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After Three Years, Italy’s Giant Mafia Trial Has Finally Wrapped Up With Hundreds Convicted, Including "Fatso" and "Lamb Thigh"

WSJ- Italy’s largest mafia trial in decades concluded Monday 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 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.

I started covering this trial shortly after I started posting blogs here. It's crazy to think this kicked off three years ago and just wrapped up this morning.

This may not be a huge deal here in America, but it is huge news in Europe. 

Mainly because the 'Ndregheta is responsible for 80% of all of Europe's hard drugs. Cocaine especially. But also because the criminal enterprise's tentacles reached far and wide throughout European politics, Interpol, and the media.

These guys did major numbers. We're talking nation-state GDP-type numbers. $55 Billion a year in revenue is an obscene amount of money. Especially when its mostly cash, and nearly completely untaxed.

For comparison's sake, NIKE revenue for the twelve months ending August 31, 2023 was $51.469B, a 9.16% increase year-over-year.  McDonald's annual revenue for 2022 was $23.183B, a 0.17% decline from 2021

And though this operation which netted a lot of big dogs definitely put a dent in the ‘Ndrangheta bottom line, it hasn't deterred them from continuing business. 

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.

For everybody that has been out the loop on this, or needs a refresher, here's some background-

Barstool Sports - In the 80s and 90s, La Cosa Nostra, which everybody associates with the Italian Mafia, was systemically prosecuted by European authorities. They were the family based out of Sicily that ran shit since the beginning of time. The group all the movies were based off and responsible for a lot of the ties to organized crime here in America since the early 1900s. 

With the void created by La Cosa Nostra's takedown, the ‘Ndrangheta crime family happily stepped up to fill it. Based out of Calabria,

or, "the toe" of the boot, they couldn't have been in a better position to succeed. 

For starters, you can see Sicily across the Tyrrhenian Sea. It's right there. The ferry ride from Reggio to Messina is shorter than the one from Woods Hole to the Vineyard.

The entire region is littered with towns like my family's (Cosenza, Reggio, Pizzo) that are what they consider modern cities, but we would consider one step above the third world. Electricity isn't a given, nor running water. It's 500 fuckin degrees in the summer and not only does air conditioning not exist anywhere, but fans are pretty scarce also. 

The economy is awful. So awful that unemployment hovers around 40%. Forty-percent!

People that do have jobs (that actually pay them) usually treat them with pride and do whatever they can to hold onto them. Even what we would consider shit jobs. (sidebar- there's a major divide in Italy between the northerners and southerners. I would compare it to racism but they're all the same nationality so its more just straight-up prejudice. People in the north look down upon the south and see them as a disease to the rest of the country. They view them as lazy, uneducated, and basically good for nothing except crime.)

For those that aren't lucky to be gainfully employed, they're usually left to consider lives of crime. Which is where the mafia steps in.

The Mafia in Italy isn't what it's portrayed in American movies. It's much, much worse.

Their stranglehold on the country is incredible. They not only employ more people than the government, they obviously pay much better. Generations of the lower class, especially in the south, are in turn endeared to the organization despite the killing, extortion, and drug running. Like Robin Hood. 

Just like American gangs, they prey upon and recruit kids young and indoctrinate them

Really fucked up.

But also interesting how the state was able to build such a case against an organization that's arguably more powerful than the government. If you think that's an exaggeration, a perfect example is how the mafia has straight up been extorting the Naples government for decades by not picking up the garbage unless they pay them. Sounds like a normal business deal except that this rate goes up anytime the mob decides it. The government says no, and then trash piles up for months and months on the streets until they cave.

And the corruption runs deep. Real deep.

"Politicians were involved, as well as lawyers, accountants, public officials, court clerks," prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who led the investigation, said at the time of the arrests.

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What was and still is most impressive about this whole thing was how the Italian government was able to compile so much evidence against such a tight-knit, hard-to-infiltrate organization, in order to turn so many high-ranking mafiosi against the clan, and turn states witness. 

These guys aren't the loveable, walking stereotypes that American culture has grown to glorify and revere like The Sopranos, or Goodfellas.  They are vile, ruthless scumbags.

And at the top of the scumbag pyramid sat this guy. The 'Ndrangheta kingpin, Luigi, "The Uncle" (il zio) Mancuso.

The highest-profile defendant is the alleged clan boss Luigi Mancuso, 66, also known as "The Uncle". Other defendants are said to go by nicknames such as "The Wolf", "Fatty" and "Blondie".Luigi has already spent time behind bars and was released from prison after 19 years on July 21, 2012, after being convicted in the Tirreno and Countdown trials for drugs and mafia association.

The Uncle helped take a fledgling operation in the 80s and turn it into one that takes in over 53 Billion dollars in revenue annually.

the gang imports 80% of Europe’s cocaine from Mexico and Colombia through the container port of Gioia Tauro and its crime business is said to pull in a staggering £40billion a year.In 2012 an Italian prosecutor warned: "The ’Ndrangheta runs the international cocaine market. I urge you not to underestimate the organisation or it will be too late."Although it was only recently categorised as a mafia in Italian law in 2010, the 'Ndrangheta first entered the public consciousness during the 1980s and 90s, when the ’Ndrangheta carried out a series of kidnappings across Italy, in what was one of the bloodiest chapters of Calabrian history.The gang is probably best-known for the kidnap of 16-year-old John Paul Getty, grandson of the world’s richest man, in Rome in 1973.

If you ever saw the Wahlberg movie "All The Money In The World" about the Getty family kidnapping and ransom, that was these guys.

Since then they've just become more and more ruthless.

Recently, it has been reported that alleged gang members are said to have fed a woman to pigs after she refused to give up her land to a neighbour with ties to the mafia clan.Maria Chindamo, a 42-year-old businesswoman, from Italy's Calabria region, became the latest in a long line of people from the region to disappear without a trace when she vanished on May 6, 2016, from outside her farm in the Limbadi municipality, near Calabria's western coast.Top anti-mafia magistrate Roberto di Palma probably put it best when he warned: "The ’Ndrangheta is like an octopus and wherever there’s money, you’ll find its tentacles."

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You can't topple an outfit like this without some truly fearless and courageous people willing to risk their lives and their family's to bring these people to justice. 

The Calabrian prosecutor Nicola Gratteri might have bigger balls than my eyes have ever seen before. He helped spearhead this thing.

They conducted this trial en masse, rounding up hundreds of high, low, and mid-ranking members in giant sweeps, housing them in an underground bunker jail, and trying them all simultaneously in another bunker. 

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.

It will remain to be seen if this has any major effects in hurting ’Ndrangheta operations. You can't hope to be optimistic and positive and point out that these underground organized criminal enterprises operate like whack-a-mole, where you take on guy out and two more pop up in their place. As sad a reality as that might be, this was and should be seen as a big win for the good guys. 

p.s. - I've been looking everywhere for news on the flamboyantly "gay hitman", responsible for dozens and dozens of murders, that was mentioned at the beginning of this trial and can't find shit. Do the European journalists not know clickbait when they see it.

p.p.s. - for people who have seen it, they will agree wholeheartedly, one of the best television shows to ever air on tv, and the realest, most raw depiction of how the real mafia works, was Gomorra. It aired on RAI in 2014 and ended in 2021. You can watch it now on HBO MAX, either dubbed in English (sucks), or in authentic Italian with English subtitles. (This is the way to go). They speak crazy dialects so even if you know Italian chances are you'll be confused by different characters Sassarese, Gallurese, Abruzzese, Marchigiano, Molisano, and Napolitano accents.) The show is incredibly well written, (it was so true to life, that the author of the book, and the series, Roberto Saviano, has had a hit out on him for over ten years and has had to live in disguise and under a fake name. 

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If you need a new show to start watching, that will get you hooked to the point you can't stop binging episodes, and you'll be sad when you've reached the final episode, I can't recommend Gomorrah enough.