni­ca­tion, and the cocai­ne was never loa­ded. For­tu­na­te­ly for Vada­là, he was also in talks with Mario Pala­ma­ra, a well-con­nec­ted Mora­bi­to bro­ker in Milan who had access to cocai­ne sup­pliers in Latin Ame­ri­ca.

The chan­nels Pala­ma­ra ope­ned for Vada­là see­med to work out bet­ter than the Ecua­do­rian misad­ven­tu­re. Using the same stra­te­gy of fir­st brin­ging in only legal goods — in this case bana­nas — the group suc­ces­sful­ly impor­ted 243 kilos of cocai­ne from San­ta Mar­ta in Octo­ber 2015. The drugs were split into bricks of one kilo each, with most of them sent to Palamara’s group in Milan, which was in char­ge of distri­bu­tion. Even after the suc­ces­sful Colom­bian rou­te was esta­bli­shed, the­re were other pro­blems. In Novem­ber 2015, the cara­bi­nie­ri (mili­ta­ry poli­ce) in Milan stop­ped a sport uti­li­ty vehi­cle car­ry­ing 30 kilos of whi­te pow­der. The cocai­ne had ori­gi­na­ted in the 243 kilo­gram shi­p­ment that had arri­ved in Veni­ce along with more bana­nas. “At that time we noti­ced great tur­moil within the drug ring,” Colo­nel Nico­la Sibi­lia, head of the Anti-Orga­ni­zed Cri­me Unit of the Vene­tian Finan­cial Poli­ce, told OCCRP.

As a result of the sei­zu­re, “Pala­ma­ra is con­vin­ced that there’s an under­co­ver [poli­ce offi­cer in the group], and poin­ts the fin­ger at Giral­di, the only non-Cala­brian,” Sibi­lia explai­ned. “Vio­li defends him with a sword; he is ‘his’ man. Pala­ma­ra then pro­po­ses testing Giral­di, giving him an assi­gn­ment to trans­port to Milan ano­ther 30 kilos left in the Veni­ce ware­hou­ses.” This put Giral­di and the other poli­ce offi­cers in a dif­fi­cult situa­tion. If the Milan poli­ce sei­zed this shi­p­ment, Giraldi’s cover would be blo­wn, risking his life and ending the under­co­ver ope­ra­tion. On the other hand, it is dif­fi­cult for the poli­ce to lea­ve a 30 kilo­gram cocai­ne shi­p­ment untou­ched. A deci­sion was made to fol­low the shi­p­ment without sei­zing it. “It was a dif­fi­cult time. We had to coor­di­na­te a con­trol­led deli­ve­ry ope­ra­tion that could put our under­co­ver agent [Giral­di] at great risk,” Sibi­lia said. The shi­p­ment arri­ved at its desti­na­tion unim­pe­ded, and Giral­di appea­red to have ear­ned back Palamara’s tru­st. The under­co­ver ope­ra­tion and the drug imports both con­ti­nued.

Deadly Connections

Both Vada­là and Pala­ma­ra were obser­ved tra­vel­ling to Colom­bia by Vene­tian inve­sti­ga­tors. The men soon con­trac­ted a new Colom­bian bana­na expor­ter, a com­pa­ny cal­led Loren­zo Bel­lo Diaz Y Cia Ltda. The fir­st cocai­ne shi­p­ment hid­den in bana­nas from Bel­lo Diaz — 222 kilos in 188 bricks — arri­ved in Decem­ber 2015. Loren­zo Bel­lo Diaz, the head of the expor­ter, said he was una­ware of any such cocai­ne-tain­ted shi­p­ment and that he did not know Vada­lá or Pala­ma­ra. He did remem­ber sel­ling a load of bana­nas to Giral­di throu­gh a third com­pa­ny, and said that the Ita­lians owe him tens of thou­sands of dol­lars. The bana­na expor­ter is based in Colombia’s nor­th­we­stern Ura­ba pro­vin­ce, one of the country’s main bana­na cul­ti­va­tion regions. The area is under the con­trol of the Clan del Gol­fo, one of the most power­ful cri­mi­nal groups in Colom­bia. Any ille­gal shi­p­ment pas­sing throu­gh the region’s ports must go throu­gh them. The group con­sists mostly of for­mer para­mi­li­ta­ries who also have allian­ces with legal busi­nes­ses.

“Ura­ba is one of the bir­th­pla­ces of the para­mi­li­ta­ries in Colom­bia,” explai­ned Ariel Ávi­la, a secu­ri­ty ana­ly­st with the Colom­bia-based Pea­ce and Recon­ci­lia­tion Foun­da­tion. “Sin­ce the ’80s, com­pa­ny exe­cu­ti­ves and lan­do­w­ners [in the region] have made allian­ces with ille­gal groups,” he said. “Today, drug traf­fic­kers are still intert­wi­ned with a lot of legal busi­nes­ses, among them bana­na expor­ting. … Many loads [of cocai­ne] are ship­ped direc­tly from the bana­na plan­ta­tions.”

Ripped Off

In the fall of 2015, Vada­là had pro­vi­ded Giral­di (agent 8067) with 125,000 euros to co-finan­ce a shi­p­ment of cocai­ne Pala­ma­ra had pro­cu­red throu­gh a Colom­bian fish com­pa­ny. But the load never mate­ria­li­zed. Vada­là and Zap­pia, his Mora­bi­to “tutor,” were furious at Pala­ma­ra. As a cen­tral link bet­ween all the­se cha­rac­ters, Vio­li — the Mora­bi­to boss who had offe­red the port of Veni­ce as an unloa­ding point — was trap­ped in the midd­le. He orga­ni­zed a mee­ting in Veni­ce, at the very shop­ping mall whe­re the part­ners had met to begin their ven­tu­re, to try to calm things down. “I’ll take care of this one [Pala­ma­ra] myself,” Zap­pia said. “I’ll order for his fami­ly to be kid­nap­ped.” To sal­va­ge the situa­tion, Vio­li had to pro­mi­se that the 125,000 euros would be paid back. Giral­di star­ted to get ner­vous too. After the mee­ting, he wro­te a long memo descri­bing the situa­tion that cap­tu­red Vadalà’s increa­sin­gly impor­tant sta­tu­re within the Ndrangheta’s drug busi­ness.

“Vada­là … told [his Cala­brian bos­ses] that he had been rob­bed, and Vio­li was wor­ried [they] would ‘kid­nap’ Pala­ma­ra,” he wro­te. “They know that Vada­là does drug traf­fic­king, has alrea­dy done many [drug traf­fic­king] jobs, and doesn’t throw away money.” Accor­ding to Giraldi’s notes, Vio­li deman­ded that Pala­ma­ra sol­ve the pro­blem of the mis­sing drugs, or else he him­self would be put in a dif­fi­cult situa­tion after having vou­ched for him.

Behind Bars

A new shi­p­ment of cocai­ne and bana­nas from Loren­zo Bel­lo Diaz, the Colom­bian expor­ter, would have saved Pala­ma­ra, sho­wing that he was able to arran­ge suc­ces­sful shi­p­men­ts. But this is when the poli­ce struck. It had been 18 mon­ths of dan­ge­rous under­co­ver work — one of the only such ope­ra­tions to suc­ces­sful­ly infil­tra­te the Ndran­ghe­ta. On Dec. 3, 2015, 150 offi­cers from the Veni­ce Finan­cial Poli­ce rai­ded Giraldi’s ware­hou­se, arre­sting Vio­li, Giral­di him­self (to pro­tect his iden­ti­ty), and two other asso­cia­tes who were busy unloa­ding 88 kilos of cocai­ne from a Costa Rican shi­p­ment of fake tapio­ca roo­ts. A week later, too late to help Pala­ma­ra, the Loren­zo Bel­lo Diaz bana­nas — along with 222 kilos of cocai­ne — final­ly rea­ched the ware­hou­se. The Finan­cial Poli­ce were the­re to pick it up.

Pala­ma­ra him­self was alrea­dy on the run, and has been a fugi­ti­ve ever sin­ce. He could not be rea­ched for com­ment. Mea­n­whi­le, Vada­là remai­ned in Slo­va­kia, not bothe­ring to hide and see­min­gly uncon­cer­ned about any law enfor­ce­ment action again­st him. He was even able to con­ti­nue run­ning his suc­ces­sful legal busi­nes­ses — until last win­ter. On Feb. 28, 2018, two days after Kuciak’s body, and that of his fian­cee, were found, the Court of Veni­ce final­ly issued an arre­st war­rant for Vada­là, Pala­ma­ra, and the rest of the drug ring. Vada­là was arre­sted in Slo­va­kia on March 13, 2018. He has been extra­di­ted to Ita­ly, whe­re he is in jail and awai­ting trial. His law­yer, and tho­se repre­sen­ting Vio­li and Zap­pia, did not respond to requests for com­ment. Vio­li remains in jail — perhaps the safe­st pla­ce for an Ndran­ghe­ta man who had vou­ched for an under­co­ver offi­cer.

With addi­tio­nal repor­ting by Nathan Jac­card, Pavla Hol­co­va, and Eva Kubá­nio­vá.

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