FOR more than two decades, Pino Maniaci has sought to expose the bone-chilling crimes and corruption of the Cosa Nostra – one of the largest mafia groups in the world.
From a newsroom no larger than an average living room, the journalist's exposés are believed to have contributed to the arrests of more than 30 people allegedly affiliated with the highly secretive group.
But Maniaci’s efforts aren’t without risk – in fact, he’s lucky to be alive after being targeted by the mob numerous times. But he remains undeterred.
“These are Sicily’s pieces of s***,” he told CNN, while taking aim at a dartboard covered with the faces of the mafia’s top 10 crime bosses in 2016.
Maniaci is the focus of Netflix’s new documentary Vendetta: Truth, Lies and the Mafia, which comes out today.
Anti-mafia hero to 'villain'
It follows the maverick journalist's bravery in confronting the Italian criminal organisation before the police and public turned against him.
In 2016, he was accused of trying to extort Gioacchino De Luca, the Mayor of Borghetto – a charge that was based on hidden camera footage which showed him collecting cash from his wife.
The TV presenter denied all wrongdoing and in April this year, he was acquitted of the charge following a five-year legal battle.
Outside of court, an emotional Maniaci told Time: “In recent years I have been destroyed.
"They wanted to destroy my television but… [theyhave not] succeeded and I will continue to be a journalist.”
In court, he explained that he was visiting to take payment for the mayor's wife advertising her shop on his TV network Telejato News.
Maniaci argued: “300 euro plus 100 from the month before, and 66 euros in VAT tax, who extorts for 400 euros and charges tax on it?”
Sicily is a breathtaking land… but all over the world people know it as the land of the mafia and that really p***es me off
He claimed the video footage, which was taken from an hour-long meeting, had been edited to look like he was demanding money to stop negative stories being aired.
Enemy of the mafia
The journalist has spent around 21 years trying to expose the mafia and their allies and claims to be motivated by getting rid of Sicily's bad reputation.
“Sicily is a breathtaking land – the sea, the sun, the sights – but all over the world people know it as the land of the mafia and that really p***es me off," he explained.
Maniaci first made himself an enemy of the mob when he exposed the connection between major pollution at a local distillery and the mafia and government.
Now, tens of thousands of people tune into his small, family-run TV network – even Bernardo Provenzano, the late Cosa Nostra godfather, supposedly to keep tabs on what he knew.
In 2007, Maniaci's team reported on the "Stables of Shame", a plot of land owned by mafia families with a number of undercover barns.
He grabbed and pulled my tie to strangle me… the double knot saved my life
This was believed to be the headquarters from which they operated for more than 20 years and held mafia summits.
After a major police probe, the barns were torn down and by 2009, cops had arrested Sicilian mafia member Domenico Raccuglia.
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 police tip-off and filmed the arrest – knowing full well that bad publicity for the mafia would put him in the firing line.
Since 2007, he’s been under police protection according to the Guardian, but it hasn’t stopped the Cosa Nostra from being able to get to him.
One year after being placed under police supervision, mob boss Vito Vitale’s son Michele tried to choke Maniaci to death and very nearly succeeded.
The teenage thug grabbed both sides of his tie and “pulled it very tightly, like pulling the noose”, the journalist recalled.
"He wanted to strangle me… The double knot saved my life," Maniaci explained in a video about the attack.
The journalist said he is only alive today because of a lesson from his childhood.
“He wasn’t successful because my father had taught me [how to tie] the double knot and as you can see, it doesn’t tighten,” Maniaci said.
Maniaci was brutally beaten up, had two of his teeth knocked out, multiple ribs broken and suffered a black eye.
Later in court, Michele Vitale was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for the attack.
Dogs hung from a post
But the mafia didn’t stop there in their attempts to silence Maniaci.
He said they “developed a taste for hassling him”.
In 2014, the Guardian reported a number of attacks, including when they murdered two of his dogs – a Belgian shepherd and an English setter.
The animals, whom Maniaci "loved dearly", were hung from a metal post near his workplace.
One week earlier Maniaci’s car was set alight, and he claimed they fired gunshots at his windshield and cut his brakes.
He told CNN: “In the last few years we've received many threats from the mafia, not only targeting me but also many of my young staff.
Every time I start my car, I close my eyes
“Volunteers have even been physically assaulted while filming.”
In the documentary, Maniaci admitted he was fearful on several occasions because he thought his vehicle may have been rigged with an explosive.
“Every time I start my car, I close my eyes,” he said.
His concerns aren’t unfounded as it’s believed the Cosa Nostra were behind the murders of at least six prominent journalists in the last few decades.
Furthermore, a Parliamentary report revealed Italian journalists faced more than 2,000 “acts of hostility” between 2006 and 2014.
Extortion & defamation charge
While Maniaci rose as an anti-mafia figure and hero of the people, that all came to an abrupt end in 2016 when he was charged with extortion and defamation.
The court case left the journalist’s reputation in tatters and made him a polarising figure in Sicily – even his home state Partinico temporarily banned him from entering.
In 2016, Deputy Prosecutor Vittorio Teresi told CNN: “We do not need the anti-mafia services of Mr. Pino Maniaci.”
Chief Prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi said the journalist had "repeatedly shown a total disregard for established authority, the police and the judiciary".
People don't want to speak out here, they're scared of the Mafioso, but somebody has to do the dirty work, and I guess that's me
However, Maniaci believed officials were looking for revenge after his TV reports claimed anti-mafia figures were getting rich from their work.
He said: “We managed to expose officials for mismanaging property seized from the mafia, worth billions of dollars.
“People don't want to speak out here, they're scared of the Mafioso, but somebody has to do the dirty work, and I guess that's me."
In 2013, Maniaci reported on alleged corruption within the Italian judiciary and made a number of claims against court official Silvana Saguto.
She was tasked with assigning individuals to run mafia-seized businesses and faced 39 charges after being investigated by police.
The official was accused of crimes including accepting bribes, embezzlement and using her position to put friends and family members into high-paying jobs.
Saguto, who also features in Vendetta, was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison last year. She continues to protest her innocence.
In April, Maniaci was cleared of extortion but found guilty of defamation and was sentenced to 17 months in prison.
Vendetta: Truth, Lies and the Mafia is available to watch on Netflix.
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