Italian mobsters get decades in jail in mafia ‘maxi-trial’

Italy struck an early blow Saturday against the country's powerful 'Ndrangheta organised crime group, convicting 70 mobsters and others in a first, crucial test of the largest mafia trial in more than three decades.

A bunker room built for the trial in Calabria.
A bunker room built for the trial in Calabria. Photo: GIANLUCA CHININEA / AFP

Judge Claudio Paris read out verdicts and sentences against 91 defendants in the massive courtroom in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme.

While 355 people have yet to be judged in proceedings that are expected to last two years or longer, those judged Saturday had opted for a speedy trial.

That procedure, which took place behind closed doors, allowed them to have a third of their sentence shaved off if they were convicted.

Since January, a specially adapted courtroom has hosted the “maxi trial” of hundreds of suspects affiliated with the ‘Ndrangheta, the country’s richest and most powerful mafia group.

Famed anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri — whose efforts to defeat the ‘Ndrangheta have caused him to live under police escort for more than 30 years — said the sentencing had gone “very well”.

“Out of 91 defendants, there were 70 presumed innocent who were convicted,” Gratteri told Italian news agency AdnKronos, adding that those acquitted had been minor players.

SEE ALSO: 200 frozen dormice – Italian police seize stash of prized mafia dish

Some of the group’s most dangerous members received the maximum 20-year sentence requested by prosecutors. They included Domenico Macri of the group’s military wing; Pasquale Gallone, the right-hand man of alleged mob boss Luigi Mancuso, whose trial is still pending; and Gregorio Niglia, whose role included procuring weapons and extortion.

About a third of the group received sentences of a decade or more, while 21 individuals were acquitted, seven at the request of prosecutors, Gratteri said.

Biggest fish

The ‘Ndrangheta, which is entrenched in Italy’s poorest region of Calabria in the toe of the peninsula’s boot, has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra in power and wealth. The group controls the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe.

The biggest fish in the prosecution’s case have opted for theĀ  more lengthy trial, namely Mancuso “The Uncle”, 67, considered the leader of the ‘Ndrangheta families who dominated the Vibo Valentia province of Calabria, and ex-senator and lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, 68, accused of being Mancuso’s white-collar fixer.

Eight defendants in the fast-track trial faced a maximum of 20 years: of them, six received the full sentence. They included Gallone, 62, who helped orchestrate his boss Mancuso’s three years on the run beginning in 2014.
Mancuso had only recently been released from prison after serving 19 years.

The ‘Ndrangheta has approximately 150 families jockeying for position within the organisation. They are supported by at least 6,000 members and affiliates in Calabria, swelling to thousands worldwide, experts estimate.

Its reach is now international, with illegal gains reinvested in the legitimate economy. And the ‘Ndrangheta’s ability to infiltrate nearly all
segments of public administration back home in Calabria has allowed it to reap lucrative contracts and cement its power.

Charges in the case include association with mafia, attempted murder, money laundering, usury, drug-dealing, extortion and illegal weapons possession.

The maxi-trial is being held in a sprawling courtroom to accomodate the hundreds of lawyers involved and features over 900 prosecution witnesses and 58 state witnesses.

Eclipsing the current trial in size was Italy’s legendary maxi-trial of 1986-1987 that dealt a major blow to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, with 338 people

Antimafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were later assassinated by the mob.

SEE ALSO: Mafioso on the run caught after posting Italian cooking videos

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Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro dies after long illness

The notorious mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, captured in January after three decades on the run, has died in hospital in central Italy.

Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro dies after long illness

Matteo Messina Denaro, known as the ‘last godfather’ of the Cosa Nostra mafia and accused of a long series of heinous crimes, died in the early hours of Monday, Italian news agency Ansa announced overnight.

The 61-year-old had colon cancer, for which he had sought treatment while on the run – a decision that reportedly brought him to the attention of the authorities, who arrested him at a clinic in Palermo.

Messina Denaro was one of the most ruthless bosses in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies.

He was convicted by the courts of involvement in the murder of anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone in 1992 and in deadly bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993.

One of his six life sentences was also handed down for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the 12-year-old son of a witness in the Falcone case.

Messina Denaro disappeared in the summer of 1993, and spent the next 30 years on the run as the Italian state cracked down on the Sicilian mob.

READ ALSO: Messina Denaro: How Italy caught ‘most wanted’ mafia boss after 30 years

But he remained the top name on Italy’s most-wanted list and, increasingly became a figure of legend.

He was arrested on January 16th as he visited a health clinic where he was being treated using a fake identity.

Mafia boss hideout in Sicily

Police officers prevent access to mafia boss Messina Denaro’s hideout in Campobello di Mazara, Sicily. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

He was detained in a high-security jail in L’Aquila, central Italy, where he continued treatment for his cancer in his cell.

In August, Messina Denaro was moved to the inmates’ ward of the local hospital, where his condition had declined in recent days.

This weekend, media reports said he was in an “irreversible coma”. Medics had stopped feeding him and he had asked not to be resuscitated, they added.

His arrest may have brought some relief for his victims, but the mob boss always maintained his silence.

In interviews in custody since being arrested, Messina Denaro even denied he was a member of the Cosa Nostra.


After Messina Denaro went on the run, there was intense speculation that he had gone abroad – and he likely did.

But in the end, he was found to have been staying near his hometown of Castelvetrano in western Sicily.

READ ALSO: Police arrest dozens in major raid on Italy’s youngest mafia

Preparations are already under way for his burial in the family tomb in the town, alongside his father, Don Ciccio, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Don Ciccio was also head of the local clan. He was said to have died of a heart attack while on the run, his body left in the countryside, dressed for the funeral.

Investigators had been combing the Sicilian countryside for Messina Denaro for years, searching for hideouts and wiretapping members of his family and his friends.

They were heard discussing the medical problems of an unnamed person who suffered from cancer, as well as eye problems – a person who detectives became sure was Messina Denaro.

They used a national health system database to search for male patients of the right age and medical history, and eventually closed in.