Italian mobster, 16 years on the lam, is found working at a pizzeria

ROME — After the arrest of Matteo Messina Denaro, 60, police found that, while on the run, Italy’s most wanted mobster had expensive tastes, dressing in designer duds and favoring expensive perfumes. When he was taken into custody at a clinic in Palermo, Sicily, he was wearing a watch estimated to cost about $35,000, prosecutors later said.

Life on the lam was less glamorous for Edgardo Greco, 63, a lesser-known mobster linked to the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta crime syndicate, who was arrested Thursday. French police captured him in the early hours in St.-Étienne, a city in east-central France, as he was going to work for his night shift in a pizzeria, where he prepared dough, tomato sauces and pastas.

Greco had been living in a small apartment in the center of the city. “A modest lifestyle, not glitzy at all,” said Lt. Col. Dario Pini, commander of the Italian carabinieri unit whose investigation led to his arrest.

Greco was convicted in Italy of the 1991 murder of two members of a criminal organization during what prosecutors described as a “mafia war” between competing gangs in the city of Cosenza, in the Calabria region of the country. Greco eluded capture when a warrant for his arrest was issued in 2006, but he was later convicted in absentia. A European arrest warrant was issued in 2014.

Tracking down Greco was not easy, Pini said. Often fugitives give themselves away when they contact close relatives, but Greco was not in touch with his wife and two sons, who live in Austria, or with relatives in Calabria, Pini said.

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Investigators got a break late last year when, plumbing the internet for images of people who looked like Greco, they came across two articles. One, from 2014, showed a man whom they matched with Greco “to 95%” accuracy. They also came across a July 2021 interview in a St.-Étienne newspaper announcing the opening of an Italian restaurant, Caffè Rossini. Its owner, Paolo Dimitrio, said in the interview that his goal was to “create an elaborate Italian cuisine, only with fresh and homemade products.”

Comparing photographs they had of Greco, investigators determined that Dimitrio was, in fact, the fugitive mobster. (Incidentally, Caffè Rossini went under a few months after opening. “COVID didn’t help,” Pini said.)

Technology has helped investigators find wanted criminals before. Last year, a Sicilian who was on Italy’s most dangerous fugitives list was tracked down using Google maps.

Armed with the photographs, Italian investigators looped in their French colleagues, and this week, Greco was arrested as he was beginning a shift. The Interpol project Cooperation Against ’Ndrangheta “facilitated coordination and collaboration with the French authorities, carrying out surveillance of the suspect’s location, enabling his swift arrest,” Interpol said in a statement Thursday.

“At first, he insisted on his alias,” Pini said of the arrest. But once the fugitive saw that Italian investigators had traveled from Cosenza for the operation, “he realized it no longer made sense to continue lying, and he said, ‘Yes, it’s me,’” Pini added.

With the arrest, “we no longer have fugitives to capture from the Cosenza area, for now,” said Col. Agatino Saverio Spoto, provincial commander in Cosenza of the carabinieri, Italy’s military police. But the search continues for other ’Ndrangheta bosses, above all Pasquale Bonavota, who is “considered to be as dangerous as Matteo Messina Denaro,” he said.

Maurizio Diana, owner of L’Agora restaurant, where Greco was arrested, said he was “shocked” to learn that he had a convicted killer on staff. Diana, who was born in Sicily but has lived in St.-Étienne for more than 30 years, said he had hired Greco about three months ago to work from 2 to 6 a.m.

A request to have Greco extradited to Italy will be “initiated in the coming days,” Spoto said.

Italian officials praised the arrest.

“After Matteo Messina Denaro,” said Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, “yet another arrest of a dangerous fugitive shows how constant and fruitful the work on this front is.”

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