Sacra Corona Unita
Law enforcement became aware of the Sacra Corona Unita or United Sacred Crown (based in the Puglia region) in the late 1980s. Successful law enforcement operations in recent years have largely dismantled the group. Like other groups, it started as a prison gang. As its members were released, they settled in the Puglia region in Italy and continued to grow and form links with other Mafia groups. The Sacra Corona Unita is headquartered in Brindisi, located in the southeastern region of Puglia.
The Apulian (South of Italy) territory saw the birth of a criminal organization called Sacra Corona Unita (SCU, United Holy Crown) which transformed the rules of traditional mafia organizations. One study examined 83 victims of the SCU between 1980 and 2000. The bodies were mainly of SCU members and in some cases, of police and law enforcement officers and other citizens caught in the crossfire. Some of these were discovered; thanks to the collaboration of "repented" SCU members who became police informers. The condition of the bodies varied in relation to the date and manner of killing. In some cases anthropometric research methods were necessary. In 73% of the cases, lesions of the head were the only marks left on the body. In conclusion, the existence of some social aspects connected with the symbolisms and membership rites that characterized the origin, evolution, and decline of the SCU is stressed.
The Sacra Corona Unita consisted of about 50 clans with approximately 2,000 members and specializes in smuggling cigarettes, drugs, arms, and people. It is also involved in money laundering, extortion, and political corruption. The organization collects payoffs from other criminal groups for landing rights on the southeast coast of Italy, a natural gateway for smuggling to and from post-Communist countries like Croatia, Yugoslavia, and Albania. Very few Sacra Corona Unita members have been identified in the US, although some individuals in Illinois, Florida, and New York have links to the organization.
The Puglian Sacra Corona Unita is allegedly taking advantage of its geographic proximity to the Balkans to align itself with Balkan organized criminal groups engaged in arms and cigarette smuggling, trafficking in humans, and alien smuggling. Regarding cooperation with other transnational criminal groups, the Albanian Mafia seems to have established good working relationships with the Italian Mafia. On the 27th of July 1999 police in Durrės (Albania), with Italian assistance arrested one of the godfathers of the "Sacra Corona Unita", Puglias Italian Mafia. This Albanian link seems to confirm that the Sacra Corona Unita have "officially" accepted Albanian organized crime as a "partner" in Puglia/Italy and delegated several criminal activities.
This might be due to the fact that the Sacra Corona Unita is a rather recent phenomenon, not being as stable nor as strong as other Mafias in Italy. Their leaders might have decided to join forces rather than run the risk of a conflict with Albanian groups known to be extremely violent. Thus in certain areas of Italy, the market for cannabis, prostitution and smuggling of illegal immigrants is run mainly by Albanians.