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Pentito (Italian he who has repented, plural pentiti) designates people in Italymarker who, formerly part of criminal or terrorist organizations, following their arrests decide to "repent" and collaborate with the judicial system to help investigations. The judicial category of the pentiti was first created to fight terrorism in the 1970s, during the "lead years". Their correct technical name in Italian is collaboratori di giustizia ("collaborators with justice"). In the wake of the Maxi Trial in 1986-87 and after the testimonies of Tommaso Buscetta, it more often designated former members of the Sicilian Mafia who have abandoned their organisation and started helping in investigations.

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 Statesmarker, criminals testifying against their former associates can enter the Witness Protection Program, and be given new identities, with supporting paperwork.


Among the most famous Mafia pentiti is Tommaso Buscetta, the first important pentito, who was very 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 and uses 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 (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 Mafia pentiti

  • Leonardo Vitale (1941–1984) was one of the first to become a pentito in 1973, although originally his confessions were not taken seriously.
  • Tommaso Buscetta (1928–2000) was the first important pentito against the Sicilian Mafia. He started to collaborate with anti-Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone in 1984. His testimony was of crucial importance in the Maxi Trial.
  • Salvatore Contorno (born 1946) started to collaborate in October 1984, following the example of Buscetta.
  • Antonino Calderone (born 1935) started to collaborate in April 1987.
  • Francesco Marino Mannoia (born 1951) started to collaborate in October 1989. He was the first pentito that came out of the winning faction of the Second Mafia War.
  • Giovanni Brusca, murderer of anti-Mafia prosecutor Falcone, began to collaborate in 1996.
  • See also :Category:Pentiti

Cultural acceptance

In some southern-Italian communities the Mafia is a significant presence, and in these areas becoming a pentito is tantamount to a death sentence. Indeed, the Mafia family of Totò Riina from Corleone habitually extended this sentence to cover relatives of the pentito. For example, all of Tommaso Buscetta's family was killed in a long series of murders spanning many years.

Furthermore, in the most degraded areas, where people live on the borderline of legality or beyond, there is an induced subculture of hostility towards public institutions and of trust in the Mafia. People will not collaborate with the police (a phenomenon known as omertà), and will consider any pentito an infame, a traitor.

Since the pentito himself is physically protected by the police, retribution on his family is common; therefore, when there are rumours 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.

Abuse of the term

It is often pointed out that the correct term should be collaboratori di giustizia, or "justice collaborators". The word pentito implies a moral judgement 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 organisation.

Criticism comes most often from politicians, 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.

Luciano Violante, a politician and former president of the Italian Antimafia Commission, countered that "We do not find information about the Mafia among nuns".

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 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.


  1. Martin J. Bull, James L. Newell, Italian Politics, Google Print, p. 111.
  2. Backlash threatens to silence informers, The Independent, May 2, 1997
  3. Luciano Violante, Non è la piovra: Dodici tesi sulle mafie italiane ("It is not the octopus: twelve theses on Italian Mafias"), Einaudi, 1994, ISBN 88-06-13401-9.

See also

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