Over five years ago, in November of 2014, Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, blew the whistle on a massive corruption scheme in the city’s administration. Marino had become particularly suspicious of Salvatore Buzzi, the leftwing leader of a cooperative that controlled, among other things, the city’s recycling, trash disposal, and street cleaning services. Buzzi had been imprisoned in the 1980s for homicide, but was supposedly a thoroughly reformed champion of progressive causes. In fact, he was the right-hand man of Massimo Carminati, a former member of a neofascist terrorist group. Using collusion, exchange of favors, extortion, and intimidation, Carminati and Buzzi diverted hundreds of millions of euros intended for the improvement of Rome’s infrastructure to private bank accounts. And if this wasn’t enough, the group even skimmed resources from housing projects designed to shelter refugees, with Buzzi famously caught on a telephone intercept saying “Do you have any idea how much I earn on these immigrants? They’re more profitable than drugs.”
In sum, these Roman criminal groups, which are popularly known as Mondo di Mezzo (the World Between) or Mafia Capitale (Capital Mafia), had thoroughly infiltrated Rome’s municipal government. Indeed, their connections reached the upper echelons of Roman government, including former mayor Gianni Alemanno, who was ultimately convicted of corruption and illicit funding. Buzzi and Carminati, along with more than 40 other individuals, were ultimately brought to trial over these crimes. Prosecutors under magistrate Giuseppe Pignatone pushed for this organization to be recognized as a mafia—which is important, because under Italian law, there is a special, and especially severe, set of criminal laws reserved for mafia members and mafia-type associations. This past October, however, the Italian Court of Cassation ruled that the Mondo di Mezzo did not qualify, legally, as a mafia-type association (associazione di tipo mafioso).
This ruling has been controversial, and indeed much of the attention that Mondo di Mezzo has received has been based on the “mafia” element of this case. But whether or not Mondo di Mezzo is a mafia, this case has revealed the Italian capital’s vulnerability to corruption by organized criminal networks. In the words of Pignatone, the mafia is not Rome’s first problem. Instead, the most serious issues “are the crimes against the public administration and the economy. It is corruption, auction disruptions, bankruptcies, multimillion-dollar frauds. Mafia Capitale is just a piece of a much larger and more complicated mosaic.” And Mondo di Mezzo demonstrates that Italy must take concrete action to reduce the vulnerability of municipal governments to infiltration by criminal groups. Continue reading