The mafia tried to murder me, hanged my dogs and set my car on fire
FOR more than two decades, Pino Maniaci has sought to expose the appalling crimes and corruption of Cosa Nostra – one of the largest mafia groups in the world.
From a newsroom no larger than an average living room, the journalist’s briefings are said to have contributed to the arrest of more than 30 people allegedly affiliated with the top secret group.
But Maniaci’s efforts are not without risk – in fact, he’s lucky to be alive after being repeatedly targeted by mobs. But he remains unfazed.
“These are pieces of crap from Sicily,” he told CNN, while aiming for a dart board covered in the faces of the top 10 mafia crime bosses in 2016.
Maniaci is at the center of Netflix’s new documentary Vendetta: Truth, Lies and the Mafia, out today.
An anti-mafia hero becomes a “bad guy”
He follows the bravery of the maverick journalist in the face of the Italian criminal organization before the police and the public turn on him.
In 2016, he was accused of attempting to extort Gioacchino De Luca, the mayor of Borghetto – a charge based on hidden camera footage that showed him collecting money from his wife.
The TV presenter denied any wrongdoing and in April of this year he was acquitted of the charge following a five-year legal battle.
Outside the courtroom, an emotional Maniaci told Time: “In recent years I have been destroyed.
“They wanted to destroy my television but … [they have not] successful and I will continue to be a journalist.
In court, he explained that he was visiting to take payment from the mayor’s wife advertising his store on his Telejato News TV channel.
Maniaci argues: “300 euros plus 100 from the previous month, and 66 euros in VAT, which extorts 400 euros and charges the tax?
Sicily is a breathtaking land … but all over the world people know it as the land of the mafia and that makes me really happy
He claimed that the video footage, which was taken during an hour-long meeting, was edited to look like he was demanding money to prevent negative stories from being broadcast.
Enemy of the Mafia
The journalist has spent around 21 years trying to expose the Mafia and its allies and claims to be motivated by eliminating Sicily’s bad reputation.
“Sicily is a breathtaking land – the sea, the sun, the landscapes – but all over the world people know it as the land of the Mafia and that makes me really happy,” he explained. .
Maniaci first made himself an enemy of the Mafia when he exposed the connection between major pollution at a local distillery and the Mafia and the government.
Today, tens of thousands of people are tapping into his small family TV network – even Bernardo Provenzano, Cosa Nostra’s godfather, who is supposed to keep tabs on what he knew.
In 2007, the Maniaci team made a report on the “Stables of Shame”, a land owned by mafia families with a number of covered barns.
He grabbed and pulled my tie to strangle me … the double knot saved my life
It was believed to be the seat from which they operated for over 20 years and held Mafia summits.
After a major police investigation, the barns were demolished and in 2009, the cops arrested Domenico Raccuglia, a member of the Sicilian Mafia.
The criminal, who had been in hiding for 15 years, was on Italy’s most wanted list and had been convicted in absentia for murder.
Maniaci received a report from the police and filmed the arrest – knowing full well that bad publicity for the Mafia would put him in the crosshairs.
Since 2007, he has been under police protection according to the Guardian, but that did not prevent the Cosa Nostra from being able to reach him.
A year after being placed under police surveillance, Michele, the son of mafia boss Vito Vitale, attempted to suffocate Maniaci to death and almost succeeded.
The teenage thug grabbed both sides of his tie and “pulled him really hard, like we were pulling on the noose,” the reporter recalls.
“He wanted to strangle me … The double knot saved my life,” Maniaci explained in a video of the attack.
The reporter said he is only alive today because of a lesson from his childhood.
“He didn’t succeed because my father taught me [how to tie] the double knot and as you can see it doesn’t tighten, ”said Maniaci.
Maniaci was brutally beaten, had two broken teeth, several broken ribs and a black eye.
Later in court, Michèle Vitale was sentenced to six and a half years for the attack.
Dogs hanging from a pole
But the mafia did not stop there in its attempts to silence Maniaci.
He said they “developed a taste for harassing him.”
In 2014, the Guardian reported a number of attacks, including when they murdered two of its dogs – a Belgian Shepherd and an English Setter.
The animals, which Maniaci “liked very much”, were hung from a metal pole near his workplace.
A week earlier, Maniaci’s car was set on fire and he claimed they fired shots at his windshield and cut his brakes.
He told CNN: “Over the past few years we have received many threats from the Mafia, not only for me, but also for many of my young employees.
Every time I start my car I close my eyes
“Volunteers were even physically assaulted during filming. “
In the documentary, Maniaci admitted that he was scared on several occasions because he believed his vehicle may have been rigged with an explosive.
“Every time I start my car I close my eyes,” he said.
His concerns are not unfounded as Cosa Nostra is believed to be behind the murders of at least six prominent journalists in recent decades.
In addition, a parliamentary report revealed that Italian journalists faced more than 2,000 “acts of hostility” between 2006 and 2014.
Extortion and defamation charge
While Maniaci has become an anti-Mafia figure and a hero of the people, it all came to an abrupt end in 2016 when he was accused of extortion and libel.
The court case left the journalist’s reputation in tatters and made him a polarizing figure in Sicily – even his home state, Partinico, temporarily barred him from entering.
In 2016, Deputy Prosecutor Vittorio Teresi told CNN: “We don’t need Mr. Pino Maniaci’s anti-mafia services.
Chief prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi said the journalist had “on several occasions shown complete disregard for established authority, the police and the judiciary”.
People don’t want to talk here, they’re scared of the Mafioso, but someone has to do the dirty work, and I guess it’s me
However, Maniaci believed officials were seeking revenge after his TV reports claimed that anti-Mafia figures were getting rich from their jobs.
He said: “We have managed to expose officials for mismanagement of assets seized by the Mafia, worth several billion dollars.
“People don’t want to talk here, they’re scared of the Mafioso, but someone has to do the dirty work, and I guess that’s me.”
In 2013, Maniaci reported allegations of corruption within the Italian justice system and filed a number of complaints against judicial officer Silvana Saguto.
She was tasked with assigning people to run businesses seized by the Mafia and faced 39 charges after being investigated by police.
The official has been charged with crimes including accepting bribes, embezzlement and using her position to place friends and family in high-paying jobs.
Saguto, who also appears in Vendetta, was convicted of bribery and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison last year. She continues to claim her innocence.
In April, Maniaci was cleared of extortion but found guilty of defamation and sentenced to 17 months in prison.
Vendetta: Truth, Lies and the Mafia is available on Netflix.