Salvatore Riina

Salvatore Riina

Infobox Criminal
subject_name = Salvatore "Totò" Riina

image_size = 150px
image_caption = Mugshot of Mafia boss Totò Riina after his arrest in 1993
date_of_birth = Birth date and age|1930|11|19|df=y
place_of_birth = Corleone, Sicily
charge = Multiple Murder; Mafia association
penalty = Life imprisonment
status = Imprisoned since 1993
spouse = Antonietta Bagarella (sister of Leoluca Bagarella)
father = Giovanni Riina (d. September 11, 1943
siblings = Four siblings
children = Two sons, Giovanni and Giuseppe, and two daughters

Salvatore Riina, also known as Totò Riina (born November 16, 1930, Corleone) is a member of the Sicilian Mafia who became the most powerful member of the criminal organisation in the early 1980s. Fellow mobsters nicknamed him The Beast due to his violent nature, or sometimes The Short One due to his diminutive height ("La Belva" and "U curtu" in Sicilian respectively) although apparently they never called him these nicknames to his face. During his life-long career in crime he is believed to have personally killed around forty people and to have ordered the deaths of several hundreds more.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Riina and his Mafia faction, the Corleonesi, waged a ruthless campaign of violence against both rival mobsters and the state which culminated in the assassination of the anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. This caused widespread public revulsion of the Mafia and led to a major crackdown by the authorities, resulting in the capture and imprisonment of Riina and many of his associates.


Rise to power

Riina was raised in Corleone [The town chosen by Mario Puzo for the birthplace of his fictional mafia don Vito Coreleone. Co-incidentally, one set of Al Pacino's grandparents also hailed from Coreleone. Source: Francis Ford Coppola's commentary for The Godfather.] and joined the local Mafia clan at the age of nineteen by committing a murder on their behalf. The following year he killed a man during an argument and served six years in prison for manslaughter.

The head of the Mafia Family in Corleone was Michele Navarra until 1958 when he was shot to death on the orders of Luciano Leggio, a ruthless 33-year-old mafioso who subsequently became the new boss. Together with Totò Riina and Bernardo Provenzano (who were two of the gunmen in Navarra's slaying), Leggio began to increase the power of the Corleonesi. Because they hailed from a relatively small town, the Corleonesi were not a major factor in the Sicilian Mafia in the 1950s, at least not compared to the major Families based in the capital, Palermo. In a gross underestimation of the mobsters from Corleone, the Palermo bosses often referred to the Corleonesi as "i viddani" - "the peasants".

In the early 1960s, Leggio, Riina and Provenzano, who had spent the last few years hunting down and killing dozens of Navarra's surviving supporters, were forced to go into hiding due to arrest warrants. Riina and Leggio were arrested and tried in 1969 for murders carried out earlier that decade. They were acquitted due to intimidation of the jurors and witnesses. Riina went into hiding later that year after he was indicted on a further murder charge and he was to remain a fugitive for the next twenty-three years.

In 1974 Luciano Leggio was arrested and imprisoned for the murder of Michele Navarra sixteen years previously, and although Leggio retained some influence from behind bars, Riina was now the effective head of the Corleonesi. He also had close relations with the 'Ndrangheta, the mafia-type association in Calabria. His "compare d’anello" (a kind of best man and trusted friend) at his wedding in 1974 was Domenico Tripodo, a powerful boss and prolific cigarette icon [ E ora la ’ndrangheta supera cosa nostra: Intervista a Enzo Ciconte] , Polizia e democrazia, November-December 2007]

During the 1970s Sicily became an important location in the international heroin trade, especially with regards to the refining and exporting of the narcotic. The profits to be had from heroin were vast, and exceeded those of the traditional activities of extortion and loan-sharking. Totò Riina wanted to take control of the trade and was to do so by planning a war against the rival Mafia Families.

During the late 1970s, Riina orchestrated the murders of a number of high-profile public officials, such as judges, prosecutors and members of the Carabinieri. As well as intimidating the state, these assassinations also helped to frame the Corleonesi's rivals. The Godfathers of many Mafia Families were often highly visible in their communities, rubbing shoulders with politicians and mayors, protecting themselves with bribes rather than violence. In contrast, Riina, Provenzano and other Corleonesi were fugitives, always in hiding and rarely seen by other mobsters, let alone the public. Consequently, when a policeman or judge was killed it was the more visible Mafia Families who were the subject of official investigations, especially as these assassinations were deliberately carried out in the territory (or 'turf') of the Corleonesi's rivals rather than anywhere near the town of Corleone itself.

The Mafia War of 1981 to 1983

The Corleonesi's primary rivals were Stefano Bontade, Salvatore Inzerillo and Gaetano Badalamenti, bosses of various powerful Palermo Mafia Families. Between 1981 and 1983, Bontade and Inzerillo, together with many associates and members of both their Mafia and blood families, were killed. There were up to a thousand killings during this time period as Riina and the Corleonesi, together with their allies, wiped out their rivals.

By 1983, the Corleonesi were effectively ruling the Mafia, and over the next few years Riina increased his influence by eliminating the Corleonesi's allies, such as Filippo Marchese, Giuseppe Greco and Rosario Riccobono.

Riina also ordered the murders of judges, policemen and prosecutors in an attempt to terrify the authorities. One of the most high-profile slayings was of General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa.

Whilst they helped them become the most powerful clan in Sicily, the Corleonesi's tactics backfired to some degree when, in 1983, a convicted double-killer named Tommaso Buscetta became the first Sicilian Mafioso to become an informant, or pentito, and co-operate with the authorities. Buscetta was from a losing family in the Mafia war, and he had lost several relatives and many friends to Riina's hitmen; becoming an informant was the only way both to save himself and get his revenge on Riina. Buscetta provided a great deal of information to judge Giovanni Falcone, and he testified at the Maxi Trial in the mid 1980s that saw hundreds of Mafiosi imprisoned. Riina picked up another life sentence for murder at the Maxi Trial, but it was another "in absentia" sentence as he was still a fugitive.

In 1989 Riina arranged the murders of a number of his allies, including Ciaculli boss Vincenzo Puccio and Puccio's two brothers. Apparently Vincenzo Puccio had been planning to try and overthrow Riina as head of the Sicilian Mafia but the Corleonesi boss had found out about the plot.

The “kiss of honour”

According to Riina’s former driver and pentito, Baldassare Di Maggio, Totò Riina allegedly greeted the former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti with a “kiss of honour” at a meeting to discuss the outcomes of the Maxi Trial against Cosa Nostra. Stille, "Excellent Cadavers", p. 392] Di Maggio said in testimony to Palermo prosecutors: "I am absolutely certain that I recognized Giulio Andreotti because I saw him many times on television. I interpreted the kiss that Andreotti and Salvatore Riina exchanged as a sign of respect." [ Andreotti and Mafia: A Kiss Related] , The New York Times, April 21, 1993] it icon [ Le dichiarazioni di Baldassare Di Maggio] , in Sentenza Andreotti]

According to Di Maggio, the incident happened in September 1987 at the Palermo home of Ignazio Salvo, a high-ranking associate of Andreotti who was accused by informers of being one of the politician's main contacts with Cosa Nostra. "When we walked in, the people present were the Hon. Giulio Andreotti and the Hon. Salvo Lima," Di Maggio said. "They stood up and I shook their hand and kissed Ignazio Salvo. Riina, however, greeted with a kiss all three people."

Andreotti dismissed the charges against him as “lies and slander … the kiss of Riina, mafia summits … scenes out of a comic horror film.” Veteran journalist Indro Montanelli doubted the claim, saying Andreotti "doesn't even kiss his own children." [ Heat on the Mob] , Time Magazine, June 3, 1996] Di Maggio's credibility had been shaken in the closing weeks of the Andreotti trial when he admitted killing a man while under state icon [ La confessione di Balduccio: "Ho ucciso anche da pentito"] , La Repubblica, October 4, 1999] Appeal court judges rejected Di Maggio’s testimony about the kiss of respect. [ Andreotti escapes conviction] , BBC News, July 25, 2003] [ 'Kiss of honour' between Andreotti and Mafia head never happened, say judges] , The Independent, July 26, 2003]


Giovanni Falcone and his colleague Paolo Borsellino were making good progress in their war against the Mafia, which naturally meant they were under the constant threat of death. They also felt that they were being hampered by colleagues and superiors, some of whom were in the pay of the Mafia.

On May 23, 1992, Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were killed by a bomb planted under the highway outside of Palermo. A few weeks later Borsellino and five of his bodyguards were killed by a car bomb. Both attacks were ordered by Riina and carried out by his many assassins. The public were outraged, both at the Mafia and also the politicians who they felt had failed to adequately protect Falcone and Borsellino, and the Italian government arranged for a massive crackdown of the Mafia.

On January 15, 1993, acting on a tip-off from an informant, armed police from the Carabinieri arrested Totò Riina in Palermo [ [ Italy Arrests Sicilian Mafia's Top Leader] , The New York Times, January 16, 1993] as he sat at some traffic-lights in his car (his former driver, Balduccio Di Maggio, was the informant in question; several of his relatives were later murdered for this [ [ Brother of top Mafia turncoat shot] , BBC News, March 21, 1998] ). Riina claimed to be just a poor harassed accountant, and in his ill-fitting suit, the chubby, softly-spoken 62 year old looked to be just that. Asked about the firm he worked at, he answered that he would not mention it in order not to damage their reputation. Hauled into custody, Riina was polite and respectful towards his captors, and later thanked the police officers and court officials for treating him well, although he managed to insult their intelligence by not only saying that he had never heard of the Mafia but also by insisting that he had "no idea" he had been Sicily's most wanted fugitive for the last three decades. Other accounts also say that Riina kept on shouting "communists!" to the policemen arresting him and to the court processing him.

The public's delight at Riina's arrest (one newspaper had the sensationalistic headline "The Devil" pasted over Riina's mugshot) was dampened somewhat when it was revealed that, during his thirty years as a fugitive, Riina had actually been living at home in Palermo all along. He had obtained medical attention for his diabetes and registered all four of his children under their real names at the local hospital. He even went to Venice on honeymoon and was still unspotted. Many cynically declared that the authorities only arrested Riina because they were under public pressure to do so after the Falcone/Borsellino murders, and saw the ease with which Riina had evaded justice for so long as an example of what many regarded as the apathetic - if not actually complicit - attitudes of the Sicilian authorities to the Mafia.

Controversy about Riina's arrest

Giovanni Brusca – one of Riina's hitmen who personally detonated the bomb that killed Falcone, and later became an informant after his 1996 arrest – has offered a controversial version of the capture of Totò Riina: a secret deal between Carabinieri officers, secret agents and Cosa Nostra bosses tired of the dictatorship of the Corleonesi. According to Brusca, Bernardo Provenzano "sold" Riina in exchange for the valuable archive of compromising material that Riina held in his apartment in Via Bernini 52 in Palermo.Schneider & Schneider, "Reversible Destiny", p. 156] Lodato, "Ho ucciso Giovanni Falcone", p. 135-37]

The Carabinieri’s ROS (Reparto Operativo Speciale) persuaded the Palermo Public Prosecutor's Office not to immediately search the Riina’s apartment, and then abandoned surveillance of the apartment after six hours leaving it unprotected. The apartment was only raided 18 days later but it had been completely emptied. According to the Carabnieri commanders the house was abandoned because they didn't consider it to be important and they actually never told the prosecutor to be willing to mantain the survelliance during the following days.cite book|last=Jamieson|first=Alison|title=The Antimafia: Italy's Fight Against Organized Crime|year=1999|publisher=Macmillan|location=Houndmills, Basingstoke|id=ISBN 0-333-71900-X]

This version of Riina’s arrest has been denied by Carabinieri commander, general Mario Mori (at the time deputy head of the ROS). Mori, however, confirmed that channels of communication were opened with Cosa Nostra through Vito Ciancimino – a former mayor of Palermo convicted for Mafia association – who was close to the Corleonesi. To sound out the willingness of Mafiosi to talk, Ciancimino contacted Riina’s private doctor, Antonino Cinà. When Ciancimino was informed that the goal was to arrest Riina, he seemed unwilling to continue. At this point, the arrest and cooperation of Balduccio Di Maggio led to the arrest of Riina.

In 2006, the Palermo Court absolved Mario Mori and Captain "Ultimo" (Sergio De Caprio) – the man who arrested Riina – of the charge of consciously aiding and abetting the Mafia.

In Jail

Although he already had two unserved life-sentences, Riina was nonetheless tried and convicted of over a hundred counts of murder, including sanctioning the slayings of Falcone and Borsellino. In 1998, Riina picked up yet another life sentence for the high-profile murder of Salvo Lima, a politician who had long since been suspected of being in league with the Mafia and who had been shot dead in 1992 after he had failed to prevent the convictions of Mafiosi in the Maxi Trial of the mid 1980s. [ [ Italian Mafia bossess get life sentences] , BBC News, July 15, 1998]

Riina is currently held in a maximum-security prison with limited contact with the outside world, in order to prevent him from running his organization from behind bars as many others have done. Over $125,000,000 in assets were confiscated from Riina - probably just a fraction of his illicit fortune - and his vast mansion was also acquired by the crusading anti-Mafia mayor of Corleone in 1997. In a move that was both practical and symbolic, this mansion was turned into a school for the local children.

In 2004 it was reported that Riina had suffered two heart attacks in May and December the previous year. In April 2006, a full thirteen years after his arrest, he was on trial for the murder of a journalist, Mauro De Mauro, who vanished without trace in September 1970. One of Riina's close friends in the Corleonesi Clan, Bernardo Provenzano, was believed to have taken over as head of the organization. Provenzano was arrested on April 11, 2006, in the countryside near Corleone after forty-three years in hiding.


Salvatore Riina married his wife Ninetta (sister of Leoluca Bagarella) in 1974, and they had four children. His two sons, Giovanni and Giuseppe, followed in their father's footsteps and have since joined him behind bars. In November 2001, 24-year-old Giovanni Riina was convicted of committing four murders in 1995. [ [ Life in jail for son of mafia boss] , CNN, November 23, 2001] On December 31, 2004, Riina's youngest son, Giuseppe Riina, was sentenced to fourteen years for various crimes, including Mafia association, extortion and money laundering. [ [,6119,2-10-1462_1641943,00.html Mafia boss's son jailed] ,, December 31, 2004] One of his daughters, however, was elected class representative in her high school, where she was able to return, aged 21, when the family came out of hiding after her father's arrest. In 2006, the council of Corleone created T-shirts reading "I love Corleone" in an attempt to dissociate the town from its infamous Mafiosi, but an in-law of Riina - the brother of Riina's daughter's husband - began an attempt to sue the Corleone mayor by claiming the Riina family owned the copyright to the phrase. [ [,,13509-2356726,00.html Mafia family sues over Godfather town T-shirt] , The Times (UK), September 14, 2006]

His oldest son Giovanni Riina, has been sentenced to life in prison for four murders by a court in Palermo. He had been in police custody since 1997. [ Mafia suspects held in 'Godfather' town] , BBC News, June 5, 2002] According to Antonio Ingroia, one of the prosecutors of the Direzione Distrittuale Antimafia (DDA) of Palermo, Giovanni Riina, is among the possible leading figures in the Sicilian Cosa Nostra after the arrest of Provenzano in 2006 and Salvatore Lo Piccolo in 2007, but still to young to be recognized as leading boss of the icon [ Lo Piccolo, il fautore della strategia della “rimmersione”] , Intervista ad Antonio Ingroia, Antimafia Duemila n. 56, Anno VII° Numero 5 – 2007] His second son, Giuseppe Salvatore Riina was among taken into custody in June 2002. He was charged with establishing Mafia-controlled companies to launder money from protection rackets, drug-trafficking and tenders for public building contracts on the island.


Thanks to his natural habit of being secretive and evasive, Riina remains enigmatic with regards to his personality. An informant, Antonino Calderone, described Riina as being "unbelievably ignorant, but he had an intuition and intelligence and was difficult to fathom ... very hard to predict". He said Riina was soft spoken and a dedicated father and husband. Riina was highly persuasive and often highly sentimental. He followed the simple codes of the brutal, ancient world of the Sicilian countryside, where force is the only law and there is no contradiction between personal kindness and extreme ferocity. "His philosophy was that if someone’s finger hurt, it was better to cut off his whole arm just to make sure," Calderone said. [Stille, "Excellent Cadavers", p. 230-31.]

One of the more bizarre anecdotes Calderone related was that of Riina giving a tearful eulogy at the funeral of Calderone's murdered brother, even though Riina himself had ordered the killing. Calderone also said that, when Riina set his sights on marrying his sweetheart, Ninetta, the young lady's family objected to the union. Calderone quoted Riina as saying "I don't want any woman other than my Ninetta, and if they [her family] don't let me marry her, I'll have to kill some people." Ninetta's family soon dropped any opposition to Riina's matrimonial plans.

Giovanni Brusca claimed that, during 1991 and early 1992, Riina contemplated acts of terrorism against the state to get them to back off in their crackdown against the Mafia, including acts such as bombing the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In fact, during the months after Riina's arrest, there were a series of bombings by the Corleonesi against several tourist spots on the Italian mainland, resulting in the deaths of ten people, including an entire family. Brusca also quoted Riina as declaring that the children of informants were legitimate targets, and indeed Brusca subsequently tortured and killed the 11-year-old son of an informant in a failed attempt to silence the boy's father who had been giving testimony against Riina.

Although Riina's criminal actions were geared towards the acquisition of wealth and power, his treachery and the sheer number of murders he either committed or sanctioned seem excessive even by the standards of other gangsters. This may suggest that he was a psychopath, but his clandestine nature even after capture, and refusal to say much more than protestations of innocence, mean any profound theories about his psychological state are only second-hand speculation.

In popular culture

He was played by Victor Cavallo in the HBO movie "Excellent Cadavers" which was based on the events in the book of the same name by Alexander Stille. [ [ Excellent Cadavers at the Internet Movie Database] ]

In 2007, Italian television broadcast "Capo dei Capi" (Boss of Bosses), a six-part miniseries based on Riina's life and crimes [ [ Riina watches life story from jail cell] , Variety, November 5, 2007] He is played by Claudio Gioè.


*cite book|last=Dickie|first=John|title=Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia|year=2004|publisher=Hodder & Stoughton|location=London|id=ISBN 0-340-82434-4
*cite book|last=Jamieson|first=Alison|title=The Antimafia: Italy's Fight Against Organized Crime|year=1999|publisher=Macmillan|location=Houndmills, Basingstoke|id=ISBN 0-333-71900-X
*it icon Lodato, Saverio (1999). "Ho ucciso Giovanni Falcone: la confessione di Giovanni Brusca", Milan: Mondadori ISBN 88-04-45048-7
*Schneider, Jane T. & Peter T. Schneider (2003). "Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo", Berkeley: University of California Press ISBN 0-520-23609-2
*cite book|last=Stille|first=Alexander|title=Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic|year=1995|publisher=Jonathan Cape|location=London|id=ISBN 0-224-03761-7

External links

*it icon [,%20Liggio%20incorona%20Riina%2023.10.2005%20pa03.pdf Lo «sbarco» di Totò Riina a Palermo] , La Sicilia, October 23, 2005
* [ BBC report on Riina's participation in a prison hunger strike] , July 16, 2002
*it icon [ Totò Riina nega in tribunale di conoscere Cosa Nostra] from
*it icon [ Totò Riina accusa i pentiti] from
*it icon [ Totò riina si lamenta con gli amici] , short clip of Riina in court from

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