Ambulance driver suspected of killing patients to make money from their funerals

Police in Sicily have arrested an ambulance driver suspected of killing at least three patients in order to make money from their funerals.

Ambulance driver suspected of killing patients to make money from their funerals
File photo of a police car outside a Milan hospital. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

The deaths took place while terminally ill patients were being driven to their family homes from hospital in the Sicilian town of Biancavilla.

The scheme had reportedly been going on since 2012, and the 'Ambulance of death' operation, as it was named by investigators, has looked at over 50 deaths in the area to establish whether any could have been homicides.

Of these, 12 were considered “particularly meaningful” to the operation, the Catania deputy prosecutor told a press conference, but only three were presented to the investigating magistrate as evidence.

The magistrate issued an arrest order for the 42-year-old driver, who is suspected of voluntary homicide aggravated by the alleged mafia involvement.

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Catania's public prosecutor opened the investigation after an informant gave them details about the scheme and alleged local mafia groups' involvement. He had previously spoken about the case on Italian TV show Le Iene.

According to Italy's Rai News, the informant said that the driver injected air into the patients' blood using a needle, and that they died of embolism. He then allegedly took advantage of the family's grief to recommend a funeral company which paid him €300 for each job it got through his recommendation.

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New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.