The Catterall Cosa Nostra connection

A MAFIA boss suspected of four murders was expected to be extradited to Italy this week after being arrested by armed police in Catterall.

British and Italian police used a European arrest warrant to detain Gennaro Panzuto, 32, at his rented home in Cock Robin Lane.

Panzuto, who is also suspected of drugs dealing, extortion and firearms charges, went on the run a year ago following bloody clashes between rival clans in his native Naples.

The arrest followed a 12 month search and months of undercover work by the Italian police and the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

The joint UK/Italian police swoop on Wednesday afternoon happened as Panzuto was preparing to load his possessions into a van and move on.

Panzuto was traced after calls by his family from public telephone boxes in Naples led detectives to the rented semi-detached home.

Naples Flying Squad chief, Vittorio Pisano, said Panzuto was wanted in Italy as "a very senior member" of the Naples mafia, the Camorra. He described the arrest as of "great significance".

He said Panzuto was suspected of involvement in deadly clashes in Naples between his clan, the Pincirillos, and rivals, the Missos.

The battles resulted in the deaths of 20 people in three months. Panzuto is suspected of involvement in four of those murders.

Mr Pisano said: "He was the head of the Pincirillo clan which he took over from his uncles of the same name when they were arrested two years ago."

He said that Catterall seemed to be a "rather unusual place to hide out" as most criminals "preferred the South of France or Spain".

"When I heard he had been located to Catterall I had to look it up in an atlas as I had never heard of the place," he added.

Panzuto was taken to Lancaster police station after his arrest before being taken to London. He appeared at Westminster City magistrates court on Thursday for the start of extradition proceedings which were expected to be completed this week.

Why Panzuto chose the home in Catterall as a hiding hole for himself, his wife and young family, remains a mystery.

But according to the national press a one-time Mafia "princess", Marisa Merico, 32, now living in law-abiding retirement in Poulton-le-Fylde, has been quizzed by police to find out if she helped him find the 550 a month rented home.

Italian police sources said Panzuto had used Mafia funds to set up shoe shops and clothing outlets in Manchester and London, which he was using as a cover and to launder money.

This week the national press revealed both Panzuto and Miss Merico - who is thought to have links to the footwear trade - have both held accounts at the same Garstang branch of a major bank.

Miss Merico, the daughter of an English woman who married one of Milan's leading Mafia bosses, was convicted in 1995 of laundering almost 1.9million of Mafia money.

She spent three years in jail before being extradited to Italy where she spent a further 15 months behind bars.

Panzuto's arrest marked the second time an alleged Mafia figure has been located in Lancashire this year.

In January police arrested Ann Hathaway, 42, at her home in Rochdale, charging her with running a Mafia empire along with her imprisoned husband. Hathaway reached a plea bargain with Italian authorities that gave her probation for five years and a suspended prison sentence.

* THE neighbour of Mafia boss Gennaro Panzuto says she cried when she learned the truth about the friendly family man next door.

Nora Fenn, 71, said: "I did not know him all that well, he has only been here a short time – about 12 months.

"He was here with his wife. She had a baby last September and they had a little boy of about four years old.

"I had no idea at all about this. I have wept to think what was living next door to me. It was a terrible shock to us all."

Mrs Fenn added: "I am still in shock about it, I'm still shaking."

She also recalled Panzuto had told her he was an Italian shoe designer working from his home computer.

She said: "They had a family barbecue the other week and he said to me, 'You like pork?' — but I had already eaten."

Fellow neighbour Stuart Harvey, 53, said: "I got on OK with him. He even asked me once where the nearest church was."

Panzuto rented the extended ex-council house from builder Tony Dodd — moving in last summer.

Mr Dodd, 59, said: "He was two months behind with the 550 rent. It is a good job I did not threaten him."