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Out of a Ludlum Novel: How a Judge Winds Through Maze to Italy's Mafia

UNEARTHING MOLES

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SHORTLY before 9 a.m., a pack of men with automatic rifles charge up the stairs of a courthouse in Reggio Calabria on Italy's southern tip. They stride quickly toward Prosecutor Salvatore Boemi's office.

A crime raid? A Mafia hit? Not this time.

The armed men are bodyguards and tucked among them is prosecutor Boemi himself. As the bodyguards' eyes dart around the corridor, Boemi slips from their midst and passes lithely into his inner chamber.

It is just another day in the life of an anti-Mafia prosecutor.

Three of Italy's southern regions lie in the grip of organized crime that has grown tighter since the introduction of drug trafficking in the 1970s.

Organized crime also has taken advantage of low employment and poverty throughout the south, further deepening the region's disparities with the prosperous north.

The island of Sicily is dominated by the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra, as it is known to initiates. The region of Campania, whose capital is Naples, is controlled by the Camorra. Calabria is ruled by the 'ndrangheta. Another Mafia group, la Sacra Corona Unita, controls parts of the Puglia region, such as the port of Brindisi, where tourists hop on boats to Greece.

Whoever combats organized crime in Italy walks through a political minefield.

"It's essential for a judge to be a common, normal man, whereas the anti-Mafia judge in Italy is no longer a normal person, but an animal who has to hide, because he could be killed on any street corner," Boemi says.

The last big job

Boemi resigned his job as Reggio Calabria's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor this summer because he says he doesn't have state support - the staff or the money - to wage a serious anti-Mafia fight in Calabria. But he agreed to finish the so-called maxi-trials stemming from his probes, trials that involve from 50 to 500 defendants at a time.

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