I Risked My Life For Mafia Boss dad… Says Girl Who Ran Crime Empire Aged 22


As she stepped warily on to the railway platform, Marisa Merico glanced up and down,­ furtively scanning the station for any hint of danger.

Only when she was certain no one was watching, did she start to walk towards the frail, elderly man waiting nervously in the shadows.

The mum of two had waited 15 years to see her dear old dad.

She knew that just by meeting him she was putting both their lives in deadly danger.

For he was Emilio Di Giovine, a feared Mafia don who controlled one of Italy’s most powerful and bloody drugs empires.

Marisa was his beloved daughter – an ordinary Blackpool housewife who found herself running the family “firm” when a 30-year jail sentence put her father out of action.

And now that he had turned to help authorities nail other Mafia dons and joined a witness protection programme, there was a bullet with his name on it in the barrel of every Mafia gun from Sicily to the Alps.

Marisa, who won’t reveal where in Italy they met, says: “We’d been talking on the phone every day for two years, but I had to see him face-to-face.

“I’d not long lost my mum to cancer and too much time had passed.

“I spent the whole journey from Milan scared I was being followed, but I knew Papa was waiting for me at the station.

“Seeing him was a shock.

“The last time I’d laid eyes on him was in a courtroom before he was sentenced and he was a handsome, strong, powerful man who’d supplied gangsters with drugs, money and weapons.

“But he looked like a little 64-year-old Italian who walked with a bit of a shuffle.”

Marisa was desperate to hug him.

She says: “I made sure the station was empty before we walked up to each other and held each other tight.

“I had tears in my eyes and he did too.

“It was very emotional.

“He had always been such a big man in my eyes, but he was so nervous.”

Marisa was born into the mob after the young Emilio fell for her mother Pat, a Blackpool teenager who’d been working as an au pair in Milan.

He was a Godfather in the making, learning his family’s deadly business from his mama Maria, a little old lady known to the underworld as Granny Heroin for her ­ruthless leadership of the city’s ’Ndrangheta gang.

The strain of being married to the mob took its toll and, when her daughter was nine, Pat took her back to ­Blackpool to live.

But Marisa kept in touch with her Italian family.

And when she reached 17, the danger and glamour of Milan proved more appealing than the Lancashire seaside.

So she set off for Italy to join the family firm.

It was a path that would end in disgrace and disaster.

Marisa became a courier, delivering payments of up to £500,000 to gangsters in Seville, Spain.

She also married one of her dad’s henchmen, Bruno Merico and had his daughter Lara, now 22.

That was the age Marisa was when her father was arrested – and she was summoned to his maximum security cell to be told she was now running his empire.

Just a year later she fled back to Blackpool when an informer gave evidence against her.

Thinking she was safe in the UK, Marisa used £1.9million of Mafia money to buy a house – and was promptly arrested for money laundering for which she was jailed for three years, nine months.

On her release from Durham Prison, her first thought was for the father who had dragged her into his life of crime.

Eventually Di Giovine did a deal to help prosecutors convict other ­gangsters and was freed to live under a new name in a safe house, from where he rang his daughter.

Marisa, now 44, had to wait until a legal wrangle over an Italian arrest warrant had been resolved.

But finally, last April, she was able to visit him.

She recalls: “When I boarded the plane from London to Milan I was terrified I’d get off at the other end and be put in handcuffs.

“Even though I was carrying a ­legitimate piece of paper which stated I could no longer be arrested, I was so scared I almost passed out.”

But father and daughter spent four happy days at his small apartment.

Di Giovine, who trained as a chef on his release, cooked her pasta and fish and they drank red wine and chatted late into the night about old times.

“Papa and I had a lot to talk about,” says Marisa.

“He told me he was ashamed of what he’d done in the past.

“It made him feel sick to think of how ruthless he was, how he treated people as if they weren’t even human.”

Without Di Giovine’s influence, Marisa says she would probably have lived a quiet life in Blackpool – and would never have gone to jail.

Astonishingly, she bears no bitterness towards her father.

She says: “When there are millions of pounds at stake who else do you trust if you can’t trust your daughter?

“I had to step up for him.

“I may have been young, but I knew right from wrong.

“I’ve never blamed anyone but myself.

“Papa did tell me he was sorry he got me involved, but there’s nothing to apologise for.

“I did ask him why he’d chosen me to take over the family and he said I was the only person he could truly trust.”

And Marisa had her own confessions to make.

She told her father that after splitting with Bruno she took up with British gangland boss Frank Birley, only to see him shot dead when she was three months pregnant with their son, also called Frank and now 13.

“Papa said it was like history repeating itself.

“He had really loved a girl once and she was shot dead in a bar when she was three months pregnant.

“He might have been a mobster in the past but he is now just an old man who loves his family.

“He hasn’t got a lot of money, but he still wears silk shirts and smart suits.

“He has a 35-year-old girlfriend.

“His big dream is to buy a house of his own, maybe run a ­restaurant and have his family near him.”

But it was not just her father Marisa wanted to make peace with on her trip to Italy – she also visited the notorious Granny Heroin, Maria Serraino.

Maria, 82, now under house arrest, was the real powerhouse behind the family’s drug-smuggling operation.

Hundreds of people died in the gangland war to control it.

Yet Marisa still sees her as a gentle old woman.

“I know it sounds crazy,” she says.

“Nonna was responsible for a lot but she’s a good person.

“She was always so loving towards me.

“She had no idea I was in Italy until I knocked on her door.

“We both burst into tears.

“I was so scared I wouldn’t get a chance to see her before she died.”

Marisa now lives a quiet life in a sleepy village outside ­Blackpool with son Frank, daughter Lara and Lara’s year-old son Lucas.

She works 16 hours a week as a cleaner and her wages are topped up with benefits.

But Hollywood has come knocking to make a film about her life and she is working on a second volume of her book.

But Marisa wouldn’t go back to her old life.

“I’d rather live the life I have now,” she says.

“Papa and I finally have a real father-daughter relationship and for the first time in years I’m at peace with myself.”