Pentito (Italian pronunciation: [penˈtiːto]; lit. "repentant"; plural: pentiti) is used colloquially to designate people in Italian criminal procedure terminology who were formerly part of criminal organizations and decided to collaborate with a public prosecutor. The judicial category of pentiti was originally created in 1970s to combat violence and terrorism during the period of left- and right-wing terrorism known as the Years of Lead. During the 1986–87 Maxi Trial, and after the testimony of Tommaso Buscetta, the term was increasingly applied to former members of organized crime who had abandoned their organization and started helping investigators.
Role and benefits
In exchange for the information they deliver, pentiti receive shorter sentences for their crimes, in some cases even freedom. In the Italian judicial system, pentiti can obtain personal protection, a new name, and some money to start a new life in another place, possibly abroad.
This practice is common in other countries as well. In the United States, criminals testifying against their former associates can enter the Witness Protection Program, and be given new identities with supporting paperwork. The Italian Mafia bosses Buscetta and Francesco Marino Mannoia were allowed to live in the U.S. under new identities in the Witness Protection Program when Italy did not yet have such a program.
Among the most famous Mafia pentiti is Tommaso Buscetta, the first important pentito. He was helpful to judge Giovanni Falcone in describing the Sicilian Mafia Commission or Cupola, the leadership of the Sicilian Mafia in the 1980s, and identifying the main operational channels that the Mafia used for its business.
In Italy, important successes were achieved with the cooperation of pentiti in the fight against terrorism (especially against the Red Brigades), by Carabinieri general Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa (who was later killed by the Mafia).
In the period until the 1990s, there were very few, albeit significant, pentiti such as Tommaso Buscetta, Salvatore Contorno, Antonino Calderone, etc. However, this changed significantly during the early 1990s. From 1992, over a thousand mafiosi have agreed to collaborate with Italian justice.
In some cases, pentiti have invented stories to obtain reductions in jail time. A famous case regarded the popular TV anchorman Enzo Tortora, who was falsely accused of cocaine trafficking and Camorra membership by a pentito named Giovanni Melluso. Tortora was detained for years before being cleared; he developed cancer and died soon after the case was finally solved, some say because of the emotional stress of his imprisonment.
Important pentiti of the Sicilian Mafia
- Leonardo Vitale (1941–1984) was the first to become a pentito in 1973, although originally his confessions were not taken seriously.
- Tommaso Buscetta (1928–2000) was the first high-profile pentito against the Sicilian Mafia. He started to collaborate with the anti-Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone in 1984. His testimony was of crucial importance in the landmark Maxi Trial of 1986–87.
- Salvatore Contorno (born 1946) started to collaborate in October 1984, following the example of Buscetta.
- Leonardo Messina (born 1955), member of the San Cataldo clan, who became an informant in 1992. He was the greater accuser of Giulio Andreotti.
- Antonino Giuffrè (born 1945), boss of Caccamo and member of Corleonesi, turned informant in 2002, after his arrest.
- Antonino Calderone (1935–2013) started to collaborate in April 1987.
- Francesco Marino Mannoia (born 1951) started to collaborate in October 1989 because his brother had been murdered. He was the first pentito who used to belong to the winning faction of the Second Mafia War (1981–83).
- Giovanni Brusca (born 1957), the murderer of anti-Mafia prosecutor Falcone, began to collaborate in 1996.
- Santino Di Matteo (born 1954), became an informant in 1993 after his arrest; offered information relating to the Capaci bombing, for this reason his son Giuseppe was kidnapped, murdered and dissolved in acid.
- Salvatore Cancemi (1942–2011), another of Falcone's assassins, turned himself to the Carabinieri in July 1993 and immediately began collaborating.
- Giuseppe Marchese (1963), Filippo Marchese's nephew and who became an informant in 1992.
- Gaspare Mutolo (born 1940), started to collaborate in prison in May 1992 and was the first mafioso who spoke about the connections between the Cosa Nostra and Italian politicians.
Other important pentiti
- Pasquale Barra (1942–2015), the first pentito and high-ranking member of Raffaele Cutolo's Nuova Camorra Organizzata.
- Pasquale Galasso (born 1955), former high-ranking member of the Nuova Famiglia faction of the Camorra.
- Carmine Alfieri (born 1943), former Boss of Bosses of the Nuova Famiglia.
- Carmine Schiavone (1943–2015), former high-ranking member of the Casalesi clan.
- Maurizio Abbatino, former boss of the Banda della Magliana.
- Felice Maniero (born 1954), former boss of the Mala del Brenta.
In some southern Italian communities, the Mafia has a significant presence, and in these areas becoming a pentito is tantamount to a death sentence. Indeed, the Mafia family of Totò Riina based in the town of Corleone habitually extended the death sentence of the pentiti over to their relatives. For example, several of Tommaso Buscetta's close family members were killed in a long series of murders.
Since the pentito himself is physically protected by the police, retribution on his family is common; therefore, when there are rumors of a mafioso collaborating with the police, the family usually condemns that person immediately to avoid retaliation. For example, when Vincenzo Sinagra began collaborating with the authorities his entire family disowned him.
Commentary on the term
It is often pointed out that the correct term should be collaboratori di giustizia, or "collaborators with justice". The word pentito implies a moral judgment that is considered inappropriate for the courts of justice to make.
In Italy, pentiti have come under criticism because of the favours they receive and because:
- they would invent stories to receive benefits;
- they would invent stories to persecute people they do not like;
- their employment is seen as a reward for criminals, instead of a punishment;
- They would be unreliable since they come from a criminal organization.
Criticism comes most often from politicians[who?], especially when they or an associate of theirs is under investigation for connections to the Mafia. It is therefore interpreted by some as an attempt to discredit one's own accusers, instead of a genuine preoccupation of the common citizen's civil rights.
Laws have been passed that bar pentiti from obtaining substantial benefits unless their revelations are later deemed new material, and lead to concrete results. There have been proposals to accept revelations only for six months, after which their revelations could not be used in court.
This has had the effect of reducing the appeal of becoming a pentito since a single mafia associate does not know whether his knowledge will be useful to the prosecutors at the time of defection. Defection from the mafia in Italy have subsequently sharply reduced from the height reached in the early nineties, and results in the fight against mafia have reduced accordingly.
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- U.S. Marshals site, a PD source
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- Martin J. Bull, James L. Newell, Italian Politics, Google Print, p. 111.
- Enzo Tortora: When justice miscarries Archived April 5, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, The Florentine, October 30, 2008
- Bagli, Charles V. (June 12, 2019). "They Hid From the Mob for Decades. Now They Will Surface in a Film. (Published 2019)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
- Backlash threatens to silence informers, The Independent, May 2, 1997
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