Dino Maglio, 35, has been sent to a military prison in Italy’s Campania region while he awaits trial.
He is accused of using Couchsurfing, a website through which travellers are hosted for free around the world, to drug and rape women at his home in Padua.
Fourteen of Maglio’s guests told the Investigative Reporting Project Italy that they were victims, while seven have gone to the police.
An investigation was launched over a year ago, when a 16-year-old Australian girl was allegedly raped by Maglio, L’Espresso weekly reported on Friday.
The girl was staying with Maglio along with her sister and mother, who allowed her teenage daughter to stay up with the policeman due to his respected profession.
In the morning the girl’s mother found the teenager in a bedroom with Maglio; she was allegedly not wearing any underwear and was in a lethargic state.
The Australian family immediately went to police to report Maglio, who claimed he had had consensual sex with the teenager. She, however, told police she had been raped and was unable to react because she had been drugged, L’Espresso said.
Police searched Maglio’s home and discovered 40 Tavor pills, a sedative and anti-anxiety drug. The policeman claimed he used them to help him sleep and admitted to giving one to the Australian girl, without giving a reason.
'I was scared to death'
An investigation has since brought up numerous claims of rape by Maglio, who went by the name “Leonardo” with his Couchsurfing guests.
A turning point in the case came after a Portuguese woman, Marcia, connected with other victims after she stayed with Maglio along with two friends last August.
Returning to Portugal, she checked Maglio’s Couchsurfing profile and saw a telling negative review.
“At that point I was certain: it was totally real. I published my negative opinion. Two days after the security team of Couchsurfing.com cancelled Leonardo’s profile,” she told L’Espresso.
Marcia later connected with other women who had been hosted by Maglio. A pattern emerged, with the policeman reportedly touring his guests around Padua and going out to dinner and a nightclub. On the second night he would offer them his homemade wine, after which the women reported symptoms of being drugged.
“We got home at six in the morning. Leonardo was drunk. We wanted to go straight to sleep, but he insisted on offering us his special wine," another woman called Irena, who stayed with Maglio in September, was quoted in L'Espresso as saying.
“Hours later I woke up and I couldn’t walk. I was seeing double, triple. I fell on a sofa and remembered Leonardo speaking to me as if in a dream. He had started to touch my groin, he was lying down on me and tried to kiss me. I was disgusted, I told him to get up. But I couldn’t get myself up. Then I couldn’t remember more."
The previous month – and just two weeks after Maglio hosted the Portuguese women – a Canadian woman stayed with Maglio along with a German friend and two women from Hong Kong.
“I felt listless and tired,” she Emma, the Canadian said, recounting the evening after drinking wine at Maglio’s apartment.
“Dino had gone to work, for his night shift. I came back from the bathroom and found my German friend Amalia and the two girls from Hong Kong passed out on the bed, all together. I tried to wake them up, but they didn’t move, I was scared to death. I took a photo, as proof. Then I must have also collapsed."
While Maglio was under house arrest for allegedly raping the 16-year-old Australian girl, police raided his home and found him in the company of two other travellers he met through Couchsurfing. One of the two women, from Argentina and Armenia, reported feeling unwell and showed symptoms similar to those who had allegedly been drugged.
Victims threatened via Facebook
The Couchsurfing website offers guidance on staying safe and has a trust and safety team to support travellers. Users are encouraged to leave reviews and scrutinize those left on the accounts of potential hosts, although Maglio was allegedly careful to maintain a clean profile.
On receiving negative write-ups, the policeman reportedly threatened women via Facebook.
“Ungrateful! You exaggerate, you describe me like a monster! In Italy it’s a crime to say something like that without proof, so if you don’t change or cancel the reference I’ll report you.
“It’s easy for me, I have your telephone number – I’m a police investigator – I can pull up your records and you’ll have problems at border control everywhere in Europe,” he allegedly threatened.
In a statement Couchsurfing CEO Jennifer Billock applauded the "courage and tenacity" of the women seeking justice. "The safety of our community is of the utmost concern. We’re constantly evolving our tools and processes to find and halt abusers of our system," Billock said, adding that Couchsurfing works with law enforcement agencies in investigations.
Maglio’s trial is due to start in Padua on March 17th, L’Espresso said.