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A PARTNERSHIP IS BORN
'Pizza Connection' Only the Beginning

05/17/06

Chris Swecker, left, chief of the FBI's Law Enforcement Services, is joined by Vincenzo DiFresco, nephew of Judge Giovanni Falcone, whose memorial rests at the FBI Academy in Virginia.
Chris Swecker, left, chief of the FBI's Law Enforcement Services, is joined by Vincenzo DiFresco, nephew of Judge Giovanni Falcone, whose memorial rests at the FBI Academy in Virginia.

In a serene courtyard on the grounds of the FBI’s National Academy in Virginia stands a monument to one of the Mafia’s most ardent foes, a former judge and prosecutor in Italy who put hundreds of mafiosi behind bars. For that, Giovanni Falcone paid with his life. But why, you might ask, is an Italian hero’s bronze bust resting in the secured inner sanctum of the FBI’s training academy?

The story goes back two decades, when the Mafia held considerable sway on both sides of the Atlantic. Louis Freeh, a federal prosecutor in New York City who would later become director of the FBI, was cracking down on the Mafia. In a case that would become known as the “Pizza Connection,” the FBI, the NYPD, and federal prosecutors teamed with Falcone and Italian authorities to bust an international heroin-smuggling ring that laundered drug money through pizza parlors. The 1985 trial, which lasted more than a year, cemented Freeh and Falcone’s relationship.

In Italy, meanwhile, Falcone was prosecuting his own Mafia trial. The “Maxi-Trial,” as it was called because of its massive scale, put 338 mafiosi behind bars, 19 of them for life. Thereafter, he fought the appeals of convicted mafiosi. Then in 1992, a Mafia henchman’s roadside bomb killed Falcone, along with his wife and three bodyguards, as they drove outside Palermo.

Two years later, FBI Director Freeh dedicated the bronze memorial to Falcone at Quantico. “Here was a judge…who made a deeply personal decision to enforce the law with all of its vigor, with all of his strength—knowing full well that this commitment would place his very life in danger, knowing it could—as it did—lead to his murder,” Freeh said.

Now flash forward 12 years to the same memorial garden, where a crop of new agents and a contingent of Italian high school students gathered to hear the FBI’s chief of Law Enforcement Services praise Falcone’s bravery on the 14 th anniversary of his May 23, 1992 assassination.

“Judge Falcone knew very well he was a marked man,” said Chris Swecker, who was accompanied by the slain judge’s nephew, Vincenzo DiFresco. Swecker, who recently ran the FBI division that includes organized crime, called on the new agents to reflect on the memorial’s significance. “This serves as a reminder of what we all stand for…that you will have to put yourself in harm’s way…that we’re all going to be faced with the same choice.”

The Italian students were guests of the Palermo-based Falcone Foundation, which sponsored a scholarship for schools that could best describe the ill-effects the Mafia has had on Italian society.

The joint crackdown on the Mafia in the early ‘80s hatched the Italian-American Working Group in 1984. The bi-annual assembly of FBI and Italian officials looks at emerging threats, including regional organized crime and terrorism. Last summer, Swecker joined Italian police in Rome to sign an agreement that took the partnership a step further: posting two FBI agents with the Italian police in Rome and two Italian officers at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Resources: FBI Organized Crime webpage