A court in western China on Tuesday sentenced two men to death for involvement in gangs and handed jail terms to 19 others ranging up to life imprisonment.

Their trials, which started in late November, are part of a massive government crackdown in the city of Chongqing on organized crime, known as "black societies," which has exposed deep ties between police and criminals.

Among those sentenced to death was Chen Zhiyi on charges of organizing and leading a gang and committing intentional injury. Chen was also fined $4.5 million.

The verdict handed down by Chongqing's No. 2 Intermediate Court said Chen's gang, which he started in 2004, had an "evil" influence on society and the economic order.

A second man, Yang Quan, was sentenced to death for participating in gangs. The 19 other suspects got sentences ranging from two-and-a-half years to life in prison.

Up to 2,900 suspects, including 14 high-ranking government and police officials, have been detained in the crackdown which began in June. The municipality has experienced a wave of crime since the 1990s, with gangs involved in illegal casinos, loan sharking and extortion.

Corruption is a widespread and deeply rooted problem in China, sometimes sparking public anger and violent protests. Graft has helped fuel an explosion in criminal gangs, many operating openly with the support of local officials.