Italy gasps as inquiry reveals mob’s long reach – ROME — Shortly after Rome’s municipal elections last year, Massimo Carminati, a reputed mobster better known as The Pirate or The Blind One for having lost an eye in a shootout years ago, passed along some advice about how to deal with City Hall’s fresh stock of administrators and politicians.

“You tell them, now that we’ve done this one thing, what are your next plans?” he told a contact in June 2013. “What do you need? What can I do? How can I make money? “You need me to dig ditches? Erect billboards?” he continued, gathering steam as his language turned coarse. “Fine, I’ll do it, because if I then find out that someone else did it — do you understand? — then it becomes something unpleasant.”

That conversation and scores of others, intercepted by investigators, have added a splash of color to an otherwise dark two-year inquiry that resulted last week in the arrest of Mr. Carminati and 36 others accused of bullying their way into dozens of lucrative public tenders in the Italian capital.

Even for a country where corruption is taken for granted as a part of daily life, the revelations have stunned citizens — for uncovering a wholly new criminal ring smack in the heart of the capital, and for the staggering array of charges involving politicians across the spectrum.

The inquiry has blossomed into a national scandal and a reminder that virtually no corner of Italy is immune to criminal penetration. It has also raised fresh questions about Italy’s ability ever to reform itself and fulfill the demands for fiscal responsibility demanded by its eurozone partners.

The widespread and unchecked corruption of public money revealed by the inquiry has helped bloat Italy’s national debt to one of the highest levels in Europe.
Mr. Carminati and his associates are accused of infiltrating contracts for a wide assortment of tasks including garbage collection and park maintenance. The charges cover a gamut of activities — vote rigging, usury, extortion and embezzlement. Rome’s chief prosecutor, Giuseppe Pignatone, told Italy’s anti-Mafia commission Thursday that new operations were imminent.

Mr. Carminati and his ring, prosecutors charge, profited even from the national immigration emergency that has swelled Italy’s shores with refugees fleeing war and poverty, by muscling in on immigrant and refugee reception centers.
“Do you have any idea how much I make on the immigrants?” one purported associate, Salvatore Buzzi, is heard saying in another of the prosecutors’ recordings. “Drug trafficking is not as profitable.”

Mr. Buzzi is head of a social cooperative that managed services at the temporary reception centers and Roma camps, a business he claimed was worth 40 million euros, or about $50 million, to the criminal organization. He and dozens of other city administrators and civil servants, along with politicians, businesspeople and convicted criminals, have now been swept up in the widening investigation.

For a week now, Italian newspapers — culling primarily from a nearly 1,200-page arrest warrant — have churned out fresh revelations that read like a lurid 19th-century serial novel of criminal intrigue and depravity, even exploiting society’s weakest links.

Prosecutors dubbed the new crime gang Mafia Capitale, comparing the organization to Italy’s traditional mobs: the Mafia, the Camorra and the ’Ndrangheta, for its use of intimidation tactics.
The Italian news media, however, rechristened the inquiry as the “Middle-earth investigation,” an allusion to the fictional universe of J. R. R. Tolkien, elaborating on Mr. Carminati’s purported worldview.

“It’s the Middle-earth theory, cumpá,” Mr. Carminati told an associate in another wiretapped conservation, using the southern Italian slang for friend. “As they say, the living are above, and the dead are below. And we’re in the middle.”
Mr. Pignatone, the prosecutor, interpreted the concept at a news conference last week. “This is Carminati’s organization,” he said. “It speaks with the world above” — alluding to the social strata that count — “it speaks with the world below, the criminal world. And it serves the first world using the second.”

Mr. Carminati was not unknown to law enforcement officials. He was convicted years ago for his association in the late 1970s and ’80s with an extremist right-wing terrorist group, the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari, as well as with a notorious criminal gang active in Rome, the Banda della Magliana.

But when it came to corruption, prosecutors charge, Mr. Carminati was above partisan politics — profiting from the left, right and center.
The investigation has prompted the resignations of several politicians from various parties, including Rome’s former right-wing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, who governed the city from 2008 to 2013, when the criminal organization flourished.

Prosecutors claim that some of Mr. Alemanno’s closest allies — some with old ties to the political extremism that marked the “years of lead” of the 1970s and ’80s — were full-fledged members of the criminal association. The former mayor denies any wrongdoing.

After several party members were arrested, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi put the Rome faction of his Democratic Party under the emergency administration of the national president, Matteo Orfini, even as he pledged to toughen laws to fight corruption.
“The corrupt will pay for everything, until the last day, until the last penny,” Mr. Renzi said on his Twitter account Tuesday.

Even so, though organized crime is generally associated with Italy’s southern regions, for years now the mob groups have been migrating north, as various investigations and dragnets show.
On Wednesday, the police arrested 54 people in the central Umbria region, as part of an inquiry into the southern ’Ndrangheta crime syndicate, which investigators say had infiltrated the local economy.

And the arrests there and in Rome fall on the heels of alleged political malfeasance in two important public works projects in Venice and Milan.
According to a report released this month by the watchdog Transparency International, Italy ranks among the worst in Europe — sharing 69th place with Greece, Bulgaria and Romania — out of 174 worldwide countries on the scale of perceived public sector corruption.

Even to jaded observers, the scope of the scandal in Rome came as a surprise. “Criminal affairs in Rome have existed since the times of the Caesars,” said Giancarlo De Cataldo, a magistrate whose 2013 novel about corruption in the capital, “Suburra,” written with an investigative journalist, Carlo Bonini, has sold out in bookstores since the scandal erupted.
Today’s culprits are merely the heirs of ancient reprobates, he said, though the case proved that in some cases “reality far surpasses fiction,” he added.

The revelations relating to the immigrant emergency were particularly stinging. Among those arrested was also a top-ranking administrator who sat on the national board that oversees the immigrant emergency.
“That’s the incredible thing of this story — they transformed a national emergency into a business, relying on institutional references,” said Claudio Gatti, a reporter who wrote about the immigration scheme for the economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore. “It’s the system that underpins this country, cronyism.”

In the wake of the allegations, inspectors have continued to comb Rome’s City Council offices, scrutinizing public works contracts for possible Mafia infiltration. Nicola Zingaretti, the governor of Lazio, the region that includes Rome, halted the awarding of regional contracts and began an internal investigation.
The current center-left mayor, Ignazio Marino, has emerged from the investigation unscathed and has pledged to root out the “rotten apples” in a system that he says was otherwise healthy.

Others counter that Rome is essentially an ungovernable city, providing fertile ground in which criminality thrives. To some, the scandal has also made clear to many Rome residents why the city seemed so shabby of late.

“This Mafia infiltrated municipal agencies,” putting loyal but inept people in top positions so they could “drain the coffers without providing services,” said the investigative journalist Lirio Abbate, who wrote an exposé about Mr. Carminati and other reputed Roman crime bosses for the newsmagazine L’Espresso two years ago.
“This has created huge damage to the collectivity, because the streets are full of holes and garbage, there’s no maintenance to speak of, and the city has to increase taxes to stay afloat,” he said. “In the end, the residents lose the most.”

Elisabetta Povoledo
“Italy gasps as Inquiry Reveals Mob’s Long Reach”
New York Times
12 December 2014