ROME (Reuters) - The biggest mob trial in modern-day Rome opens on Thursday, with a one-eyed former neo-fascist gangster and 45 other defendants in the dock accused of operating a mafia network that plundered city coffers.
The trial is the result of the "Mafia Capital" investigation, which laid bare allegations of mobsters, bureaucrats and politicians working hand-in-fist to siphon off millions of euros from services covering everything from refugee centers to trash collection.
At the heart of the scandal sits Massimo Carminati, a one-time member of Rome's notorious far-right Magliana Gang, and his sidekick Salvatore Buzzi, a convicted murderer.
Italian police allege Carminati and Buzzi infiltrated Rome's city hall and got their hands on lucrative public contracts. Police have released an array of wiretaps that they say show the defendants openly discussing their various schemes.
"Do you have any idea how much you can make from immigrants? The drugs trade brings you less money," Buzzi said in one call.
Both Buzzi and Carminati have denied the mafia charges.
As recently as 2013, the main government representative in the Rome region downplayed the existence of the mafia in the city, but the police probe, which was made public last December, suggested that much of local administration was rotten.
"Rome is unfortunately fundamentally corrupt," said Alfonso Sabella, a renowned Sicilian anti-mafia prosecutor who was drafted into the city after the Mafia Capital scandal detonated late last year.
"This is not your traditional mafia involved in drug dealing or extortion rackets. This is something original," he told Reuters, saying mobsters found accomplices in officials and politicians of all colors.
Police say the group was organized like a mob clan and have classified it as a mafia case. However, they say it was independent of the traditional southern Italian mafias.
Amongst those standing trial are Luca Gramazio, the former head of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party on the regional council, and Mirko Coratti, former head of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's center-left Democratic Party on the Rome city council.
Both have denied wrongdoing.
The case will open in Rome's main courthouse but will then switch to the court bunker in the Rebibbia prison on the outskirts of Rome, where it is easier to secure large groups of defendants. It is expected to run until at least next July.
Carminati, who lost an eye in a police shoot-out in the early 1980s, is being held in a maximum security jail and will only be allowed to follow proceedings via a video link.
An initial, fastracked trial tied to the scandal ended on Tuesday, with all four defendants, including a senior city official, found guilty and handed prison terms of between four and five years.
Prosecutors allege that mobsters flourished in Rome following the 2008 election of right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno, who is under investigation for graft, but does not face any mafia-related charges and is not involved in this trial.
Alemanno's successor, the center-left Ignazio Marino, is not implicated in the case, but was forced to resign last week following in an unrelated expenses scandal.
Sabella says city hall has been purged over the past year.
"I would put my hand in the fire and say there is now no mafia in city hall. But I can't say the same about corruption. Even as we speak, someone is probably paying someone a bribe somewhere in the Rome city council," he said.
"That is what makes one so bitter."
Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky