The Legacy of Giovanni Falcone: Global Law Enforcement

April 3, 2013

An Italian judge early on recognized that no one country could fight crime alone. And nearly 21 years after his assassination, his commitment to global law enforcement lives on.

Audio Transcript

Mollie Halpern: Cooperation among law enforcement around the globe is essential to protect America and its interests from transnational crime. FBI Director Robert Mueller…

Director Robert S. Mueller, III: It is because of these strong relationships that we have, for some period of time now, dealt a devastating blow to transnational criminal enterprises, particularly the Mafia.

Halpern: I’m Mollie Halpern, and you’re listening to Inside the FBI. Global law enforcement is routine these days—but that wasn’t the case in the past. Coming up—how two parallel Mafia cases an ocean apart became the impetus for global law enforcement...who the man widely credited for creating the blueprint for global law enforcement is…and how his legacy lives on nearly 21 years after his assassination.

But first, Italian criminal societies, known as the Mafia, pose broader and more complex threats to American society and beyond than ever before. Several groups of the Mafia—with about 3,000 members and affiliates—are active in the United States. Their largest presence is in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York.

The Mafia manipulates and monopolizes financial markets and labor unions and is also involved in political corruption, murders, bombings, and drug trafficking. Industry experts in Italy estimate that their worldwide criminal activity is worth more than $100 billion annually.

Dismantling and disrupting an organized criminal enterprise like the Mafia is a longstanding area of FBI expertise. A major investigation that targeted Italian organized crime drug trafficking is known as the Pizza Connection. The case happened in New York City back in the ‘80s—and that is when our story of global law enforcement begins.

Louis Freeh, a federal prosecutor who would later become the Director of the FBI, was working with other prosecutors, Bureau employees, and the New York Police Department to bust an international heroin smuggling ring that laundered drug money through independently owned pizza parlors.

Simultaneously, on the other side of the Atlantic, another prosecutor, Giovanni Falcone, was working on his own Mafia case, known as the Maxi Trial. An alliance between the Americans and their counterparts in Italy was desperately needed to close the cases. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh…

Louis Freeh: We had evidence and witnesses in each other’s countries, and the only way that was ever going to work was with total seamless cooperation.

Halpern: Task forces were formed. Italian police were deputized as special deputy U.S. Marshals, and FBI agents were deputized as Italian police officers.

Freeh:  The information flew very quickly between the two countries and the two teams of prosecutors and investigators. The interdependence and the trust and the reliance on each other was absolutely complete, and I think that’s what contributed to the great success here.

Halpern: Hundreds of mafiosi were put behind bars. These cases were the foundation of global law enforcement. It was largely due to Judge Falcone. FBI Director Mueller…

Mueller: He early on recognized that no one department or country could fight crime alone. And he went to great lengths to cultivate strong relationships—friendships—with partners here in the United States and around the world.

Halpern: Years after the trial, on May 23, 1992, at about 6 p.m., Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca, and three police body guards were killed by a Mafia henchman’s roadside bomb outside of Palermo. The bomb made a crater 30 feet in diameter in the road. It left an even deeper hole in the hearts of the citizens Falcone served and his family and friends. We spoke to Giovanni’s sister, Maria Falcone, through a translator…

Maria Falcone: It’s always very painful to go back in time and remember those terrible days after the attack. I was mourning for my brother, but I was also mourning for the judge who had finally opened the Italians’ eyes and made them realize how important and widespread the Mafia phenomenon was. And I thought to myself, “Is everything over now?”

Halpern: Judge Falcone knew he was a marked man. He once said it was his destiny to take a bullet by the Mafia. This servant of the state had the courage and conviction to die for the cause. Maria couldn’t let his memory die with him.

Maria: Then I remembered something that Giovanni had said right at the start of the Maxi Trial. Journalists asked him to say a few words to the Italian citizens. And he said, “Men pass through. Ideas remain, but they walk on the legs of other men.” And so I saw the light and I thought that I had to keep these ideas walking.

Halpern: Maria formed a foundation with her brother’s namesake. The Falcone Foundation is dedicated to combating and preventing organized crime and fostering law enforcement cooperation through education.

Maria: We have kept these ideas going on through conferences, seminars, what have you...but mostly through schools. I was very much helped in this by teachers throughout Italy, because they have gradually managed to have young people understand how important the rule of law is in a country and how important it is to abide by it.

Halpern: Every year, the foundation holds a competition for all of Italy’s schools on the theme of the rule of law.

Maria: I go around all the schools in Italy to talk about Giovanni’s heritage and ideas. And whenever I meet students, I always talk about how important it was for him to have discovered that the Mafia is not a purely Italian phenomenon—that it’s a transnational phenomenon, and therefore you have to fight it transnationally. And so I always stress how important in his fight against the Mafia was meeting people like Louis Freeh, but especially the FBI.

Halpern: The students from two winning schools get to travel to America. They were present during a recent ceremony at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in which Falcone and the foundation was honored. Seventeen-year-old Chiara was among the winning students.

Chiara: For the project, we had to do a lot of research. All of this research has greatly expanded my knowledge of what the Mafia really is. It’s almost as though the more you dig, the more you find, and I’d like to sort of get to the end of it so that you could find a solution for it.

Halpern: Another student, 17-year-old Marta, says she will share what she has learned from the project with others.

Marta: Before we embarked on the project, we would talk about things that kids talk about. Usually kind of fun, simple things. But since we started digging in this and realizing what it was, we started increasingly discussing the Mafia amongst ourselves. And I also started to talk about it at home with my parents, which is something we had never done before. If I ever have a family of my own, I will certainly pass on what I have learned to my children.

Halpern: A plaque of Falcone now hangs in the Hall of Honor—a special place here at Headquarters dedicated to fallen agents and living heroes. A bronze memorial dedicated to Falcone is also at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Louis Freeh…

Freeh: When we were setting up legats [legal attaché offices] in the ‘90s, we would use the FBI/Italian police relationship as the model that we wanted to build on, so it’s become very much of a template for how we work and interact with other countries.

Halpern: The FBI currently partners with law enforcement and intelligence/security services in more than 200 nations.

Freeh: His legacy is what we turn to now for strength and for comfort, and it’s a superb legacy that’s brought these two countries and two law enforcement establishments together stronger than ever.

Halpern: From FBI Headquarters, I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau with Inside the FBI.

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