Today, the Italian court sentenced 2.100 people accused of belonging to the Italian "organized crime syndicate" "Ndrangheti" - one of the most powerful, richest and largest drug trafficking gangs in the world, to a total of 207 years in prison.
It took more than an hour and 40 minutes to read the court's verdict, including the acquittal of 131 accused. The trial took place in a concrete courtroom secured as a bunker in the southern region of Calabria, where the mafia organization originally operated.
The 'Ndrangheta has quietly gained power in Italy and abroad as the Sicilian mafia has lost influence and now the Calabrian organization holds a near-monopoly on importing cocaine into Europe, prosecutors leading the investigation in southern Italy say. That organization has bases in North and South America and is active in Africa, according to Italian prosecutors, and "'Ndrangheta figures have been arrested in recent years throughout Europe and Brazil and Lebanon.
The defendants were accused of drug and arms trafficking, extortion and mafia association, and others were accused of being accomplices.
The charges stemmed from an investigation into 12 clans linked to the convicted 'Ndrangheta boss. That central figure, Luigi Mancuso, served 19 years in an Italian prison for leading what investigators say is one of the most powerful "'Ndrangheta crime families in the Vibo Valentia area.
Vincenzo Capomola, deputy chief prosecutor of Catanzaro, said that "the infiltration of the criminal organization in the province of Vibo Valentia was so deep-rooted and so widespread, so alarming, so disturbing that I don't think there was an aspect of socio-economic life without the intimidation force of that dangerous criminal organization ".
Giuseppe Di Renzo, the defense attorney for several of the defendants, however, noted that more than a third of the original defendants were fully acquitted, while the rest were found not guilty on some counts. He said the case had no "cohesive thread."
But the former chief prosecutor of Catanzaro who launched the investigation, Nikola Grateri, said mafia trials often had to "cast the net wide" because of the very nature of how crime syndicates operate, infiltrating wide swaths of society.
The trial was held in a heavily secured, specially built part of the industrial park in Lamecia Terme, so large that along the hall video screens were hung from the ceiling so that those who followed the process could see the trial participants at the head of the hall.
Based almost entirely on blood ties, the "'Ndrangheta was for decades essentially immune to "repentants" - insiders who would testify, but over time increasingly significant evidence of wrongdoing came to the state from its top. A relative of Mankus was also present at the present trial.
Several dozen informants are from "'Ndrangheta, and others were previously in the Sicilian "Coza Nostri".
Despite the large number of defendants, the trial was not the largest in Italy involving alleged mobsters.
Back in 1986, 475 alleged members of the Sicilian mafia were tried in a similarly built courtroom - the "fortress" in Palermo. The proceedings resulted in more than 300 convictions and 19 life sentences. That trial helped reveal many of the brutal methods and murderous strategies of the island's biggest mob bosses, including sensational murders in the Palermo area during the years of power struggles.
On the contrary, the aim of the 'Ndrangheti trial was to punish those who participated in the collusion of mobsters and local politicians, government officials, businessmen and members of "secret lodges" to show how deeply rooted the syndicate was in Calabria.
Flush with cocaine-trafficking revenue, the 'Ndrangheta gobbled up hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, car dealerships and other businesses across Italy, particularly in Rome and the country's wealthy north, criminal investigations have revealed.
The purchases spread across Europe as the syndicate tried to "launder" illegal proceeds and make "clean" money by running legitimate businesses, including in the tourism and hospitality sectors, according to investigators.