The Sacra Corona Unita was founded in 1981 as the Nuova Grande Camorra Pugliese (current Società foggiana) by Camorra boss Raffaele Cutolo, who wanted to expand his operations into the Italian region of Apulia. However, with Cutolo's downfall a few years later the organization began operating separately under the leadership of Giuseppe Rogoli. According to one account of Rogoli's rise to leadership, it is said that the legendary Apulian crime boss was inspired by (and allegedly sanctioned by) various Calabrian 'Ndrangheta leaders imprisoned in the Trani jail, on the coast north of Bari, the capital of the region, to form a new criminal organization based in Apulia with himself at its head. Legend has it that on Christmas Day, 1983, Rogoli, with several of his imprisoned followers and several Calabrian mafia leaders (one Calabrian was rumoured to be the capobastone of the powerful Bellocco clan) came together in Rogoli's cell where he was officially initiated and sanctioned as the supreme head of the newly formed SCU. However, secret documents pertaining to the history of the SCU were eventually seized by the Italian law enforcement agencies and show that the reported ceremony actually took place in May 1983, not on the Christmas Day of legend. The December 25th date was probably used by SCU leaders to underline the great importance of the legendary ceremony.
Whatever the correct date may be, Giuseppe Rogoli will be remembered as the founder of Sacra Corona Unita. Under his leadership the SCU mixed Apulian interests and opportunities with 'Ndrangheta and Camorra traditions. Originally preying on the region's substantial wine and olive oil industries, the group moved into fraud, gunrunning and drug trafficking and made alliances with international criminal organizations such as the Russian and Albanian mafias, Colombian drug cartels, Chinese Triads, and Japanese Yakuza.
The SCU is made up of three distinct groupings or levels. Members can 'graduate' from one level to the next by going through riti battesimali (baptismal rites). The religious symbolism is probably left over from the SCU's 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 who have killed at least three people for SCU, and from now on members cannot leave, on pain of death. Members can now form their own crew of picciotti, known as a filiale. Upon indoctrination 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).