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PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - Police in the Sicilian capital of Palermo scooped up 25 suspected mobsters on an array of charges on Tuesday, including a woman accused of filling in as boss for her imprisoned husband.
More than 200 police, two helicopters and five canine units took part in the early morning roundup of the suspects. They are accused of extortion, handling stolen goods, vandalism and being mafia members, according to the arrest warrant seen by Reuters.
With extensive use of wiretaps and ambient recordings, police reconstructed territorial divisions in the city and the internal power struggle that made Maria Angela Di Trapani, 49, a powerful figure inside one of the city's historic clans.
Her husband, Salvatore "Salvino eyes of ice" Madonia, who is in jail for murder. Police said she carried messages from her husband to clan members and organised monthly payments to the families of imprisoned mobsters.
She also designated who should be running the mob family's business, or who should be "acting boss", on behalf of her husband.
In one wiretap, an accused clan member refers to her as "the mistress of the house", and the police statement on the arrests said she was the real boss of the Resuttana neighbourhood.
"For all intents and purposes, she acts like a real man," a turncoat told investigators, according to the court documents.
The Sicilian mafia, or Cosa Nostra, has been hurt by a series of arrests in recent years, weakening the crime network, especially compared to the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta. With many bosses in jail, their wives have begun to play larger roles.
"While Cosa Nostra has been much weakened by the result of judicial investigations, this case shows the continuing ability to use violence, intimidation, and the mafia code to force business and shop owners to pay extortion," the warrant reads.
During the two-year investigation, police documented 33 separate crimes and 22 attempts, many successful, to extort shops and businesses, police said.
(Reporting by Wladimir Pantaleone, writing by Steve Scherer in Rome, editing by Larry King)