Italian authorities on Wednesday discovered a notorious mafia fugitive who’d been on the run for five years, hiding in a secret bunker in his home in the Calabrian province of southern Italy.
Antonio Pelle, considered the head of the Pelle-Vottari-Romeo clan and a prominent figure in the notorious ‘Ndrangheta global crime syndicate based in the province, was found after a search of his home in Benestare led to the small bunker he’d constructed between a bedroom and a bathroom, outfitted with just a bed, cushions, a plastic bag full of cash, and water bottles.
The hiding place was so elaborate that it took police several hours to find him, La Notizia reported. A video of Wednesday’s arrest shows Pelle, 54, peering out from behind a wardrobe at the bunker’s entrance.
“Fifty of us searched the two-story villa where Pelle had always lived,” said police commander Francesco Ratta in a news conference. “But it took a very attentive eye to discover his hiding place.”
Pelle, who inherited his father’s nickname, “La Mamma”, was first arrested in 2008 and convicted for mafia involvement, weapons- and drug-related charges, and handed a 20-year sentence. In 2011, he escaped from a hospital in Locri, Calabria, where he was reportedly receiving treatment for a form of anorexia. Ever since, Pelle has been on the Italian interior ministry’s list of most-wanted mafia fugitives.
In 2007, Pelle’s clan made headlines when a spate of revenge killings with the Nirta-Strangio clan culminated in a bloodbath at a birthday party in an Italian restaurant in Duisburg, Germany. Six people were shot and killed execution-style.
The ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate is one of Italy’s most notorious and wealthy, due to its alleged ties with South American drug cartels and prominence within a trans-Atlantic drug ring — surpassing the traditional axis between the Sicilian and American Cosa Nostra, due to its ability to move vast amounts of cocaine and heroin across Europe.
It is believed to have links to the Los Zetas cartel in Mexico and to the Gambino family in the U.S. Europol described the ‘Ndrangheta as “among the richest and most powerful organized crime groups at a global level” in a 2013 report assessing the threat posed by organized crime in Italy.