Blab Money

imageDespite the upswing in the world economy over the last 3 yrs or so, apparently business is down for the Italian Mafia.  And of course, globalization has meant having to share ever increasing portions of their business with competitors from Russia, Mexico, Columbia, and Israel in all aspects of their enterprise.

imageLike any big company with large holdings they have done their best to diversify.  The recent CEOs have had to deal with lower earnings in the traditional markets of the hard drug industry so they have looked to broaden sales to a younger, wealthier client-base and have begun to make some inroads in affluent white suburbs.

imageWhile their monopoly control over the carting business is still profitable, illegal disposal of toxic waste promises to be a huge generator of new revenue.  With the advent of ubiquitous free internet pornography, their holdings in the traditional sex industry have tanked so as they did with pharmaceuticals, they’ve looked to the harder stuff and have invested in human trafficking, be it sexual slavery or political refugees, the infrastructure investment is equivalent.

image

While traveling in Sicily, the birthplace and political capital of the underworld empire several years ago, I was surprised to see the abundance of state-of-the art renewable energy farms including wind turbines and solar fields planted between crops of olives and grapes wherever you turned.  These clean, and powerful machines were quietly producing a bountiful harvest of megawatts with nary a trace of carbon dioxide in the air.  The olives and grapes didn’t seem to mind, nor were the locals whining about an assault on their landscape as my neighbors on the east end of LI have done.  However, the Sicilians were stuck with all measure of extra fees and taxes imposed to cover the cost of construction and ensure an ample and steady stream of revenue into the pockets of the Cosa Nostra, Inc. (CNI) investment team.

A quick diversionary aside: not long ago, wealthy Long Islanders pressured the power company to drop plans for an off-shore wind turbine facility because the towers to be located in the Atlantic Ocean would appear about one inch above the horizon and would spoil their pristine view of nature.  An alternate plan to move the project further off shore so the turbines would not be visible from land was rejected by the Long Island Power Authority as it would have added billions more to the to the cost of the project.  Anyway, back to our topic at hand…

imagePerhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the tools used to plant these new profitable and politically correct Sicilian crops (e.g., extortion, bribery) as well as the fertilizer to ensure their rapid growth (influence peddling at all levels of government) was recycled from the shelves of the Mafia corporate warehouses.  Is it just me or is there some mega(watt) irony inherent in this story?  Human-induced climate change, the greatest threat to civilization in I don’t know, forever (?) can’t seem to motivate our government and powerful corporations to get off their butts to address the issue, while the sand moves rapidly through the hourglass… so we turn to the Mafia to save the world from a climate disaster.

As genius as their cooption of the renewable energy market was, it was not nearly sufficient to bring corporate profits back to the healthy, ever increasing levels CNI executives were used to, so they continued to look for new opportunities.  And so the story morphs into an Italian Horatio Alger tale…

imageWhile discussing the state of the economy at the CNI water cooler, a group of mid-level captains were pining for the good ol’ days when easy money could be made by simply ensuring people didn’t open their mouths.  It seems the Hush Money sector, once a steady source of revenue, has not been immune to the state of the economy and has suffered steadily shrinking profit margins.

Then, suddenly the idea occurred to one of these good fellas…If people were willing to pay you to ensure that  incriminating or otherwise damaging information was not disclosed, perhaps they would be receptive to (with some additional encouragement) providing useful private information that could be parlayed into other secondary business propositions.  In fact, with some finesse, the client could be enticed to paying a service fee for the privilege of providing said information.  Existing connections with strategically placed officials in key government agencies would provide the grease to make it run smoothly.  Thus the Blab Market was born.

imageIf this all sounds a bit obtuse, allow me to relay a personal tale that demonstrates how this works.  On our most recent trip to Italy we stayed with friends in Rome who had rented an apartment for several months to escape the (as it turns out) excruciatingly harsh winter of 2014-2015 in Cambridge, MA.    In addition to spending time in Rome the four of us rented a car from Hertz for an exploration of Puglia, the region that comprises the heel of the boot on Italy’s southeastern coast.

imageThe comfortable six speed manual Audi A4 took us over the hills to the Adriatic, through Alberabello with its stone hut buildings and cone shaped brick roofs.  We stayed at a rustic but charming agrotourismo working farm outside of Bari where a friend of a friend of a friend insisted on taking us on a walking tour of the old city and its beautiful old churches, out to a gourmet lunch and then set us up for a private wine tasting tour the following day.  imageOur final stop was Lecce where we occupied both rooms of a boutique B&B just steps from the walls of the fascinating old city. On our arrival back in Rome we returned the car to the downtown garage where we picked it up, dropped off the keys and headed home to New York via Copenhagen the following morning.

Fast forward three months later, to the news that our friend received in the mail an additional bill from Hertz for the equivalent of $96.  The explanation was for reimbursement of fees in order to provide the Carabinieri (Italian police) with information on who we are and where we can be reached.  Neither the alleged crime to which we are accused nor the expected penalty have yet to be revealed to us.

Carabinieri_triesteSo as best as I can surmise, CNI has struck a deal with the Italian government to target out of town drivers with fake traffic infractions and then shake down the rental car companies for contact info so they can bill the unsuspecting and defenseless tourists.  This new and creative form of revenue is helping to replace declining profits from traditional CNI business and at the same time rescue the Italian economy, which like the rest of Europe has been in the doldrums.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that CNI has taken over a collection agency business and is splitting the collected fees equally with the government.  Now that’s creative business leadership.

Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Received the following comment from a certain professor with whom we shared our Sicilian experience:

    Wow !! I’d be worrying about cement slippers and the Hudson River by now..
    What a story! And you write so beautifully. At least this will allow you to pass the time if this all ends up just with jail time. I remember the windmills in Sicily and our discovery regarding who put them up..
    So I wonder if our fine from Caltigirone had a similar connection – it was about $70 ?
    Enjoy the Spring – unfortunately we are now over 400ppm

    Editor’s response: Hmmm, hadn’t thought about that…I will be looking over my shoulder while walking along the Hudson River Park later today. Thanks for sharing.

    Like


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