EXPIRED: 11/04/09 – Antonio Pelle, 77, was better known as ‘Ntoni Gambazzaone’ but regardless of what you called him, one thing was true: he was one of Italy’s most powerful mafia leaders alive, having been on the list of Italy’s 30 most wanted criminals.

No longer.

Pelle was a senior leader of the Calabrian mafia, ‘Ndrangheta, in the area of San Luca on Italy’s southern tip. The ‘Ndrangheta has become one of the most powerful criminal organisations in Italy, with the expansion of its international drug trafficking activities in Europe and other parts of the world.

With such a big job come’s a lot of stress. And that can lay heavy on your heart. ‘Ntoni Gambazzaone’s heart was no different.

The Pelle-Vottari clan is one of the protagonists in the San Luca feud against the Strangio-Nirta clan. The vendetta between two clans reached the headlines of the world press in 2007, when six men belonging to Pelle’s clan were shot dead in their cars in front of a pizzeria near the train station of Duisburg in western Germany. Despite claiming non-involvement in the facts, he was indirectly involved through his son-in-law, Francesco Vottari, one the protagonists among disputing clans. Amazingly, the feud dates back to an egg-throwing incident in 1991, when a fight broke out that left two young men dead and two injured.

His son Salvatore Pelle, wanted since 1991, was arrested in March, 2007. During an operation in San Luca, police discovered an underground bunker in one of the seized buildings, which investigators believed was used as a hideout by Pelle.

Having been on the run since 2000, Pelle was arrested this past June, in a hospital in Polistena, Calabria, recovering from a hernia surgery. “It’s all over , it’s all over,” he said to the police, who found him when they followed his wife visiting the hospital.

During his criminal career he was acquitted in nine out of ten trials. In the early years his lawyer was Giovanni Leone, before he became President of the Italian Republic in 1971. This time his lawyer didn’t work such magic. He was sentenced to 26 years’ in prison for kidnapping, drug trafficking and mafia association.

But there was the matter of Pelle’s stressed out heart. He was released from prison on Tuesday because of declining health and returned home.

Just a few months after his arrest, his heart gave out.




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