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Not-so-blind justice for Italian benefit fraudsters

Forty people claiming benefits for blindness have been arrested after police in Rome filmed them engaging in activities including driving, reading newspapers, supermarket shopping and surfing the web in broad daylight.

Not-so-blind justice for Italian benefit fraudsters
Screenshot from a video from Rome's police force of a 'blind' woman supermarket shopping

Rome’s police force has arrested 18 women and 22 men who were pretending to be blind – yet claiming thousands of euros in disability benefits.

During the investigations, police filmed the claimants engaging in everyday activities – such as scanning supermarket shelves, driving vans and cars, gardening, betting, doing gymnastics in the park, reading newspapers and surfing the web on their smartphones.

By April 30th this year, according to Italian daily Il Messaggero, they had allegedly tricked the Italian state out of some €3,583,000.

As well as claiming pensions, the police maintain, they had also been raking in €1,100 a month in disability benefit. The regional Court of Accounts will now be trying to recover the money.

In total, 759 people claiming benefits for total blindness were investigated since the investigation began in July last year, of which 40 were found to be making false claims.

The last such case, according to the paper, was that of a 69-year-old man in Valmontone who declared himself blind to the Italian Social Security services in 2007.

However, the man’s luck ran out when investigators noted that he was capable of avoiding obstacles and crossing the road unaided.

In 2011 the same man was arrested after he was involved in a brawl. 

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MAFIA

Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

In its latest mafia sting, Italian police took down a large 'Ndrangheta ring in southern Calabria, placing 56 people under investigation including a regional councillor and a former head of the regional tourism board.

Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

The early-morning blitz by over 300 police focused on areas of Calabria – Italy’s poorest region – under the control of the Mancuso clan, a powerful branch of the infamous ‘Ndrangheta, many of whose top operatives are among hundreds of defendants in an ongoing ‘maxi-trial’.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

READ ALSO: ‘Ndrangheta: It’s time to bust some myths about the Calabrian mafia

Besides alleged mafia members, the operation also snared businessmen, a regional councillor released from prison days earlier, a former head of the regional tourism board and two civil servants, police said.

The incarcerated boss of the clan, Luigi Mancuso, also known as “The Supreme”, is the biggest mafioso in the massive mafia trial that started in January 2021.

Still, police said, his clan and affiliates, including the La Rosa and Accortini families, have continued to dominate illegal activities in the Vibo Valentia province, which is located right on the toe of Italy’s boot and is widely known as the ‘Coast of the Gods’ due to its stunning coastal views.

One mafia scheme involved the infiltration of a foreign tour operator in Pizzo Calabro, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

No one talks

In Calabria, the extent of the ‘Ndrangheta’s reach in the local economy has made it near impossible to eradicate it.

By controlling the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra in power and wealth. It has extended far beyond its rural roots and now operates internationally, with illegal gains reinvested in the legitimate economy.

In the area around Vibo Valentia, extortion of local businesses and the fixing of public tenders is also common.

The allegations against those arrested Thursday include the transport and sale of stolen farm machinery to Malta and Romania, police said.

The sting carried out on Thursday extended to other parts of Calabria, Palermo in Sicily and as far as Rome and Milan, police said.

READ ALSO: Meet Nicola Gratteri, the prosecutor leading Italy’s battle against the mafia

In a press conference, anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, whose efforts to defeat the ‘Ndrangheta have forced him to live under police escort for over 30 years, called the group a “fierce mafia syndicate” controlling areas around the tourist resort of Tropea.

Francesco Messina, who leads Italy’s organised crime investigative unit (DAC), cited the economic power of the clan, which relies locally on “substantial” extortion activity.

The “total absence” of complaints to authorities was striking, Messina said, underscoring the ‘Ndrangheta’s power to intimidate.

By Alexandria Sage

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