Italy dealt an early blow on Saturday to the country’s powerful organized criminal group, the ‘Ndrangheta, by convicting 70 Mafiosi and others in a crucial first test of the largest Mafia trial in more than three decades.
Judge Claudio Paris read the verdicts and sentences handed down against 91 defendants in the huge courtroom in the Calabrian town of Lamezia Terme.
While 355 people are yet to be tried in a procedure that is expected to last two years or more, those tried on Saturday had opted for a speedy trial.
This procedure, which took place behind closed doors, enabled them to reduce their sentence by a third if they were convicted.
Since January, a specially adapted courtroom has hosted the “maxi trial” of hundreds of suspects affiliated with ‘Ndrangheta, the richest and most powerful mafia group in the country.
Notorious anti-Mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri – whose efforts to defeat ‘Ndrangheta forced him to live under police escort for more than 30 years – said the sentencing went “very well”.
“Out of 91 defendants, 70 presumed innocents have been convicted,” Gratteri told the Italian news agency Adnkronos, adding that those acquitted were underage players.
Some of the most dangerous members of the group have received the maximum sentence of 20 years requested by prosecutors. They included Domenico Macri from the military wing of the group; Pasquale Gallone, the right-hand man of alleged mafia boss Luigi Mancuso, whose trial is still pending; and Gregorio Niglia, whose role included the purchase of weapons and extortion.
About a third of the group received sentences of a decade or more, while 21 people were acquitted, including seven at the behest of prosecutors, Gratteri said.
The ‘Ndrangheta is entrenched in Calabria, one of the poorest regions of Italy, at the foot of the boot of the peninsula. It has surpassed the Cosa Nostra of Sicily in power and wealth. The group controls most of the cocaine entering Europe.
The biggest fish in the prosecution case – Mancuso “The Uncle”, 67, considered the head of the ‘Ndrangheta families that dominated the province of Vibo Valentia in Calabria; and former senator and lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, 68, accused of being Mancuso’s white collar – opted for a longer trial.
Of the eight accused in the expedited trial who faced a maximum sentence of 20 years, six received the full sentence. Among them, Gallone, 62, who helped orchestrate his boss Mancuso’s three-year flight from 2014. Mancuso had only recently been released from prison after serving 19 years.
The ‘Ndrangheta has around 150 families vying for a position in the organization. They are backed by at least 6,000 members and affiliates in Calabria, reaching thousands worldwide, experts say.
Its reach is now international, with illegal earnings reinvested in the legitimate economy. The ‘Ndrangheta’s ability to infiltrate almost every segment of the public administration in Calabria has allowed it to reap lucrative contracts and consolidate its power.
The charges in this case include association with the Mafia, attempted murder, money laundering, usury, drug trafficking, extortion and illegal possession of weapons.
The maxi-trial takes place in a sprawling courtroom to accommodate the hundreds of lawyers involved. More than 900 prosecution witnesses and 58 state witnesses were called.
In comparison, the legendary Italian maxi-trial of 1986-1987, which dealt a severe blow to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, resulted in the conviction of 338 people. Anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were then murdered by the crowd.