Taking a Bite Out of Crime in Rome

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Although Italy's largest Mafia groups -- including Sicily's Cosa Nostra, Calabria's 'Ndrangheta and Naples's Camorra -- hail from the south, their control reaches across Italy.  

That extends to Rome. Earlier this year, a report by the president of Rome's Appeals Court, Giorgio Santacroce, found that criminal organizations essentially have divided up the capital into areas under their control. They also systematically use commercial establishments to launder money, including cafes and restaurants across Rome.  

It can make a traveler feel as if there's nothing that can be done about such an entrenched, and widespread, issue. (According to the United Nations, Italy's major Mafia organizations are tied to 116 billion euros, or about $150 billion, in revenue each year.) But a few new openings have made it easier for tourists and Italians alike to support efforts against organized crime. 

Last year, a Sicilian bakery, cafe and restaurant called Antica Focacceria San Francesco opened its first location in Rome's center. The bakery is unusual: Not only does it serve up Sicilian specialties like cannoli, arancine and cassata siciliana, but its owner, Vincenzo Conticello, is openly and vocally anti-Mafia. In 2005, the Mafia asked him to pay the pizzo, a protection fee of tens of thousands of euros, for the bakery's original location in Palermo. "More than 75 percent of shops in Palermo pay the pizzo," he said. "But I never wanted to." 

Mr. Conticello refused to pay -- and called the carabinieri. The threats began soon after: His merchandise disappeared, his customers' cars were damaged, and one of his house cats was killed. Mr. Conticello's family lived under guard. "I was afraid," he said. "For myself, for my family, for my job, for everything." But his continued reports to the police led them to mount an investigation; four and a half months later, the boss who had organized the extortion was arrested and convicted. 

In the years since, the Antica Focacceria has expanded, opening in Milan and at Rome's Fiumicino Airport. Last year, Mr. Conticello opened two new locations. The cafe and restaurant at Piazza della Toretta 38/40 -- just a few steps from Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina, in the heart of Rome -- was the first to open in Rome's historic center (39-06-68308297; afsf.it; open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and for lunch on Sundays). The cafe's ingredients are purchased only from anti-Mafia entrepreneurs who also have declared that they are anti-pizzo. Many also come from Libera Terra, an anti-Mafia cooperative that farms land seized from the Mafia and, through community service camps, demonstrations and events, works to raise awareness of organized crime worldwide.

A second Antica Focacceria in Rome's center opened in November; it's located in Trastevere, just over the river from Campo dei Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto (Piazza di San Giovanni della Malvi 14; 39-06-5819503).

It's possible to buy Libera Terra products in the center of Rome. The Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalità -- a shop dedicated to Pio La Torre, a Sicilian lawmaker who was killed by the Mafia in 1982 -- is at Via dei Prefetti 23, a five-minute walk from Piazza Navona. The shop sells pastas, jams, wine, oil and other products grown on land seized from the Mafia across Italy, from Sicily to Piedmont (39-06-69925262; liberaterra.it). "Some customers come to the shop and buy products because they know what we sell is organic, and high quality," said Franco Piersanti, the store's manager. "But most people come because they're already familiar with Libera Terra." Altromercato, a fair-trade store near Piazza del Popolo, also sells Libera Terra items (Via di Ripetta 262; altromercato.it). 

"I know that many prefer to pay the pizzo," said Mr. Conticello. "But in the long term, we become slaves of criminality. Denouncing the pizzo should be a normal gesture."  

Until that happens, travelers who want to help can, at least, buy food that's pizzo-free. 

travel

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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