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Mafia in Italy Siphons Huge Sums From Migrant Centers

In recent years, centers all over Italy have been shut for fraud or misuse of public money, exposing insufficient government oversight and often blatant corruption. In the Rome-based Mafia Capitale investigation, managers at a company that secured lucrative public bids to provide services for reception centers are currently standing trial.


Migrants on a bus taking them from the Sant’Anna Cara center to the city of Crotone, in Calabria.

Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

“Mobsters are where power and money are,” said Nicola Gratteri, one of Italy’s more active anti-mafia investigators. He is the chief prosecutor in Catanzaro, in Calabria, home to one of Italy’s most powerful mafia groups, the ’Ndrangheta (pronounced n-DRAHN-ghe-ta).

“Beyond cocaine smuggling, ’Ndrangheta mobsters used to be strong on extortion and public bids; now it’s gaming and the migrants centers,” Mr. Gratteri explained in his office, behind an armored door. “They are just one of the ways to become richer for the mafia.”

The central government in Rome, as well as the European Union, provided the reception center in Calabria with roughly €30 a day for each of the migrants housed in a former NATO base surrounded by razor wire.

The money was supposed to go toward food, housing, personal items, and even social workers and Italian teachers to help the migrants integrate and learn the language.

Instead, using hundreds of hours of hidden camera recordings and reams of administrative documents, investigators say, they found that the center’s catering service did not provide decent food to migrants, or even enough, while invoicing the Interior Ministry for thousands of meals every day.

Waiters in the cafeteria were recorded on videos raising their hands in a shrug to indicate that the food had run out, while dozens were still awaiting their meal.

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