Young Romanian socialite Codin Maticiuc was in Miami far from home when he spotted an article about another Romanian, Nutzu the Loan Shark’ (Nutu Camataru) on the front page of the Miami Herald.
Hours earlier, I’d reported the story from Ferentari, a rough area of Bucharest, and it had now appeared in the American newspapers.
It was 2013 and Codin, in his early 30s, was a regular of the gossip columns and something of a local celebrity in Bucharest.
I imagine Mr Maticiuc sipping a latte in some trendy outdoor café in Miami blending in with the Florida fashionistas. His eyes probably widened and his heart swelled with pride when he saw a Bucharest gangster ‘elevated’ to the front page of the well-known daily.
“Look, he’s a friend of a friend of mine,” I can imagine him saying. Like Monaco, Miami is ‘a sunny place for shady people.’
Remember how world-renowned Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot twice in the head on the steps outside his Miami mansion in 1997? Nutzu the Loan Shark with his exotic pets fits well with the Florida narrative.
Thousands of kilometers away in Bucharest, I had just reported and written the story about the Bucharest gangster and his lions. I also found it fascinating. You can find it here.
Gangsters are one thing, but mobsters who keep lions and bears in their back yard in Ferentari, a slummy area of Bucharest, takes the story to another level. There were reports that the animals were used to intimidate people who didn’t pay off their debts.
I know people expect journalists to write about politicians and dignitaries and respectable people, but in fact we often don’t write about polite society (lumea buna).
We hang out with criminals, oddballs, the poor, the marginalized and all kinds of reprobates, especially crime reporters. Just think ‘Ernest Hemingway’. The good stories are down dark allies.
Over the years, I have reported on Irinel Columbeaniu (he invited us to spend time with him and Monica during their honeymoon), Adrian Minune (Adrian the Wonder Child) and the Andreea pop duo. The stories always got attention.
The ‘unlikely’ stories sometimes raised an eyebrow in the Romanian media, but these are the stories that people enjoy reading.
The story of Nutzu the Loan Shark’s lions and bears being rescued by animal welfare group Vier Pfoten was a writer’s dream. In Romania, the movies are on the street.
The story which I published for the Associated Press, an international news agency, made headlines around the world, including in Miami, where budding writer Codin Maticiuc was visiting.
Codin Maticiuc would have remained a Dorobani wide boy (schmecher) had it not been for a nascent literary talent. The budding writer was encouraged by respected critic Alex Stefanescu who called him „an undercover writer in the world of celebrities.”
After a reasonably successful literary debut in 2016, his Miami dream came true and he managed to meet the gangster Nutzu through mutual acquaintances.
He won his trust to an extent that he was allowed to write his biography.
The book was published in November 2021 under the title “Trainer of lions and suckers – the Life of Nutzu the Loan Shark” and sold a record 15,000 copies in 48 hours, the author said. He’s ordered a second print run of 30,000.
In researching the book, the writer spent years with Mr Balint (real name), 57, trekking along to weddings, parties and visiting him in prison.
But there is a darker side to the Camataru clan as the name suggests. The gang emerged during the communist era and practiced blackmail, pimping, fraud, protection taxes and pawnbroking.
Ion Balint was the clan leader seconded by his brother Vasile ‘Sile’ Balint. At one point it had 200 gang members.
In the mid-80s, it staged a number of break-ins in Bucharest.
Gang members stole bicycles, bottled gas, carpets, watches, coffee, soap, tape and video recorders, gold chains, cameras, leather jackets and fur hats_ anything that could be flogged at a time when the shops were empty.
The Balints were caught, tried and sent to prison. Somehow they were given a presidential pardon by Nicolae Ceausescu and later by Ion Iliescu, Rise Project reported.
Codin Maticiuc wanted to peek behind the curtains into that murky world.
“I had access to a parallel world, (the world) of the real bad boys,” he said on Sunday.
“I was a silent witness to battles and the settling of scores that I could never have imagined, narrated in great detail by the clan leader.”
Had his interest not been piqued by an article in the Miami Herald in February 2013, this is one best-seller that would have never been written.