Forty-six politicians, businessmen and go-betweens went on trial in Rome Thursday, accused of corruption and, in some cases, of banding together to use intimidation similar to the Mafia's methods to gain control of city contracts for refugee shelters and other social services.
The alleged ringleader is one-eyed Massimo Carminati, the leader of a major organized crime ring called the “Mafia Capitale,” who has past links to far-right extremism. The 57-year-old’s nicknames have included “The Black Soul,” “The Immortal,” and “The Pirate” after he lost one of his eyes in a shootout with police in the early 1980s, The Daily Beast reported.
The massive investigation, which is still expanding, involves alleged kickbacks and bribes during previous mayoral administrations. Politicians from the center-left and center-right have been indicted and the trial is expected to take months.
The trial opened Thursday in Rome’s Justice Palace, but then was moved to basement bunker in the Rebbibia High Security Prison for added security. Carminati remains imprisoned in northern Italy and won’t be sent to Rome until it’s his turn to testify, although he is allowed to watch the court proceedings through a video link in his jail cell, according to The Daily Beast.
His lawyer, Gosue' Bruno Naso, scoffed at allegations that violence was used to win contracts. He told reporters before the trial began Thursday there is corruption in all cities and that "this country is morally rotten."
“In this whole story, the thing that has really annoyed Carminati is the fact that his name has been associated with the words ‘mafia’ and ‘drugs,'” Naso added. “He has nothing to do with the mafia.”
But prosecutors have 36,000 hours of wiretaps to back up their case, including secretly filmed video showing some of the accused allegedly taking bribes, Italian media reported, according to The Guardian.
The scandal broke last November when Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino blew the whistle on corrupt contracts involving the city’s public services.
The 46 named in the allegations come from a larger list of 101 people who are on Rome’s “corruption index,” Rome’s prefect for the Interior Ministry Franco Gabrielli said.
The 101 include former Rome Mayor Gianni Alemano, who could testify, lawyers say, as well as Luca Gramazio, the former leader of Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party in the city council, and Mirko Coratti, the former leader of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party on the city council, The Daily Beast reports.
Many of the officials named in the list are trying to get plea bargains to give evidence against the core 46.
Carminati has already served most of a 10-year prison sentence for his activity with the Magliana Gang in the 1970s and 1980s and was twice accused of murder, but managed to escape conviction on technicalities, according to The Daily Beast. He was accused of aiding the far-right Armed Revolutionary Nuclei in the 1980 bombing of Bologna train station, which killed 85 people, but dodged a conviction over a lack of evidence.
His right-hand man, Salvatore Buzzi, reportedly was caught on a telephone intercept telling an associate that scamming refugees is more profitable than narcotics.
“Do you have any idea how much I make on these immigrants?” Buzzi said, according to The Daily Beast. “Drug trafficking is less profitable.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.