ROME (AP) — One of Italy’s most-wanted fugitive mob bosses was arrested after five years on the lam Wednesday when police found him hiding in a home bunker built between the bathroom and his son’s bedroom.
Antonio Pelle, 54, crawled out of his hiding place on his stomach to the top of an armoire that had shielded the bunker at his home in southern Reggio Calabria. Video of his surrender showed at least two dozen police surrounding the wardrobe waiting for him to emerge.
Pelle, known as “Mamma,” was serving a 20-year prison sentence for mafia association, arms and drug trafficking when he slipped out of a hospital in the town of Locri in September 2011. He had been taken to the hospital to be treated for anorexia, Italian news reports said.
Pelle, who was on the Interior Ministry’s list of most dangerous mob fugitives, is considered the boss of the Pelle-Romeo clan of San Luca, in Italy’s southern Calabria region. The clan’s long-running feud with the rival Nirta-Strangio family erupted in a bloody vendetta in Germany in 2007, when a gangland massacre at an Italian restaurant left six people dead.
The carnage drew international attention to the reach of Calabria’s ‘ndrangheta mob, which is today considered more powerful than the Sicilian Mafia and has become one of the world’s biggest cocaine traffickers.
The Reggio Calabria police chief, Raffaele Grassi, said Pelle was the last of the “strategic protagonists” of the long-running San Luca feud.
“With his capture and the trials underway, each piece of the mosaic has been put in place,” the ANSA news agency quoted Grassi as saying at a press conference announcing the arrest.
The San Luca feud cooled between 2000 and 2006, but erupted again when Maria Strangio, the wife of one of the presumed heads of the Strangio clan, was killed on Dec. 25, 2006. The retaliatory massacre in Duisburg, Germany marked the first known time the ‘ndrangheta exported a vendetta.