The Chicago Syndicate: More than 200 Reputed Members or Associates of the 'Ndrangheta, Italy’s Most Powerful and Richest Crime Syndicate, were Convicted in the Country’s Largest Mafia Trial in Decades.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

More than 200 Reputed Members or Associates of the 'Ndrangheta, Italy’s Most Powerful and Richest Crime Syndicate, were Convicted in the Country’s Largest Mafia Trial in Decades.

Italy’s largest mafia trial in decades concluded yesterday with the conviction of more than 200 people accused of being part of, or collaborating with, the country’s most powerful and richest crime syndicate, the ‘Ndrangheta.

Former law-enforcement officials, politicians and businessmen were found guilty of offenses related to organized crime, including drug smuggling, money laundering and extortion, after an almost three-year trial.
The 3 judge panel announce the verdicts in the 'Ndrangheta Mafia Trial

The verdicts mark a turning point in the pursuit by Italian authorities of the ‘Ndrangheta, which—though lower-profile than the Sicilian mafia—has built itself into one of the world’s most formidable drug-trafficking syndicates. The group controls over 80% of Europe’s cocaine trade and its interests extend to the Americas, Africa and Australia, according to prosecutors, who estimate its annual revenue to be $55 billion.

Italian prosecutors have jailed important members of the Sicilian mafia since the 1990s, but have until recently had little success infiltrating the ‘Ndrangheta, which is largely made up of decentralized families with deep loyalties and no obvious leading clan.

Ahead of the trial, prosecutors said that the deliberate targeting of the group’s leadership was crucial to hampering their operations. Prosecutors also sought to expose how the group has penetrated politics and business. Still, with an estimated membership of more than 20,000 people, elimination of the criminal network remains an elusive goal.

Earlier this year in a separate operation, police in Italy, Germany and Belgium arrested around 200 people linked to the ‘Ndrangheta, following an investigation that spanned 10 countries. Investigators on that case said they confiscated 23 tons of cocaine with an estimated retail value of around €2.5 billion, equivalent to $2.7 billion. Italian police said they expect those arrests to disrupt the group’s activities in Europe temporarily.

In the court case that ended Monday, more than 320 people stood trial in a specially built fortified bunker-style courtroom in Calabria, the southern Italian region where the ‘Ndrangheta is based. The three presiding judges stayed in a safe house under police protection while they deliberated their verdicts over the past month. Sentences ranged from 10 months to 30 years and can be appealed.

The trial included thousands of hours of testimony and more than 50 former mafiosi who testified for the prosecution.

In one of the most high-profile convictions, the judges handed an 11-year prison sentence for mafia collusion to Giancarlo Pittelli, a lawyer and member of the Forza Italia political party founded by Silvio Berlusconi, the flamboyant former prime minister who died earlier this year. Prosecutors had sought a 17-year sentence, describing Pittelli as one of the key links between the ‘Ndrangheta and the world of politics. Pittelli and his lawyers couldn’t be reached to comment.

Domenico Bonavota, who received a maximum 30-year prison sentence, told the court during the trial that he was “disgusted by the ‘Ndrangheta” and not a member. “I’m not part of any organized crime group,” he said. Prosecutors accused him of having reached a level within the organization known as “gospel.” Bonavota said in court that the only gospel he knew he had studied as a child during catechism. He couldn’t be reached to comment.

Most of the defendants have been in pretrial detention since December 2019, when thousands of law-enforcement officers took part in one of Italy’s biggest-ever crackdowns against organized crime. The arrests followed a nearly four-year investigation led by Nicola Gratteri, a Calabria native who has spent years fighting the ‘Ndrangheta and has himself become one of the group’s targets.

Thanks to Eric Sylvers.

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