More than 200 'Ndrangheta mobsters are convicted and sentenced in one of Italy's biggest ever mafia trials held inside ultra-secure bunker
- Among those in dock were mobsters with the nicknames 'The Wolf' and 'Fatty'
More than 200 'Ndrangheta mobsters have been convicted and sentenced by Italian judges after one of largest mafia trials in Italy's history.
For over an hour and a half, the president of the court in southern Vibo Valentia, Brigida Cavasino, read out the names of the guilty and their sentences, which ranged from 30 years to a few months, as defendants incarcerated in prisons across the country watched via video link.
Prosecutors had asked for guilty verdicts against 322 mafia members operating in the Calabrian province and their white-collar collaborators, requesting 30 years for a dozen of the 'Ndrangheta's most seasoned decision-makers including those who go by the nicknames 'The Wolf', 'Fatty' and 'Sweetie'.
About 200 were convicted and sentenced on Monday, although only four top members received this maximum penalty. The remainder were either formally or effectively acquitted.
One of the trial's most high-profile defendants, 70-year-old former parliamentarian and defence lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, accused of being a fixer for the mafia, received 11 years, short of the 17 years prosecutors requested.
A few dozen family members sat in the back of the vast, narrow courtroom, squinting at the television screens for a glimpse of their loved ones, and occasionally crying out with joy over a light sentence.
The verdicts - which can be appealed twice - capped Italy's largest mafia trial in decades and mark the most significant blow to date against one of the world's most powerful organised crime syndicates, which enjoys a near-monopoly on the European cocaine trade.
The mega trial started almost three years ago inside an ultra-secure bunker courtroom in the southern region of Calabira, where the powerful 'Ndrangheta organisation was originally based.
Since then, the court of Vibo Valentia has heard thousands of hours of testimony, including from more than 50 former mafia operatives turned state witnesses.
The witnesses have detailed countless examples of the 'Ndrangheta's brutality and its stranglehold over the local population, whether carrying out violent ambushes, shaking down business owners, rigging public tenders, stockpiling weapons, collecting votes or passing kickbacks to the powerful.
Those who opposed the mafia found dead puppies, dolphins or goat heads dumped on their doorsteps, sledgehammers taken to storefronts or cars torched. Some were murdered, their bodies never found, while others were beaten or fired at.
Hundreds of 'Ndrangheta mobsters including 'The Wolf', 'Fatty' and 'Sweetie' will be sentenced by Italian judges today, marking the end of Italy 's largest mafia trial in more than 30 years
People arrive at a specially constructed bunker for a hearing of a maxi-trial of hundreds of people accused of membership in Italy's 'ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, one of the world's most powerful, extensive and wealthy drug-trafficking groups, in Lamezia Terme, southern Italy, on Monday
One of the trial's most high-profile defendants, 70-year-old former parliamentarian and defence lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli (pictured), accused of being a fixer for the mafia, received 11 years, short of the 17 years prosecutors requested
People arrive at a specially constructed bunker for a hearing of a maxi-trial of hundreds of alleged mobsters in southern Italy on Monday
Among the accused are the alleged accomplices of Mafia boss Luigi Mancuso, known as 'The Uncle', who have a host of nicknames including 'The Wolf', 'Fatty', 'Sweetie', 'Blondie', 'Little Goat' and 'The Wringer'. Mancuso, 69, was cut from the defendants list last year to be tried separately.
The trial took place in a specially constructed high-security bunker. Part of an industrial park in the city of Lamezia Terme, the bunker is so vast that 20 video screens were anchored to the ceiling so participants could view the proceedings.
The mobsters and their white collar collaborators were sentenced today with crime that include drug and arms trafficking, extortion and mafia association, a term in Italy's penal code for members of organized crime groups. Others are charged with acting in complicity with the 'Ndrangheta without actually being a member.
The charges grew out of an investigation of 12 clans linked to convicted mafia boss Mancusco, who served 19 years in Italian prison for his role in leading what investigators allege is one of the 'Ndrangheta's most powerful crime families, based in the town of Vibo Valentia.
The 'Ndrangheta of Vibo Valentia was entrenched in the local economy, feared by business owners and farmers, and protected by white-collar professionals and politicians.
Indeed, based almost entirely on blood ties, the 'Ndrangheta was substantially immune to turncoats for decades, but the ranks of those turning state's evidence are becoming more substantial. In the current trial, they include a relative of Mancuso's.
Several dozen informants in the case came from the 'Ndrangheta, while others formerly belonged to Sicily's Cosa Nostra.
The informants - a relatively rare phenomenon within the 'Ndrangheta due to blood ties between members - recounted how weapons were hidden in cemetery chapels and ambulances used to transport drugs, and municipal water supplies diverted to marijuana crops.
Hundreds of lawyers and a few dozen members of the media attended the sentencing Monday in the heavily secured courtroom bunker in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme.
Also present was Rocco Mangiardi, 67, a local businessman and one of the first to denounce the 'Ndrangheta for extortion before a judge in 2009.
Mangiardi, who has lived under police escort ever since, lamented the low turnout for the trial's most important moment.
'This courtroom should be filled with citizens,' he said. 'To show the judges that we're on their side and then to tell the mafiosi with their presence "We don't want you".'
The 'Ndrangheta organised crime syndicate now holds almost a monopoly on cocaine importation in Europe, according to anti-mafia prosecutors who led the investigation in southern Italy.
The organisation also has bases in North and South America and is active in Africa, Italian prosecutors maintain, and 'Ndrangheta figures have been arrested in recent years around Europe and in Brazil and Lebanon.
Despite the large number of defendants, the trial wasn't Italy's biggest one involving alleged mobsters.
In 1986, 475 alleged members of the Sicilian Mafia went on trial in a similarly constructed bunker in Palermo. The proceedings resulted in more than 300 convictions and 19 life sentences.
That trial helped reveal many of the brutal methods and murderous strategies of the island's top mob bosses, including sensational killings that bloodied the Palermo area during years of power struggles.
President of the court judge Brigida Cavasino, center, is flanked by judges Claudia Caputo, left, and Germana Radice as she reads the verdicts of a maxi-trial of hundreds of alleged mobsters on Monday
Officials listen as judges read the verdicts of a maxi-trial of hundreds of people accused of membership in Italy's 'ndrangheta organized crime syndicate on Monday
Among the accused are the alleged accomplices of Mafia boss Luigi Mancuso (pictured), known as 'The Uncle', who have a host of nicknames including 'The Wolf', 'Fatty', 'Sweetie', 'Blondie', 'Little Goat' and 'The Wringer'. Mancuso, 69, was cut from the defendants list last year to be tried separately
In contrast, this trial involving the 'Ndrangheta was aimed at securing convictions and sentences based on alleged acts of collusion among mobsters and local politicians, public officials, businessmen and members of secret lodges to show how deeply rooted the syndicate is in Calabria.
'The relevance (of this trial) is enormous,' Italian lawmaker former anti-mafia chief prosecutor and lawmaker Federico Cafiero De Raho, a former chief anti-mafia prosecutor, said.
'First of all, because every trial against the 'ndrangheta gives a very significant message to the territory, which is not only the Calabrian one, but the national territory.'
'But it has repercussions also at a European and world level, because the 'ndrangheta is one of the strongest organizations in the world, able to manage the international traffic of narcotics, as well as many other activities,' Cafiero De Raho added.
Awash in cocaine trafficking revenues, the 'ndrangheta has gobbled up hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, car dealerships and other businesses throughout Italy, especially in Rome and the country's affluent north, criminal investigations have revealed.
The buying spree spread across Europe as the syndicate sought to launder illicit revenues but also to make 'clean' money by running legitimate businesses, including in the tourism and hospitality sectors, investigators alleged.
'Arrests allow their activities to be halted for a time, but the investigations determine the need for further investigations each time,' Cafiero De Raho said.
Today, mafia experts estimate that the 'Ndrangheta, made up of approximately 150 Calabrian families and their associates, bring in more than 50 billion euros (£43 billion) annually around the world from drug trafficking, usury, syphoning public funds and extortion.
In Calabria, the 'Ndrangheta has crept into practically all areas of public life, from city hall and hospitals to the courts. But its scope is much wider and the 'Ndrangheta now operates in more than 40 countries, experts say.
Relying on frontmen, shell companies and favours from the elite, the 'Ndrangheta reinvests illegal gains in the legitimate economy, cementing its power.
For the first time in such trials, the defendants list includes many non-mafia members, including a high-ranking police official, mayors and other public servants and businessmen.
Highest-profile is 70-year-old ex-parliamentarian and defence lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, accused of being a fixer for the mafia and a go-between with the world of politics, finance and illegal Masonic lodges.