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‘Bone-breaking’ Italian criminal gangs busted in Sicily

Italian police have dismantled two "bone-breaking" gangs in Sicily which had been smashing victims' limbs in order to stage road accidents and defraud car insurance companies.

'Bone-breaking' Italian criminal gangs busted in Sicily
Photo: Depositphotos

Over 40 people were arrested in Palermo after investigators discovered hard-up victims were having their arms or legs broken in exchange for a small part of the pay-out from insurers, police said on Monday.

Those in on the fraud included false witnesses to the accidents, doctors providing fake medical reports, physiotherapy centres certifying care that was never provided, and a lawyer filing the claims, police said.

The victims were “people on the margins of society… drug addicts, alcoholics and the mentally ill”.
They were promised a cut of the insurance pay-out, but took home as little as 300 euros.

The gang broke upper or lower limbs – referred to in code as the “first floor” and “ground floor” – by throwing cast-iron body-building weights at their victims or beating them with iron bars, police said.

Police first uncovered the scam in 2017 after the death of a Tunisian man who initially appeared to have died in a road accident, but was discovered during the autopsy to have had a heart attack after a beating.

He had been given crack cocaine to minimise the pain.

Eleven people were arrested in a first operation against two other gangs in Sicily last August, and three of them turned state witness, leading police to investigate some 250 suspects.

Around 60 attacks were uncovered in wiretaps, with the criminals preferring to target teenage single mothers because the payouts were bigger.

The victims were taken to isolated apartments or warehouses, and given mild painkillers or ice packs to numb their limbs.

The arms or legs were suspended between blocks of concrete and a bag of ron weights or large stones were thrown at them to fracture them, police said.

Multiple fractures were “better” because they were subject to larger payouts.

Five of those arrested Monday specialised in the bone breaking, according to the Giornale di Sicilia local daily, including one dubbed “Tony the Meek”.

The head of one of the gangs drove a luxury car and owned a speedboat, reports said.

The road “accidents” were staged in areas not covered by video surveillance cameras. Gang members would then pose in hospital as the victims' relatives, to ensure they stuck to the story.

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CRIME

New York returns millions worth of stolen art to Italy

Prosecutors in New York on Tuesday returned dozens of antiquities stolen from Italy and valued at around $19 million, some of which were found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

New York returns millions worth of stolen art to Italy

“These 58 pieces represent thousands of years of rich history, yet traffickers throughout Italy utilized looters to steal these items and to line their own pockets,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, noting that it was the third such repatriation in nine months.

“For far too long, they have sat in museums, homes, and galleries that had no rightful claim to their ownership,” he said at a ceremony attended by Italian diplomats and law enforcement officials.

The stolen items had been sold to Michael Steinhardt, one of the world’s leading collectors of ancient art, the DA’s office said, adding that he had been slapped with a “first-of-its-kind lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.”

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Among the recovered treasures, which in some cases were sold to “unwitting collectors and museums,” were a marble head of the Greek goddess Athena from 200 B.C.E. and a drinking cup dating back to 470 B.C.E, officials said.

The pieces were stolen at the behest of four men who “all led highly lucrative criminal enterprises – often in competition with one another – where they would use local looters to raid archaeological sites throughout Italy, many of which were insufficiently guarded,” the DA’s office said.

One of them, Pasquale Camera, was “a regional crime boss who organized thefts from museums and churches as early as the 1960s. He then began purchasing stolen artifacts from local looters and sold them to antiquities dealers,” it added.

It said that this year alone, the DA’s office has “returned nearly 300 antiquities valued at over $66 million to 12 countries.”

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