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Dead DOLPHINS were used to issue Godfather-style warnings by 'Ndrangheta mob, mega mafia trial hears

'Ndrangheta mobsters used the heads of dead dolphins to issue gruesome threats to potential informants, one of Italy's largest ever mafia trials has heard.

In scenes reminiscent of the iconic 1972 film The Godfather in which Jack Woltz awakes to find the decapitated head of his prized stallion in his bed, the Sicilian clan also dumped dead puppies and goats on the doorsteps of their enemies.

Members of the powerful criminal group are also accused of storing weapons in cemetery chapels, bribing judges, and forging medical certificates to help killers evade prison.

The gangsters are on trial for a litany of crimes including five murders, one of which saw a gay member killed for his sexuality before his body was buried under tarmac, ex-members have claimed.  

Dozens of 'Ndrangheta members have turned state witnesses in Italy's largest anti-mafia trial in three decades, covering everything from intimidation to vote-buying, and drug trafficking to murder.

Pictured left: Alleged mob boss Luigi Mancuso of the The Mancuso crime family, and right: Ex-senator and lawyer Giancarlo Pittelli, who was allegedly Mancuso's white-collar fixer during his time as a senator

One criminal-turned-witness, Andrea Mantella (pictured) described how two brothers were killed in 1988 before their bodies were melted

The gangsters used similar tactics to those seen in The Godfather in which Jack Woltz awakes to find the decapitated head of his prized stallion in his bed

Earlier this month, 70 members were jailed for up to 20 years in the first stage of the mammoth trial, with 355 more yet to be judged in proceedings expected to last two years or longer.

One criminal-turned-witness, Andrea Mantella, describing a 1988 revenge killing of two brothers, said: 'They waited for them in Piazza Morelli, invited them to eat ricotta at the farm... and then they killed, burned and melted them.'

The 'Ndrangheta, Italy's most powerful organised crime syndicate, is in the crosshairs of the 'maxi-trial' against 355 defendants held in the poor southern region of Calabria, the group's home turf.

Having expanded well beyond its rural roots, the 'Ndrangheta now dominates Europe's cocaine trade and has infiltrated many areas of the legal economy throughout Italy, and even abroad.

It is helped by close contacts with politicians and business figures, and its stranglehold over the local population in Calabria.

Pictured: A view of the special courtroom playing host to the 'maxi trial' of the Ndrangheta organised crime syndicate, seen in January. On Saturday, Italy convicted 70 mobsters involved with the 'Ndrangheta in the largest mafia trial in more than three decades

Testimony that wrapped up this month from an unprecedented 58 mafia informants - connected to court by video link - exposed the brutality of the 'Ndrangheta and the influence of the group at all levels of society.

The trial focuses on one Calabria province, Vibo Valentia, whose family clans are dominated by Luigi 'The Supreme' Mancuso, 67, himself on trial after serving a 19-year sentence for drug and mafia crimes until 2012.

'Without the consent of Luigi Mancuso you can't open any business,' testified his nephew, Emanuele Mancuso, in March.

With nicknames like Lamb Thigh, Sweetie, Wolf and The Wringer, the defendants - many of whom are related - are alleged bosses and operatives, as well as their white-collar enablers.

They are accused of procuring weapons, gathering votes or delivering messages. 

Others allegedly collected and distributed cash to prisoners, acted as accountants, or managed relations with mafia in other regions. Still others determined extortion targets and planned ambushes.

Emanuele Mancuso (pictured), the nephew of mafia boss Luigi, testified in the trial

The extent of the 'Ndrangheta's reach in the local economy has made it near impossible to eradicate.

The court has heard of ambulances moving drugs, water supplies diverted to marijuana crops and drowned migrants buried without coffins after rigged public tenders.

Informant Mantella, a high-ranking member who confessed to numerous murders, said the gang paid 70,000 euros (£60,000) to release him from prison to a medical clinic where 'I did what I wanted', underscoring the 'Ndrangheta's financial clout.

Mantella and another state witness also testified that the 'Ndrangheta paid 50,000 euros (£42,000) to former senator and lawyer, Giancarlo Pittelli, who protests his innocence, for trial fixing.

The defendants also include police, court workers, mayors and other officials - some allegedly meeting mafia in illegal Masonic lodges.

Calabrian journalist Consolato Minniti told AFP the maxi-trial is the first to go 'above and beyond the 'military' side of the 'Ndrangheta'.

'Until today, judges have generally targeted those who shoot,' he said. 

In the past 30 years, 110 city councils in Calabria have been dissolved over mafia infiltration - some three times, including Lamezia Terme where the trial is being held.

Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri is pictured with his police protection in Rome amid the huge trial

The Mancuso family's home town, Limbadi, was the first. Its administration was dissolved by Italy's president in 1983 after a fugitive boss, Francesco 'Ciccio' Mancuso, was elected mayor in absentia.

Allegations in the 351-page indictment show how the 'Ndrangheta will stop at nothing to pursue its aims.

Various tactics are used to coerce protection money, force owners to sell below market value, get businesses to switch to mafia suppliers, or chase loans with extortionate interest, sometimes above 200 percent.

Dead animal heads have been dumped on the doorsteps of resisters, threatening phone calls made, beatings meted out, cars torched, Molotov cocktails thrown and shots fired.

Suspects in five murders, including a 'Ndrangheta member killed in 2002 because of his homosexuality, are in the dock in the maxi-trial. 

There were 1,320 mafia-related murders in Calabria from 1983 to 2018, according to the authorities.

In a May 2017 episode captured on wiretap and included in the indictment, a 'Ndrangheta member called the brother of a woman who lost 7,000 euros of marijuana after a police seizure.

'Let's try to get this money back or (you'll) find your sister in a cement pillar,' the caller said.

'Because these people don't joke around.'

The trial continues.