Marc Feren Claude Biart was always careful to hide his face in his Italian cooking tutorials, filming the YouTube videos while laying low from police on a sandy beach in the Caribbean.
But Biart, an alleged member of southern Italy’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate, had failed to obscure his tattoos on tape — a clue authorities now say they used to track down the mobster in the Dominican Republic.
Biart, 53, was arrested Monday at Milan’s Malpensa airport after arriving on a flight from Santo Domingo, according to the Italian state broadcaster Rai, the latest episode in a sprawling, international effort to fight the ‘Ndrangheta.
Italian law enforcement officials working with Interpol, the global police organization, have in the past decade aggressively pursued the group’s affiliates, the country’s biggest and most influential mafia organization.
Officials have traced cocaine deals and brutal murders in its home base in Calabria — the “toe” of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula — to hundreds of mobsters across three continents, from a local mayor and police chief up to a former member of Parliament. In one case this week, officials detained one man as he was reportedly being treated for COVID-19 at a Portuguese hospital.
But of all those arrests, Biart’s may be the only one that was facilitated by both body art and gourmet hobbies.
According to a Rai report shared by Italy’s Interior Ministry, law enforcement authorities had ordered Biart’s arrest in 2014 for criminal drug trafficking on behalf of the ‘Ndrangheta’s Cacciola clan.
Biart fled to Costa Rica and then more than five years ago to Boca Chica, a beach town in the Dominican Republic known for its white sand and clear blue waters, police said. Although the town is a popular destination for Italian tourists, Biart and his wife kept his distance from their countrymen.
In their free time, however, they appeared to have uploaded several cooking tutorials for Italian recipes to YouTube, including ones where Biart’s tattoos were visible.
It is unclear if he has retained a lawyer or if his videos are still online. He could not immediately be reached for comment by The Washington Post.
While film and TV depictions of the mafia have launched two other crime syndicates — Cosa Nostra in Sicily, and Camorra in Naples — into international notoriety, the more quiet ‘Ndrangheta has managed to transcend both organizations in wealth and political power.
With a vast network based on blood ties, the ‘Ndrangheta’s reach extends from South America to Canada and across Europe, where it reportedly controls most of the cocaine market, the Atlantic reported. A 2013 study found that the group’s business revenue, mostly from drug trafficking and a garbage disposal operation, amounted to 3.5 percent of Italy’s GDP.
“They are like water,” Giuseppe Governale, the top anti-mafia prosecutor in Italy, said at a news briefing last fall, according to The Associated Press. “Unlike Cosa Nostra and Camorra, which go abroad [just] to make quick money, ‘Ndrangheta does go there, yes, to make money, but also to exploit the local communities.”
The group acts as a kind of middleman in the cocaine business, the Atlantic reported, selling to other criminal organizations while also sucking away European Union funds for agriculture and other industries and ruthlessly killing any members who make a mistake.
The fugitive arrested in a Lisbon hospital this week, Francesco Pelle, had been convicted in one such case.
During a power struggle between two clans in a Calabrian town, Pelle was wounded and then ordered a hit that resulted in the death of his rival’s wife. He disappeared days before a criminal conviction was upheld by one of Italy’s top courts in 2019.
More than 350 defendants, all alleged members of the ‘Ndrangheta, were tried earlier this year on similar charges of murder and extortion in Italy’s largest mafia trial in decades.