Leave the Gun, Take the Turbine: Italy Seizes Mafia-Run Wind Companies

How and why the Sicilian Mafia turned clean energy into a dirty business.

Wind generators are seen on a farm in the countryside near the Sicilian town of Trapani, southern Italy, on September 29, 2009. (Photo: Reuters)

Sal holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

If Francis Ford Coppola ever came out of semiretirement and directed a fourth Godfather film (he shouldn't, because the Corleone saga should have concluded with Michael alone on Lake Tahoe at the end of II), theatergoers might very well be treated to a sit-down scene in Palermo between Don Vincent Mancini, played by an aging Andy Garcia, and some middleman energy pusher begging for a second chance after double-crossing the cappo di tutti cappo.

As the two men discussed business, viewers might notice the mise-en-scène: stout wine glasses half full of red wine, plates billowing with panelli and vastedi, and Mancini's stone-faced button men foot soldiers. And, if they looked beyond Mancini's desk, out the window, they might see wind turbines scattered about parched-Earth hills, their oversized blades slowly spinning in the morning breeze.

The Sicily of today is very different from the one portrayed in the previous Godfather films—Italy is now the third-largest producer of wind power in Europe. Much of this growth is driven by government subsidies in the sunny, windy southern half of the boot—aka mob-controlled Sicily, where last week police announced the seizure of $1.7 billion in mafia assets principally controlled by renewable energy developer Vito Nicastri, a businessman known in the streets of Palermo as "the Lord of the Wind."

The mob-run entities include 43 wind and solar energy companies, 98 properties and 66 bank accounts.

Don't be fooled by Nicastri's cool nickname—the dude was ruthless.

In addition to using the energy companies to launder money for Sicily's capo di tutti cappi, Matteo Messina Denaro, Nicastri murdered his pregnant girlfriend, authorities allege.

And, as Grist wisely points out, it wasn't just that Nicastri was investing mob money in renewable energy—he was also scamming the public out of subsidies intended to promote wind energy.

So, what's next, now that Italy is the proud new owner of all these solar and wind companies? Will the country continue to subsidize solar and wind, or will they have a change of heart and pull the government cash when the current program ends in 2020?

Other questions come to mind, namely this one: If the mob infiltrated green industries in Sicily, who's to say organized crime in other countries isn't doing the same thing, say with illegal logging?

And—go with me here—could it be possible that greedy mobsters are preventing solar and wind companies in other parts of the world from reaching full profit potential? That they're directly causing governments to be disinterested in creating or renewing clean-tech subsidies? In other words, when the book on climate change is ultimately written centuries from now, will it include an entire chapter or merely a passing paragraph on how the mob blunted the tools (solar, wind) that mankind could have used stop global warming sooner?

Stay tuned.

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