More than 200 defendants were sentenced on Monday to serve sentences of up to 30 years in prison after the mammoth trial of members of the Drangheta, the most powerful mafia on the Italian peninsula.

Of the total of 338 defendants who were brought before a criminal court in Lamezia Terme (south), 207 were found guilty and sentenced, while 131 were acquitted.

The prosecution had asked for a combined sentence of nearly 5,000 years for mobsters and their accomplices, white-collar workers, civil servants, local elected officials and even high-ranking police officers.

The sentences, which were read out by judge Brigitta Cavasino, ranged from a few months in prison to thirty years in prison – the latter being imposed on four people – and totaling 2,150 years in prison for all the defendants found guilty.

One of the best-known defendants, Giancarlo Pitelli, lawyer, former MP and senator (Forza Italia), 70, was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while the prosecution had asked for a sentence of 17 years.

Based in Calabria, an impoverished region of southern Italy, the Drangheta is considered the richest and most powerful of the Italian mafias.

Present in some forty countries, it exercises in the place where suffocating control was created, penetrating and corrupting the public administration and imposing its steel law on the population.

Since January 2021, three judges have heard thousands of hours of testimony from witnesses, including about fifty former mobsters turned collaborators of justice, about the actions of the Mancuso family and its associates, a powerful Drangheta faction that controls Vibo Valencia province.

“Deafening silence”

The XXL trial, which took place in a high-security bunker in the city of Lamezia Terme, has been described as the most important anti-Mafia case in more than 30 years.

The charges were many: organization and gang, drug trafficking, extortion, usury, money laundering…

During the trial, defendants described in detail the violent action of Drangheta, the exercise of its power over the population, the extortions, the setting up of public contests and elections, ways of securing weapons, etc.

They revealed secrets about gun caches in cemeteries, drug-trafficking ambulances, and even how municipal water was being diverted to irrigate marijuana plantations.

Yesterday morning, at the start of the hearing, a businessman, a victim of the mafia, went, as he has every week since the start of the trial, to express his support “to those who help us free ourselves, the judges and prosecutors”.

But 67-year-old Rocco Mazzardi told AFP that he was saddened by the “deafening silence” of the Italian media about this trial and the absence of ordinary citizens like him from the audience.

Multinational crime syndicate

Those who rise up in the mafia are threatened, if not exterminated. They discover dead cats, goat heads, or dolphins on their doorstep. Cars are set on fire, shop windows are destroyed. Some are beaten or shot. Others disappear forever.

Evidence of Drangheta’s transition to the legal economy: company directors, mayors, public officials, including a senior police officer, sat in the dock.

Long underappreciated, the Drangheta grew discreetly over decades as authorities focused all their efforts on Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia at the center of movies such as The Godfather.

The first mammoth trial against the mafia was aimed precisely at that of Sicily, it took place in Palermo in 1986 and resulted in the conviction of 338 mobsters.

Today, experts estimate that the Drangheta, which is made up of around 150 Calabrian families, has an annual turnover of around 50 billion euros worldwide.

With the help of Interpol, Italy has in recent years been able to tighten the noose around this criminal network, prompting police around the world to identify Drangheta activities on their soil and pursue them.

Despite its scope, yesterday’s trial is not expected to significantly affect Drangheta’s operations, experts say.

“I don’t believe that a police operation is enough to destroy the Drangheta”, for example Antonio Nicazo judged, according to which the priorities are other: employment, education, changing mentality. “We need these to hit a criminal organization,” he explained.