Investigators considered him the undisputed leader of Cosa Nostra—“U curtu,” the boss of massacres. When he died in November 2017 (see post, “The Long Shadow of ‘Totò’ Riina, December 14, 2017), Riina was serving 26 life sentences. The first was for a crime committed in Corleone in the 1950s. The most notorious were the attacks that cost the lives of the anti-mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino in 1992 (see 2 posts, “The Courage to be Heroes,” August 10 and 17, 2017).
Then came two announcements in January 2019. First, the Italian government asked the family of Riina to pay 2 million euros (about $113 million) for expenses incurred while he was in a Parma prison. This amount is what it cost the State for his 24 years behind bars. The tax collection agency in Sicily presented the accounting to Riina’s widow, Ninetta Bagarella. The family’s response: “To us it seems ridiculous because the law expressly excludes heirs of the condemned from reimbursing the government for the costs of his maintenance in prison.” Both sides are studying the issue further.
Then, also in January, the youngest of Riina’s four children, Lucia, announced on Facebook that she had opened a restaurant in Paris the previous November. Called “Corleone by Lucia Riina,” the restaurant promises “authentic Sicilian-Italian cuisine to be discovered in an elegant and welcoming environment.” A stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe,the restaurant “Corleone” also displays Lucia’s paintings inside.
Lucia, 39, had moved to the French capital in August of 2018 with her husband, Vincenzo Bellomo, and her 2-year old daughter. Ironically, Lucia’s father used the name “Vincenzo Bellomo” during his years on the lam. When he was finally arrested, he was in possession of an identity card that said Vincenzo Bellomo of Mazara del Vallo (a town in the province of Trapani in Sicily), accountant. As a child, Lucia thought that her name was Lucia Bellomo. She claims that she only discovered the true identity of her father on the day of his arrest in January of 1993. Yet, Lucia uses the surname Riina not only for her restaurant but also as the signature on her paintings.
The news of the restaurant’s name and use of the coat of arms of the town of Corleone are not without controversy. The mayor of the Sicilian town stated, “Over the years we have witnessed the abuse of the brand ‘Corleone,” which has served to promote goods of all kinds. If used by companies in good standing and by respectable people to promote the name of our town, we cannot but be happy. It is not permissible, however, to promote the name by people who mistreated our town—by people related to the mafia boss, in this case. We will do everything we can to neutralize this initiative…and the use of the emblem of the town, the rampant lion with the heart.”
Less than a week after Lucia’s announcement of the restaurant and the publicity in the Italian newspapers, she announced to the French newspaper Le Parisien that she will remove the family name from the sign of the restaurant: “I did not try to provoke or offend anyone,” she explains, “I just wanted to enhance my identity as an artist-painter, and also highlight the Sicilian cuisine…. I announce that I have decided to withdraw my name from the sign of the restaurant and advertising, even if I regret that my identity as a painter and a woman is denied….I have a normal life now. Today I am a painter and the mother of a child. My father has his story, I have mine.”
I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of both of these stories—the request for payment from the government, and the name and emblem of the restaurant. Who knows how sincere Lucia is, but we can be pretty sure that she is a good marketer.