ROME, FEB. 8 -- Rosetta Cutolo, the only woman known to have headed an Italian crime syndicate, was arrested today after 13 years on the run.
Cutolo, 57, long has been known as Rosetta Ice-Eyes for her steely gaze and alleged management of a multimillion-dollar criminal empire. Officers surrounded a villa in Ottaviano, near Naples at dawn this morning and quietly escorted her away, police said.
Her capture was the second arrest of a top mafia chief within a month, following the capture Jan. 15 of Salvatore "Toto" Riina, the alleged "boss of bosses" of the Sicilian-based Cosa Nostra. "Rosetta Cutolo's capture is another major blow to organized crime in Italy. We had been after her for years," said Italian Police Chief Vincenzo Parisi.
Cutolo headed the New Camorra Organization founded by her brother, Raffaele, Italian investigators have said. The Camorra is the traditional name for the organized crime networks based in Naples.
Raffaele Cutolo has spent most of the past two decades in top-security prisons for criminal association and murder. Investigators have quoted former mobsters as saying that Rosetta Cutolo had pledged never to marry, devoting herself to managing her brother's criminal interests.
Operating in a world dominated by men, Rosetta Cutolo soon came to command the respect of her male counterparts. Her toughness and sharp business brain became legendary, according to investigators, who say they suspect her of having ordered the assassinations of rivals. Between 1970 and 1980, dozens of the Cutolo family's adversaries were killed in a clan war that ended in a victory for the Cutolos' organization.
Magistrates allege that Cutolo also ordered the executions of at least three public figures, including the deputy chief of Naples' Poggioreale prison, where her brother and other family members had served time.
In 1978, Raffaele Cutolo almost escaped from the hospital wing of a jail in a daring operation that used dynamite to blast open a wall. Security forces have maintained that it was Rosetta Cutolo who masterminded the attempt.
Already sentenced in absentia to almost 10 years in jail for organized crime activities, Rosetta Cutolo is wanted for offenses including murder, armed robbery and extortion. Police say she presided directly over the clan's finances, acting as treasurer and planning strategies for drug trafficking, money laundering and prostitution and protection rackets.
Since Rosetta Cutolo went into hiding in 1980, detectives have searched for her worldwide. She is believed to have spent long periods in Brazil and Venezuela and is thought to have returned only recently to her native Italy.
According to police accounts, 20 officers in Ottaviano, east of Naples, went at dawn today to a villa belonging to Raffaele Cutolo's wife. They surrounded it while officers knocked at the door. Police said Rosetta Cutolo appeared once it was clear that there was no chance of escape, and she offered no resistance.
Police quoted Cutolo as saying that she was tired of living as a fugitive. They said Cutolo burst into tears as she told how she had been contemplating giving herself up, but had feared being assassinated in jail by a rival clan. Her first request after being arrested was that she be kept in an isolated cell, said police officials.