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Italian minister OKs family visits for ailing top Mafia boss

November 16, 2017

FILE - In this April 29, 1993 file photo, Mafia "boss of bosses" Salvatore "Toto" Riina, is seen behind bars, during a trial in Rome. Italy’s justice minister has given special permission for family bedside visits to the comatose top Mafia boss. Italian media said Riina’s health deteriorated recently after undergoing two recent surgeries. (AP Photo/Giulio Broglio)

ROME (AP) — One of Sicily’s most notorious Mafia bosses may have bedside visits from family members at the hospital where he is in a coma and still a prisoner serving more than two dozen life sentences, Italy’s justice minister decided Thursday.

Justice Minister Andrea Orlando authorized relatives of Salvatore “Toto” Riina to see him at a hospital in the northern city of Parma. Ministry officials said Riina, who turned 87 on Thursday, is in a medically induced coma.

Italian media have reported that his health deteriorated following two recent surgeries.

Riina is serving 26 life sentences for murder convictions as a powerful Cosa Nostra boss. Nicknamed “the beast” for his reputation as a killer, he was captured in Palermo, Sicily’s capital, in 1993 after 23 years as a fugitive.

He has been imprisoned under a law that requires strict security measures for top mobsters, including limits on family visits, detention in isolated sections of prisons and drastically reduced time out of their cells.

Prosecutors accused Riina of masterminding a strategy, carried out over several years, to assassinate Italian prosecutors, police officials and others who were going after Cosa Nostra when he allegedly held the helm as the so-called “boss of bosses.”

The bloodbath campaign ultimately backfired on Cosa Nostra.

After bombs killed Italy’s two leading anti-Mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two months apart in 1992, the state stepped up its crackdown on Sicily’s Mafiosi.

Riina was captured in a Palermo apartment six months after Borsellino and his police escorts were killed by a car bomb. A native of Corleone, a Sicilian hill and Mafia stronghold, he steadfastly refused to collaborate with law enforcement after his capture.

Riina was incarcerated at a Milan prison before his hospitalization. In July, a court denied a request by Riina’s family to transfer the convicted mobster to house arrest because of his ailing health.

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