Sacra Corona Unita, (SCU) or United Sacred Crown, is a Mafia-like criminal organization from Apulia (in Italian Puglia) region in Southern Italy, and is especially active in the areas of Brindisi and Lecce and not, as people tend to believe, in the region as a whole.
The SCU is made up of three distinct groupings or levels. Members can 'graduate' from one level to the next by going through a riti battesimali (baptism ritual). The religious symbolism is probably left over from its previous association with the Camorra.
The lowest level, the Società Minore, is made up of lower-level criminals who do street-level activities. Members start out as picciotti and go through a 40-day trial to ensure they are suitable for criminal work and are not associated with the police. They are then inducted into the next phase of the level, the manovalanza, or worker. The candidate must also swear an oath of devotion to SCU.
The second level, the Società Maggiore, is made up of two positions. The Lo Sgarro position is given only to members that have killed at least three people for SCU, and from now on members can only leave on the pain of death. The individual can now form their own crew of picciotti, known as a filiale. Upon indoctorination into the La Santa position the member is given a firearm (to symbolically use on oneself upon failing SCU), a cyanide pill, cotton (representing Monte Bianco, which is considered sacred), a lemon (treating the wounds of one's comrades), a needle to puncture the index finger of the right hand, handkerchiefs (representing purity of spirit) and a spartenza (a gift of some sort, usually cigarettes).
The final level is the Società Segreta, the core of the organization where key decisions are made.
The Sacra Corona Unita consists of about 50 Clans with approximately 2,000 members and specializes in smuggling cigarettes, drugs, arms, and people. The Sacra Corona Unita collects payoffs from other criminal groups for landing rights on the southeast coast of Italy. This territory is a natural gateway for smuggling to and from post-Communist countries like Croatia, Serbia, and Albania. Very few SCU members have been identified in the United States, however there are some links to individuals in Illinois, Florida and possibly New York. The Sacra Corona Unita is also involved in money laundering, extortion, and political corruption.
With the decreasing importance of the Adriatic corridor as a smuggling canal (thanks to the normalization of the Balkans area) and a series of successful police and judicial operations against it in recent years the Sacra Corona Unita has been considered, if not actually defeated, reduced to a fraction of its former power, which peaked around the mid-1990s.