The maximum criminal states that whoever controls the price of the drug, will control the market. But whoever dominates that economic space will also have power over the territory: the street. In this way, the emerging clan of Albanians in Rome put all its contact machinery to work in 2019 with the help of the Casamonica clan, a historic group in the city, and chartered a private plane. They were going to bring seven tons of cocaine from Brazil. An amount sufficient to flood the 15 districts of the capital with drugs. The exact weight, too, to unbalance the balance of the fragmented criminal scene of the Eternal City. Italy understood in January of that year the changes it was facing with the Brazilian Low Cost case, an international police operation coordinated from Rome and with which the US DEA and infiltrated agents aborted the entry of the shipment of cocaine from Brazil, which would have definitively changed the balance of organized crime in Rome. The Albanians, as happened elsewhere in Europe before, wanted their share of the city.
The symbol of this group’s dazzling rise is Elvis Demce, a 37-year-old second-generation Albanian raised on the outskirts of Rome. “I am God”, he proclaimed when he was released from prison in May 2020, after spending six years there for a homicide of which he ended up acquitted. And even though the fish in the city was already distributed, he behaved like a deity. He replaced his compatriots, arrested in the Brasile Low Cost operation, earned more than 10 million euros in eight months, imported cocaine directly from South America and obtained the approval of the ‘Ndrangheta for business. But he violated the first commandment of the Mafia Constitution: not to make noise. “If we had not arrested him, now it would be huge,” say sources in the investigation.
Rome never wanted owners. Organized crime was able to find a fluid balance in the capital of Italy to distribute a huge territory – the second largest city in Europe by extension –, a fertile place for drug trafficking and money laundering as long as there was no violence. Despite the attempts of the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta, the only nucleus that managed to articulate all the criminal currents was the legendary Banda della Magliana in the seventies and eighties: a Tutti Frutti of criminals and neo-fascists from the terrorist group NAR (Revolutionary Armed Nuclei).
After its slow decomposition, some figures such as Michele Senese, a Neapolitan and delegate of the Camorra in Rome, became the catalysts for all the interests that converged in the city. But his arrest in 2013 and the slow dismantling of his clan opened the door to new groups in 2017, among which the Albanians stood out. “There was another phenomenon that marked the turn of the tables: the murder of Diabolik”, says a prosecutor who knows well the universe of the mafias in Eastern Europe.
Fabrizio Piscitelli, nicknamed Diabolik, was the leader of the Lazio ultras. But he was also a criminal who controlled part of Rome’s drug trade, helped, to a great extent, by groups of Albanians. It was he, in fact, who introduced them to the criminal scene. “They shared football and political faith,” says a magistrate. That is, fascism. And Lazio, whose North Curve is nourished by citizens of the East. On August 7, 2019, while he was sitting on a bench in the park of the Aqueducts in Rome, he was approached by an Argentine hitman dressed in runner and shot him in the back of the head before running off. The Antimafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) had long been following Diabolik, who was trying to become something of a capo in a city that never admitted owners.
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Piscitelli came to sit on December 13, 2017 at a table with the Spada, Casamonica and Exposito mafia families to guarantee stability in the Roman district of Ostia. A meeting held in a restaurant on the outskirts that in the summaries was baptized as Pax Romana. The key is that at that important meal, the Albanians were already there, represented by Dorian Petoku, the protagonist of that attempt to import seven tons on the charter flight from Brazil that ended up being disrupted with the intervention of the DEA and an infiltrated police officer. Piscitelli wanted to have them close. And when Petoku was arrested shortly after in the Low Cost operation, it was the turn of the new king.
Elvis Demce was the turning point. The son of Albanians and totally Romanized — his group spoke in Romanesco, the local dialect — he knew perfectly well the cultural springs of the country and was hungrier than anyone. “ISIS is out”, he wrote to his friends announcing the advent of a new order when he was released for lack of evidence in a murder case. A magistrate who knows his modus operandi, reconstructs the progression of his group. “For 25 years the Albanians worked for the Neapolitan clan of Michele Senese. First as doormen of their premises, then as camels. They are more violent than anyone, and they were strengthened from that muscle. Many ended up in jail and came into contact with the Calabrians. The prison is also a great network of professional contacts and the agreements they made inside there with the ‘Ndrangheta [la mafia calabresa, la más poderosa de Italia], were fundamental. Agreements that reflect a basic mechanism of any business activity”, he points out.
The mechanism is simple. The price of coca at origin is also marked by the buyer’s ability to take care of all the phases after importation: recovering the container from the port, custody, transportation, cutting, distribution on the street. And Demce’s gang was extraordinary offering these comforts to Latin Americans and Calabrians and obtaining a competitive price of about 30,000 euros per kilo. The contacts obtained allowed to buy large quantities of cocaine. First to the Calabrians and then directly to the South American cartels. They did not replace the Calabrians in controlling the drug at source. But they contributed their control in some ports in northern Europe and in Albania (Durrës). “Thanks to that, certain groups of Albanians managed to sell about 30 kilos a week in Rome. To place that drug you have to be sure that you will sell it and have a large logistics and important distribution infrastructure. That means conquering territory. And it is done with violence or agreements with other groups.”
The Albanians did it both ways. And in the Italian Antimafia Prosecutor’s Office the phenomenon was carefully studied. One of his magistrates believes that “it is a novelty that this type of mafia has emerged with so much control of the territory.” “They have more fluid structures, less organized. They are not distributed by positions and roles. It is very different from ‘Ndrangheta, but they are closely related to them. They have the management of some drug channels. They were strong on heroin from Afghanistan and on hashish, both from Albania and Morocco. And, above all, they are attentive to the management of the ports of northern Europe. Especially in Holland: in Rotterdam and Amsterdam”.
The problem is that Demce, who called himself Don Pablo – after Pablo Escobar – wanted to recover what he considered his when he got out of prison. But a compatriot had occupied his territory. “Those areas were managed by Ermal Aarpaj. And that’s where a fratricidal war began”, point out sources from the Carabinieri’s Rome Provincial Command Operational Nucleus. Demce tried to assassinate his rival. “There is only one church here. And in this city, even the cobblestones are ours”, he is heard in an intercepted conversation. And Arapaj first fled to Spain and then returned to Rome to kill Demce. Chaos broke out. And all the codes learned by Cosa Nostra during the attacks of the 1990s were broken. The noise, as always happens, attracted the police and the magistrates, who began to surround them. Cornered by the investigations, it occurred to Demce that the best thing would be to confront the State.
The plan designed by the Albanian capo consisted of assassinating police officers and two magistrates – the brothers Francesco and Giuseppe Cascini, who met by chance investigating this organization -, as a Carabinieri source recalls. “It was crazy. There has never been an attack on a judge in the Italian capital. And I don’t know if they would have made it to the end, but they had the weapons: grenades, bazookas, rifles… They said they were going to use them for that in an exact place.”
The problem is that the telephone conversations where Demce explained that they were going to commit the attack in the heart of Rome — Piazzale Clodio, headquarters of the criminal courts — were carried out through a telephone encryption application called SkyEcc, whose server had been intercepted for months. before by Europol. “They found 170,000 free-talking contacts out there.” Everything was detailed. Operations, quantities. Also photos of hostages about to be executed with a gun to their temples awaiting Elvis Demce’s final order. And in March 2021 the arrests began. “That server was like opening a pandora’s box, especially in Italy. Most criminals of a certain type used this system to communicate. We have whole months of genuine and detailed conversations. It is a very high-profile evidentiary material. We are still working on it”, they point out in the Carabinieri.
The operation concluded last January with 27 arrests and the dismantling of the first layer of the group. Crimes of international drug trafficking aggravated by the use of the mafia method are attributed to them. “Today they are weakened. The blow was very hard. But they are still there. Their liquid and less vertical structure allows them to rearm more quickly”, point out research sources. One life, it used to be said, is not enough to get to know Rome. Elvis Demce tried to conquer an eternal city in just 10 months and ended up in jail. It is possible that his successors will take it now with a little more time.
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