ROME (AP) — Italian police on Monday arrested 68 people, including a priest and the head of a Catholic volunteer group called “Mercy,” accusing them of being in cahoots with a major mafia clan that skimmed millions in public funds destined for one of Italy’s biggest migrant welcome centers.
Announcing the arrests Monday, an incredulous Carabinieri Gen. Giuseppe Governale summarized the scam by saying: “The welcome center and ‘Mercy’ were the ATMs of the mafia.”
Investigators said the Arena clan of the Calabrian ’ndrangheta mob had secured a lock on servicing the Isola di Capo Rizzuto migrant center in Crotone for the past decade, thanks in part to its links to “Mercy” and its head, Leonardo Sacco.
Sacco is a well-connected Italian, and his arrest took on political implications given the number of politicians — and even Pope Francis — who have been photographed with him.
Investigators said “Mercy” subcontracted catering services to companies run by the Arena clan, which allegedly skimmed some 36 million euros ($39.5 million) of the 103 million in public funds destined for migrant care between 2006-2015.
Part of the scam involved putting in for more meals than were actually provided, and then using the money to buy real estate, fancy cars and luxury boats, said Catanzaro prosecutor Nicola Gratteri.
Police said the Rev. Edoardo Scordio, a parish priest affiliated with “Mercy,” was the “organizer of a true system of exploitation of public funds destined for the migrant emergency.”
Scordio in 2007 pocketed 132,000 euros for his spiritual services that he offered the refugees, police said in a statement.