A special 1,000-capacity courtroom with cages for the defendants has been constructed, but novel coronavirus restrictions mean numerous preliminary hearings will be conducted via videolink, and those who do attend in person will have to obey social distancing rules.
A trial with more than 320 defendants began Wednesday in southern Italy against the 'ndrangheta crime syndicate, arguably the world's richest criminal organization that quietly amassed power as the Sicilian Mafia lost influence.
Judge Roberto Di Bella, who has nearly 30 years of experience in the methods of the Calabrian mob, describes the 'Ndrangheta as "perhaps the most powerful criminal organisation in the world, but certainly the most diffuse, and present on five continents". "We can't let them down", Gratteri told Reuters.
The charges include murder, extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking.
"In the last two years we have seen a surge in lawsuits from oppressed entrepreneurs and citizens, victims of usury, people who for years have lived under the threats of the 'Ndrangheta", said the prosecutor, who has spent more than 30 years fighting the mob.
In 1986, prosecutors hit the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mafia group with 338 guilty charges in Italy's most famous maxi trial.
The 'Ndrangheta has expanded well beyond its traditional domains of drug trafficking and loan sharking, now using shell companies and frontmen to reinvest illegal gains in the legitimate economy.
In many parts of Calabria, it has infiltrated practically all areas of public life, from city halls and hospitals to cemeteries and even the courts, experts say. Others are charged with complicity with the 'Ndrangheta without actually being members.
The prosecution has indicated it hopes to call more than 900 witnesses.
The prosecutor explained the 'Ndrangheta as a network of families, each of which wields power over subordinates.
"I know the 'Ndrangheta well from inside, because when I was a child I was at school with the children of mafia bosses", Gratteri said. That figure is Luigi Mancuso, who served 19 years in Italian prison for his role in leading what investigators say is one of the 'Ndrangheta's most powerful crime families, based in the town of Vibo Valentia.
The Lamezia Terme bunker is so vast, a score of video screens has been anchored to the ceiling so participants can better view the proceedings.
The current trial stemmed from an investigation launched by Catanzaro chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri in 2016, which ended up with hundreds of arrests carried out in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria in December 2019.
Criminologist Federico Varese described the organization as "the authority".
This trial is directed at the Mancuso family, a large section of the 'Ndrangheta mafia. "If you want to open a shop, if you want to build anything, you have to go through them".