Vincenzo Artale, a 64-year-old small business owner from Alcamo, a town which lies between Palermo and Trapani, had worked for the town's anti-mafia association since 2006 and even sat on its arbitration board, Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.
Artale's involvement in the organization began ten years ago, when he became an icon in Alcamo – a town where mafia control of businesses is rife – by blowing the whistle on local mafiosi who tried to extort protection money from his cement supplying company.
For his brave act he was hailed a hero and even obtained €250,000 in compensation from a solidarity fund set up to help victims of mafia extortion.
But shortly after joining Alcamo's anti-mafia association, Artale allegedly found a powerful new sponsor: local mobster Mariano Saracino. Sixty-nine year-old Saracino is thought to be one of the right-hand men of fugitive Cosa Nostra leader Mattia Messina Denaro.
As a vocal anti-mafia campaigner, Artale allegedly worked to keep Saracino's illegal business activity in Alcamo quiet. In return, Saracino's men intimidated local building companies, forcing them to buy their cement from Artale's company.
He soon became one of the most successful businessmen in Alcamo and had recently started building a cement factory nearby so he could maximize profit by producing his own materials.
However, the pair's crooked game was brought to the attention of investigators by other members of the anti-mafia association, who eventually became suspicious of Artale's sudden success.
Investigators worked for two years to put the case together and arrested Artale, Saracino and three others on Wednesday morning on charges of intimidation and mafia involvement.
“Once again we see the façade of anti-mafia being used to hide large-scale crimes,” prosecutor Teresa Principato told Il Fatto.
“In recent years we've seen many instances of upstanding citizens who appear untouchable behaving exactly like mafiosi.”