But last month, Italian investigators finally
tracked down Gammino, 61, in a town northwest of Madrid, thanks in part to an
unlikely tool: Google Maps.
“They say that fortune favors the bold,” said
Gen Nicola Altiero, deputy director of Italy’s Antimafia Investigation
Department, which carried out the operation with prosecutors in Palermo,
explaining how investigators used Google Maps and Street View to help them
track down Gammino, a Sicilian who was on Italy’s most dangerous fugitives
Investigators in Palermo declined to say how
they had traced Gammino to Galapagar, a town near Madrid, saying that aspects
of the case were still part of an ongoing inquiry.
But Altiero was more forthcoming, explaining
how investigators had used the Google tools to look up a fruit-and-vegetable
store — El Huerto de Manu — that they believed could have ties to the fugitive
and happened upon an image of a man standing in front of the store.
The man in the image had the same size and
build as Gammino, Altiero said, and investigators noticed that the store shared
the same telephone number as a nearby restaurant — La Cocina de Manu — that had
closed some years ago.
But its social media pages remained online,
including one with a photograph of the restaurant’s chef standing next to a
wood-burning pizza oven.
Investigators applied age-progression
technology to an old photo of Gammino to get a sense of what the fugitive would
have looked like after 20 years, and identified the chef as the wanted man,
Italian investigators contacted the Spanish
police unit that hunts fugitives, and Dec 17, Gammino was arrested while he was
walking on the street. Altiero said there had been other breaks in the
two-decade investigation but that the discovery using the Google tools had been
key to the rapid arrest of Gammino.
“Seeing the image on Google Maps was a bit of
luck, but, in any case, we had other evidence that would have eventually led us
to him,” Altiero said. “Google Maps got us there faster.”
Gammino first fell afoul of the law in the
1980s when he was investigated for drug trafficking. Investigators believe he
was a member of a “stidda” clan based in Campobello di Licata, a town east of
Agrigento, Sicily. The stidda, which is Sicilian for star, drew from the ranks
of mobsters that in the 1980s began rebelling against the leaders of the
Sicilian Mafia, the Cosa Nostra. A turf war between the stidda and Cosa Nostra
in the 1990s left some 200 people dead, according to a statement issued by the
Antimafia Investigation Department announcing Gammino’s arrest in Spain.
Gammino was then arrested in 1999 on charges
of murder. He was awaiting trial in Rebibbia prison in Rome when, June 26,
2002, he is believed to have walked out the prison’s front door, taking
advantage of the bustle created by film crews during the shooting of a scene
for a TV series. During his years on the run, he was convicted of murder in
absentia, and a European arrest warrant was issued for him in 2014.
A prosecutor in Palermo declined to say
whether Gammino was involved in illegal activities in Spain.
Gammino is expected to be extradited to Italy
in the next few weeks to serve a life sentence, investigators said.
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