Old Aberdeen is the approximate site of Aberdon which was the first settlement of ‘The Granite City.’
This literally means ‘at the confluence of the Don’ which is somewhat ironic as we look at how the Mafia spread its tentacles into Scotland’s third most populated city in the early 1980’s.
The origins of the La Torre Camorra crime family are shrouded in mystery.
They appear to date back to the 16th century as direct descendants of the ‘Garduna’ which was a Spanish secret society founded in 1417, although some claim that they first came to prominence in the 18th century as small Neapolitan criminal gangs joined forces and began to work together.
The name is a blend of ‘Capo’ meaning boss and ‘Morra’ which was an old Neapolitan street game where two people waved their hands in the air together while a crowd of gamblers watched on and tried to guess how many fingers were being held up. The game was later outlawed by the authorities. This would be the first of many brushes with the law.
As it developed through the decades La Torre Camorra showed similarities with the Sicilian Cosa Nostra but they were different in many ways. The most profound difference being that clans were allowed to act independently of each other. This of course led to feuds amongst clans, but also helped to make them more resilient when leaders were either killed or arrested. New clans would emerge from the stumps of old ones and they would continue to prosper at other peoples’ misery.
So how did a crime family with origins 1300 miles away in Mondragone, Caserta set up in Scotland?
It seems it was a pre-meditated move by Antonio La Torre who was the financial brains of the family and who was the younger brother to Tiberio and Augusto. Augusto was the Godfather of the family and had given his brother his blessing to establish himself in Aberdeen which would act as an ideal gateway to the rest of the UK.
The city had little or no organized crime and business was booming with the North Sea Oil industry bringing jobs and prosperity to the local community. With the crime clan’s illegal activities making over £200K a month Aberdeen was a good place to set up and launder their ill-gotten gains.
Antonio took his time to settle into the community and began establishing himself as a restaurateur.
He moved quickly to open his first restaurant ‘Pavarotti’s’ which was situated on Union Street and word soon spread about the venue and its special seafood risotto. It gained recognition at the influential ‘Italissima’, a gastronomic fair which takes place annually in Paris, and it was also advertised in the city’s local tourist guides.
The restaurant became the hub of La Torre’s UK empire and as time passed Antonio branched out with more eateries and opened a health and fitness centre. He then began to extend his business empire beyond Aberdeen and made inroads into Dundee, Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh with investment in betting shops and pubs as well as import and export food firms.
The Octopus was now firmly embedded in Scotland but Aberdeen was still the main control centre for the clans activities. In his personal life Antonio had found time for romance and only a few years after arriving in the UK he married local girl Gillian Fraser.
They would have three children together.
In the mid -nineties Antonio brought his cousin Michele Siciliano allegedly known as ‘The Killer’ to ‘work’ for him at a newly opened restaurant on Bridge Street in Aberdeen called ‘Sorrento’. Siciliano had history with the authorities and had been arrested in London by the police for alleged racketeering but had escaped extradition thanks to a legal loophole.
The Italian crime of mafia association is not recognized by British or Scots law.
Despite his success in the UK Antonio never forgot his allegiance to the family back home and he would make regular trips to Italy to take care of ‘family’ affairs. The protection rackets still pulled in big money for him in Caserta and every now and then it did him no harm to ‘show his face’ and in some cases rattle a few cages just to make sure that his income remained the same.
The ease in which they had embedded themselves into the UK gave the Camorra confidence to expand, and expand they did.
Antonios’ financial expertise and know how would net the family millions of pounds over the next few years with a series of scams which would see phantom companies in both Italy and Scotland set up and obtain loans from major banks to purchase food, wine and agricultural equipment from Italy to export to the UK.
They set up ‘Eurofood Suppliers’ and the loans were easily obtained.
Companies were easily duped into trusting the company as initially orders were placed and paid for on time. This would continue for a couple of months and then ‘Eurofood’ would place a big order and within days the company was declared bankrupt by Antoinio and the money was siphoned into other accounts. The money was then used to buy food and drink in huge amounts and also helped to purchase building equipment and of course a few luxuries for the family back home. The masses of stock had to be distributed quickly so were passed onto the good people of Aberdeen who couldn’t believe their luck at the prices being offered to them.
Local business rivals were left scratching their heads and cursing their Italian rivals.
The Camorrists used a method known as ‘scratch’ where they would step up their illegal activities if their legitimate businesses were struggling.
If they were short of cash they would flood Aberdeen with counterfeit money or sell bogus treasury bonds. The lack of any rivals meant the market was wide open for them. There was never any real need for acts of violence or intimidation on their doorstep and because of that it made it difficult for the police to pin anything on them.
Antonio had managed to keep his nose clean and maintain a low profile since his arrival in the early 1980’s but a brush with the law was inevitable in his line of work. It came in 1996 when he was arrested in Amsterdam on a trip back to Caserta. He received a 4 year sentence for fire arms offences and mafia association. Despite only serving 15 months he was not allowed to return to Aberdeen and instead was told to return to Italy.
He objected to this decision and took the matter to a tribunal and won and he returned to his adopted home to Gillian and his children.
His short stay in prison did not deter him from his life of crime. What it taught him was to be more careful. Special codes were assigned to words when talking business. ‘Sausages’ meant money, and banking deals were ‘Movements’.
Plenty “sausages’ were being invested into the local economy by Antonio and his family.
They purchased a city centre tower block and renovated it into luxury flats. They also bought some land for a new car-park. His arrest had put him on the anti-mafia investigators radar now though and unbeknownst to him his every move was being watched and monitored. It was only going to be a matter of time.
Mafia Investigators attention was drawn to the UK operation with these scams and they started to delve into the ‘Aberdeen’ connection. They launched ‘Operation Titanic’ with a simple aim of sinking the Mafia in the UK.
They started to monitor phone calls and look at various companies and individuals. What they discovered was a slick well-oiled organization performing varied activities in both countries. Not only were the clan involved in high level fraud and money laundering but they had also tapped into the lucrative trading of high powered cars.
As well as ‘Eurofood’ Antonio had been appointed director of a company called ‘Euro Supplies Export Ltd’ in July 1988, and in July 1994 he was made director of La Torre Ltd which was quickly followed by Prelari Ltd in the November of the same year.
1998 saw him appointed to ‘C-Fish’ whilst Siciliano was involved in three other companies namely ‘Ferro Supplies’ which imported steel from Italy and ‘Millennium Cellular’ where he resigned after a four month tenure.
He was also appointed a director of ‘Cyberdata Products Ltd’ in January 2000.
Antonio was still making trips back to Italy and putting the frighteners on local shopkeepers to ensure he got his protection money but on this particular occasion he was caught out by the authorities and he fled back to Aberdeen to avoid arrest.
In his absence the judge at his trial sentenced him to 13 years for racketeering and fraud.
On his return to Scotland he continued to wheel and deal in Aberdeen until an international warrant was granted for his arrest. He fled his family home and hid out in friends and associates houses in Dundee and Stirling. Despite the net closing in he was still running his businesses home and abroad and he arranged to meet two of his ‘family’ in Edinburgh. They were being tailed by undercover Italian police and they were liaising with Grampian Police.
The signs looked good as the pair arrived at the airport but then suddenly got cold feet. News had reached Antonio that the two soldiers had been followed and the meet was off and the scent had once again gone cold for the authorities.
He was eventually arrested in March 2005 at a friend’s house. He was in the process of selling his assets and preparing to flee the country when he was cuffed by the boys in blue. Like all good mafia bosses he didn’t put up a struggle.
Siciliano was also arrested and returned to Italy but it took a further two years for the police to extradite Ciro Schiattarella who ran the pairs business interests in Scotland once they had been arrested. Brandon Queen was also arrested for his part in the family. He made history by becoming the first foreign member of the Camorra and is currently serving his sentence in the UK and he is allegedly receiving legal assistance and a monthly salary from the family which is only something that a clan member can receive.
Antonio’s brother Augusto who was the overall head of the family in Caserta was also targeted and jailed despite becoming a pentito and co-operating with the police. He admitted being involved in no less than 40 murders.
The police back in Scotland started to dismantle the families business and reports suggest that they seized tens of millions of pounds from the scams and protection rackets which had been laundered through their legitimate businesses in Aberdeen and beyond.
Various stories began to emerge of links with other crime families south of the border and it became apparent that had the police not acted when they did then the Octopus would have had a vice like grip with its tentacles on a lot more of the UK.
As for the small ‘Italian’ community in Aberdeen they were left to pick up the pieces of being infiltrated by the mob.
One man who did not wish to be named said. “We are all looked at in a different way these days. You can see it in people’s eyes. They wonder if we really are who we say we are, or are we the local Italian gangster up to no good.”
That’s the Camorra’s true legacy in Aberdeen.
Picture by Mr Pink, AKA Brian Anderson.
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