The jurisdiction extends over a province; each province of Sicily has some kind of a Commission, except Messina, Siracusa and Ragusa. Initially the idea was that the family bosses would not sit on the Commission, but in order to prevent imbalances of power some other prominent member would be appointed instead. However, that rule was not obeyed from the start. According to the pentito Tommaso Buscetta the Commission first came into being "to settle disputes between members of the various families and their bosses" in order to discipline members of each family. Only later did its function expand to "the regulation of the activities of all families in a province."
The existence of the Commission was first established by a court of law during the Maxi Trial in 1986-87. The groundwork for the Maxi Trial was done at the preliminary investigative phase by Palermo's Antimafia Pool, created by judge Rocco Chinnici in which the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino worked as well. It was Tommaso Buscetta who definitively revealed the existence and workings of the Commission, when he became a state witness and started to give evidence to judge Giovanni Falcone in 1984. It enabled Falcone to argue that Cosa Nostra was a unified hierarchical structure ruled by a Commission and that its leaders – who normally would not dirty their hands with criminal acts – could be held responsible for criminal activities that were committed to benefit the organisation.
The existence and functioning of the Commission was confirmed by the first degree conviction. The Mafia was identified with the Cosa Nostra organization, and defined a unique, pyramidal and apex type organization, provincially directed by a Commission or Cupola and regionally by an interprovincial organism, in which the head of the Palermo Commission has a hegemonic role. This premise became known as the Buscetta theorem. That vision of Cosa Nostra was not immediately recognized. Other magistrates, in particular Corrado Carnevale – also known as the Sentence Killer – of the Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione), sustained that Mafia associations are autonomous groups, not connected amongst themselves, and therefore, the collective responsibility for the Commission members did not exist. Carnevale’s view prevailed at the appeal of the Maxi Trial, but at the theorem was confirmed upheld by the final sentence of the Supreme Court in January 1992. (Carnevale did not preside the court that did the ruling). In the meantime, the Antimafia Pool of Palermo was dismantled and judge Rocco Chinnici had been murdered in 1983.
Many Mafia bosses were condemned to life in prison and Cosa Nostra reacted furiously and started a series of revenge killings because of the Supreme Court sentence. The Mafia had counted on the politicians Salvo Lima and Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti to appoint Corrado Carnevale to review the sentence. Carnevale had overturned many Mafia convictions on the slenderest of technicalities previously. Carnevale, however, had to withdraw due to pressure from the public and from Giovanni Falcone – who at the time had moved to the ministry of Justice. Falcone was backed by the minister of Justice Claudio Martelli despite the fact that he served under Prime Minister Andreotti. In March 1992, Lima was killed, followed by Falcone and Paolo Borsellino later that year.
The Interprovincional or Regional Commission was probably set up in February 1975 on the instigation of Giuseppe Calderone from Catania who became its first "secretary". The other members were Gaetano Badalamenti for Palermo, Giuseppe Settecasi (Agrigento), Cola Buccelato (Trapani), Angelo Mongiovì (Enna) and Giuseppe Di Cristina (Caltanissetta).
According to the pentito Leonardo Messina, the Regional Commission in 1992 was made up by Salvatore Riina for the province of Palermo, Nitto Santapaola for the province of Catania, Salvatore Saitta for the province of Enna, Giuseppe "Piddu" Madonia for the province of Caltanissetta, Antonio Ferro for the province of Agrigento and Mariano Agate for the province of Trapani.
According to Tommaso Buscetta the first Sicilian Mafia Commission for the province of Palermo was formed after a series of meetings between top American and Sicilian mafiosi that took place in Palermo between October 12-16, 1957, in the hotel Delle Palme and the Spanò sea-food restaurant. US gangsters Joseph Bonanno and Lucky Luciano suggested their Sicilian counterparts to form a Commission, following the example of the American Mafia that had formed their Commission in the 1930s.
The Sicilians agreed with their suggestion and Buscetta, Gaetano Badalamenti and Salvatore Greco "Ciaschiteddu" set the ground rules. Sometime in early 1958 the Sicilian Mafia formed its first Mafia Commission. It was formed among Mafia families in the province of Palermo, which had the highest concentration of cosche (Mafia families), approximately 46. Salvatore "Ciaschiteddu" Greco was appointed as its first segretario (secretary) or rappresentante regionale, essentially a "primus inter pares" – the first among equals. Initially, the secretary had very little power. His task was simply to organize the meetings.
Before that time the Mafia families were not connected by a collective structure. According to judge Cesare Terranova they "were a mosaic of small republics with topographical borders marked by tradition." In the days before the Commission coordination inside Cosa Nostra was ensured by informal meetings among the most influential members of the most powerful families. In fact, the decision to form a Commission was a formalisation of these occasional meetings into a permanent, collegial body.
Originally, to avoid excessive concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals it was decided that only "men of honour" holding no leadership position within their own family – in other words simple "soldiers" – could be appointed as members of the Commission. That rule was immediately dropped due to the opposition of some Family-bosses who threatened to abandon the project from the start.
The Commission had two main competencies. The first was to settle conflicts among Mafia families and single members, and to enforce the most serious violations of the normative codes of Cosa Nostra. Second, the Commission was entrusted with the regulation of the use of violence. It had exclusive authority to order murder of police officials, prosecutors and judges, politicians, journalists and lawyers, because these killings could provoke retaliation by law enforcement. To limit internal conflicts, it was agreed that each Family boss had to ask the Commission’s authorisation before killing any member of another Family.
Until the early 1980s the Commission’s competencies were often disregarded due to its collegial character and the wide autonomy for the Family bosses. Only when Totò Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and the Corleonesi imposed their rule, the Commission became a central leadership body. However, the Commission in fact lost its autonomy and became a mere enforcement body that endorsed the decisions made by Riina and Provenzano.
The Commission, however, was not able to prevent the outbreak of a violent Mafia War in 1963. Casus belli was a heroin deal going wrong, and the subsequent killing of Calcedonio Di Pisa on December 26, 1962, who was held responsible. Instead of settling the dispute, the Commission became part of the internal conflict.
On June 30, 1963, a car bomb exploded near Greco’s house in Ciaculli, killing seven police and military officers sent to defuse it after an anonymous phone call. The outrage over the Ciaculli massacre changed the Mafia war into a war against the Mafia. It prompted the first concerted anti-mafia efforts by the state in post-war Italy. The Sicilian Mafia Commission was dissolved and of those mafiosi who had escaped arrest many went abroad. "Ciaschiteddu" Greco fled to Caracas in Venezuela.
According to Tommaso Buscetta it was Michele Cavataio, the boss of the Acquasanta quarter of Palermo, who was responsible for the Ciaculli bomb, and possibly the murder of boss Calcedonio Di Pisa in late 1962. Cavataio had lost out to the Greco’s in a war of the wholesale market in the mid 1950s. Cavataio killed Di Pisa in the knowledge that the La Barbera’s would be blamed by the Greco’s and a war would be the result. He kept fuelling the war through other bomb attacks and killings.
Cavataio was backed by other Mafia families who resented the growing power of the Mafia Commission to the detriment of individual Mafia families. Cavataio was killed on December 10, 1969, in the Viale Lazio in Palermo as retaliation for the events in 1963 by a Mafia hit-squad - including Calogero Bagarella, Bernardo Provenzano, and Giuseppe Di Cristina.
The crackdown on the Mafia resulted in a period of relative peace – a "pax mafiosa" – while many mafiosi were held in jail or were banished internally. The verdict of the Trial of the 114 against the Mafia in Catanzaro in December 1968 resulted in many acquittals or short sentences for criminal association. The vast majority of mafiosi had to be released given the time they had already spent in captivity while awaiting trial.
Under these circumstances, the Sicilian Mafia Commission was revived in 1970. It would consist of ten members but initially it was ruled by a triumvirate consisting of Gaetano Badalamenti, Stefano Bontade and the Corleonesi boss Luciano Leggio, although it was Salvatore Riina who actually would represent the Corleonesi, substituting Leggio who was on the run until his arrest in 1974.
In 1974 the 'full' Commission was restored under the leadership of Gaetano Badalamenti. Among the members were:
(Several pentiti, such as Salvatore Cancemi, Francesco Di Carlo and Giovanni Brusca say that Giuseppe Farinella, for the Gangi-San Mauro Castelverde mandamento, Francesco Intile for the Caccamo mandamento and Antonio Mineo for the Bagheria mandamento, were or became members as well.)
During these years tensions between different coalitions within the Commission increased. In this period the Commission was increasingly dominated by the coalition led by Totò Riina and Bernardo Provenzano that was opposed by Gaetano Badalamenti and Stefano Bontade. Riina and Provenzano secretly formed an alliance of mafiosi in different families, cutting across clan divisions, in defiance of the rules concerning loyalty in Cosa Nostra. This secretive inter-family group became known as the Corleonesi. The wing headed by Badalamenti and Bontade defended the existing balance of power between the single Mafia families and the Commission.
Thanks to a shrewd manipulation of the rules and elimination of its most powerful rivals (in particular the killings in 1978 of Giuseppe Calderone and Giuseppe Di Cristina, members of the Interprovincional Commission) the Corleonesi coalition was able to increase its power within the Commission. Their rivals were overwhelmed and lost any power to strike back. Beside using violence, the Corleonesi also imposed their supremacy by shrewdly exploiting a competence of the Commission: the power to suspend leaders of a Family and to name a reggente, a temporary boss.
In 1978, Gaetano Badalamenti was expelled from the Commission and as head of his Family. Michele Greco replaced him as the secretary of the Commission. Badalamenti’s removal marked the end of a period of relative peace and signified a major change in the Mafia itself. In 1978 the Commission was composed by:
The Commission was divided between the Corleonesi (Riina, Calò, Madonia, Brusca, Geraci, Greco Scarpuzzedda, Motisi and probably Scaglione as well) and the group Bontade, Inzerillo and Pizzuto. A third group, Michele Greco, Riccobono and Salamone were not hostile to the group of Bontade but were against Gaetano Badalamenti.
While the more established Mafia families in the city of Palermo refrained from openly killing authorities because that would attract too much police attention, the Corleonesi deliberately killed to intimidate the authorities in such a way that the suspicion fell on their rivals in the Commission. In 1979 Pino Greco from Ciaculli also known as Scarpuzzedda and Riina’s favourite hit man entered the Commission as well.
Instead of avoiding conflict the Commission increasingly became an instrument in the enfolding power struggle that would eventually lead to the quasi-dictatorship of Toto Riina. Members of the Commission were no longer freely selected by the provinces but were chosen on the basis of their allegiance to Riina's faction, and eventually were only called to legitimize decisions that had already been taken elsewhere.
The Second Mafia War raged from 1981-1983. On April 23, 1981, Bontade was machine gunned to death in his car in Palermo. Bontade’s close ally, Salvatore Inzerillo, was killed three weeks later with the same Kalashnikov. The Corleonesi slaughtered the ruling families of the Palermo Mafia to take control of the organisation while waging a parallel war against Italian authorities and law enforcement to intimidate and prevent effective investigations and prosecutions. More than 200 mafiosi were killed and many simply disappeared.
In 1982 the Commission members were:
The Commission was now dominated by Riina and Provenzano. More and more the independence of Mafia families was superseded by the authoritarian rule of Riina. Nor did the killing end when the main rivals of the Corleonesi were defeated. Whoever could challenge Riina or had lost its usefulness was eliminated. Rosario Riccobono and a dozen men of his clan were killed in November 1982. In 1985 Pino Scarpuzzedda Greco, Riina’s favourite hit man, was murdered on the orders of Riina, who thought Greco was getting a bit too ambitious for his own good.
The Commission in fact lost its autonomy and became a mere enforcement body that endorsed the decisions made by Riina and Provenzano and their close group of allies. According to Buscetta: "With the power gained by the Corleonesi and their allies the traditional organizational structures had a purely formal value … the decisions were taken before … and the Commission was nothing but the faithful executor of orders."
Meanwhile new mandamenti were formed in 1983, whose members entered the Commission: Raffaele Ganci for the Noce mandamento, Giuseppe Giacomo Gambino for the San Lorenzo mandamento, Matteo Motisi for the Pagliarelli mandamento and Salvatore Buscemi for the Passo di Ragano-Boccadifalco mandamento. In 1986-87 the Santa Maria di Gesù mandamento (the former fiefdom of Stefano Bontade) was reinstated, represented by Pietro Aglieri.
Since the arrests as a result of the revelations of pentiti such as Tommaso Buscetta, Salvatore Contorno, Francesco Marino Mannoia and Antonino Calderone, and the Maxi Trial in the 1980s many Commission members ended up in jail. They were substituted by a so-called sostituto or reggente.