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Ohioans Visit Sicily to Study Mob

December 13, 2000

CORLEONE, Sicily (AP) _ A bullet near the spine his souvenir from battling mobsters, an Ohio prosecutor toured this Sicilian town long synonymous with the Mafia and found what he wanted: lessons on how to root out organized crime at home.

Prosecutor Paul Gains was part of a delegation from Youngstown, Ohio, who came to Corleone for crime-fighting seminars being held on the sidelines of a U.N. conference on creating stronger laws to battle organized crime.

The Ohio group’s quest took them from their gritty steel town _ nicknamed Crimetown, U.S.A., for the many officials and local mobsters who have been prosecuted there _ to this medieval-era hamlet once shamed as a Cosa Nostra capital and now eager to impart lessons on battling the mob.

Corleone’s Lesson No. 1 is that schools, churches and other community institutions can empower citizens to free themselves from the decades-old resignation to mob dominance.

``Symbolism can be very powerful,″ said Gains, who was shot by a mob attacker on Christmas Eve four years ago. Gains, who had just been elected prosecutor, had not yet taken up his position.

Other seminar participants came from Latin America and the former Soviet Union.

In Georgia, the ex-Soviet republic, ``we don’t have this kind of Mafia. We have corruption,″ said Lado Chanturia, handing out a business card identifying him as chairman of the Supreme Court of Georgia and a booklet with guidelines for his nation’s anti-corruption program.

In City Hall, Corleone’s Deputy Mayor Giuseppe Governale tried to debunk the notion that the town, home to Salvatore ``Toto″ Riina, the ``boss of bosses″ who was captured in 1993 after two decades on the run, was once subservient to Cosa Nostra.

Members of the Youngstown group craned their necks to look at a bust of a Corleone mayor who Governale said was slain a century ago for refusing to bow to the Mafia.

``To hear this, it’s so powerful,″ said James B. Callen, a Youngstown attorney who led the delegation. ``It’s like a stone thrown in a pond. I’m hoping we’ll have 20 ripples which will impact our community.″

Callen, founder of the Citizens League of Youngstown, testified in 1984 on his city’s organized crime problem before the U.S. Senate.

Mafia families in Cleveland and Pittsburgh long fought for control of Youngstown, and bombings and other killings bloodied the city in the 1960s, and in later years. A federal investigation of corruption continues, and so far, more than 70 people have been convicted.

Youngstown Sheriff Randall Wellington toured Corleone’s new Mafia museum and blamed public apathy back home for some of his city’s woes.

Youngstown people ``just don’t care. They condone gambling,″ a popular local mob moneymaker, including betting on sports matches, Wellington said.

At the U.N. conference, behind held in Palermo, participating countries will have an opportunity to sign crime-fighting accords hammered out earlier this year. U.S. strategies, including witness protection programs, served as models for some of the measures.

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