Rome’s Middle World

A Hobbit, heading out his door into the Middle World.

A Hobbit, heading out his door into the Middle World.

“There are the living above and the dead below, and we are in the middle.  And that means that there is a world, the middle world in which everyone meets.” – Massimo Carminati

As posters for the latest “Hobbit” film were being splashed on billboards across Rome last week, police launched operation “Mafia Capital” in which they uncovered Rome’s “Middle World”,  where hobbits, elves and orcs are replaced by criminals and politicians who have been cutting deals to rake off millions.

The words above were spoken by Massimo Carminati, an alleged criminal gang leader, and former far-right wing terrorist in the 1970s, who was arrested last week in Rome along with 37 others accused of running a massive crime ring involving corrupt city officials.

Those arrested were accused of  mafia assocation, extortion, corruption, manipulating a public auction, false invoicing, and money-laundering.  Police sequestered 204 million euros in assets from those under investigation.

Massimo Carminati arrest. Rome, December 2014

Massimo Carminati arrest. Rome, December 2014

Carminati wears a patch over one eye—he was blinded when police opened fire on him in the 1970s when he was trying to escape to Switzerland. Last week he was arrested while driving his Smart Car on the outskirts of Rome.

Investigators have named dozens of others suspected in the case, including Rome’s former right-wing Mayor Gianni Alemanno whose home they searched this past week.  But the politicians involved were from both the right and the left, including some from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party.

ROME ROOFTOPS

Rome, looking peaceful from a above, but what is going on below in the city’s “Middle World”?

The gang made its money off lucrative public contracts, including the building of housing for immigrants, housing for the Rom nomad population, the city’s recycling, and public parks maintenance. The police released a series of videos showing the key figures on the phone accompanied by their recorded voices.  In one such video Carminati describes their activities taking place in a so-called “Middle World.”

Freeze frame of police video showing Massimo Carminati on the left talking on the phone with Salvatore Buzzi on the right.

Freeze frame of police video showing Massimo Carminati on the left talking on the phone with Salvatore Buzzi on the right.

Other conversations show how the group operated.  In one conversation between Carminati and businessman Salvatore Buzzi, also arrested,  Buzzi tells Carminati that he has been making the rounds of government offices, Carminati tells him, “you must sell the product my friend, we must sell ourselves like prostitutes…so put on a mini-skirt and walk the streets for these guys.”

Freeze frame of video released by police showing businessman Salvatore Buzzi on phone with woman.

Freeze frame of video released by police showing businessman Salvatore Buzzi on phone with woman.

Buzzi, in another phone conversation with a woman brags that they are making money off a contract to provide migrants with housing.  He tells her, “Do you have any idea how much I earn off migrants?…Drug trafficking earns less.”

Freeze frame of police video of Matteo Calvio on phone threatening someone.

Freeze frame of police video of Matteo Calvio on phone threatening someone.

But in addition to snuggling up to city officials and filling their pockets, the group had some heavier handed methods.

Another video shows Matteo Calvi, one of the group arrested this week, on the phone to someone he is threatening.  He says: “…you have to pay me and don’t try getting out of it cause I will come to your home and kill you….. I will slit your throat. On the morning of the 10th bring me the money otherwise I will kill you and all your children, you piece of shit!”

Nice guy.  The perfect Middle World Orc.

So this is what is happening in the city of Rome.  This group, run by the businessman Buzzi has reportedly won 174 city contracts in 10 years.  He has received from Rome’s city hall a total of 34 million euros.   He has then reportedly greased the palms of his city hall helpers by donating some 241 million euros in foundations and for electoral committees.

So the Middle World is getting rich at the expense of migrants, Rom nomads, the city’s recycling and parks.

In an Italy struggling with economic recession and high unemployment, it feels like the famed Mafia octopus has gotten its tentacles firmly around the city suffocating it.

Italian Prime Matteo Renzi said yesterday, “we will not leave Rome in the hands of thieves” and urged for justice to be carried out quickly.  But in Italy, justice is never carried out quickly.

I wish we had some courageous, furry-footed little hobbits who could save Rome from these Middle World orcs.

18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2014/12/09

    Middle World orcs — a perfect description of the corruptors of every government in the world — what if there were a campaign to expose the Middle World orcs in every nation — who would be named in the US? In the 70s, a Vice President had to step down because he was exposed as one, and there was no VP when the President was also exposed as corrupt, and had to step down. The Speaker of the House, Ford, became President. But our exposes never lop off more than one or two sacrificial lambs, and corruption, like the Hydra, grows a new head and keeps on feeding.
    Thanks for this thoughtful and well-written column. Much more than we got over here on the news, where we are preoccupied, and I think rightly, with the protests about the three recent killings of black men, one just a child, by the police.
    I pray something will come of the protests, and fear nothing may change. There are so many forms of corruption.
    But this is the waiting world that aches for Christmas, biblical in its darkness, and in its longing. May Christmas come to Rome this year . . .

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/12/10

      Yes, there seem to be Middle World Orcs everywhere. Yes the world is aching and does seem biblical in its darkness. I have written about bad things in Rome, but there are some terrible news reports coming from the US — as you mention the recent killing of three black men, then the CIA torture report — it is almost unbearable to read.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Carina
    2014/12/09

    In reality, I’m not sure how different it is from how things work in the US. Special interests, lobbying, pork barrels, etc.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/12/10

      I totally agree with you. I write about Italy because I am here, but there is plenty of crime, corruption and other slimy political behavior in many other countries including my own.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Adri
    2014/12/09

    What an amazing story. We have all heard about the graft and corruption,. but this really brings the breadth of the problem home. How sad that these criminals have even figured out how to benefit from the plight of the immigrants. What a world.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Joan Schmelzle
    2014/12/09

    A sad story! I first read about it in “Italian Reflections Daily” a couple of days ago. I hope that indeed Rome finds some way to fix this mess.
    I had heard quite a while ago that the Naples baddies had a connections with Ciro’s, a pizza place I have eaten near the hotel I stay at. But that didn’t bother me too much since it seemed only one company. Maybe I was too naive to realize there was probably more going on. Thanks for some different info from what I had read.
    A presto

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/12/10

      It is a sad story. “Italian Reflections Daily” is way ahead of me. It is hard to get away from all this mafia and corruption in Italy, but I am sure it is not the only place in the world.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Alan
    2014/12/09

    . . just coming to the last episode of series 5 of ‘The Sopranos’ (about New jersey mafia – which I highly recommend) – same script, almost word for word!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/12/10

      Yes, I have just seen a few of the “Sopranos” episodes, but it is great stuff. Interestingly, I had to run to the hotel and do a story when James Gandolfini, the star, died of a heart attack in Rome. That was sad. And yes, criminal gangs and corrupt politicians probably exist in every country of the world. I was just in Istanbul and was taking about it with a professor I met there. You name the city — New York, Moscow, London, Tokyo — I am sure Rome is not alone with its Middle World.

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Lega Medcalf
    2014/12/09

    Sounds like the Rome police have their act together. Takes a lot of courage and effort to apprehend these thugs like this!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/12/10

      You are right Lega, and that is a good way of seeing the glass half full. The police — Carabinieri– have done a good job on this one. I think most of us in Rome have been so busy moaning and groaning about the city services and angry at the criminals skimming off money intended for the needy — immigrants and nomads– that we forgot to compliment the law enforcement groups involved. Glad you remembered.

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    gavin
    2014/12/10

    I guess that is why they say

    all roads lead to Rome.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/12/11

      Indeed. Slightly depressing.

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    Kay
    2014/12/12

    Fascinating story, Trisha. Thank you for the insight into what must be a very complex situation. I am most curious, however to ask what your take is on Alemmano. What was he like as a mayor of Rome when he was in office? We read about the corruption that happened behind the scenes that no one knew was going on, but I am curious as to what the general populous of Rome thought of him while he was in office. Did he do anything effective for the city at all? What about the new mayor who is leading this exposure of mafia corruption? Does he feel like his life is in danger in any way ala Roberto Saviano?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/12/13

      Kay you always ask such excellent questions. Whether or not Alemanno — or those who preceded him as Mayor of Rome were good or not, it is hard to tell. It tends to divide along left/right lines of who likes and dislikes each mayor. Honestly, I cannot think of many things that any Mayor has done to help some of the huge problems of this city. Interestingly, one mayor, Walter Veltroni, started the Rome Film Festival which I cover most years and I really enjoy and I think is a positive event for the city. However, most Romans wouldn’t see that was a major accomplishment. When the current Mayor came in he said he was going to close of areas in the city center for pedestrians and to save some of Italy’s historic monuments. He closed the area between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum and now only buses and taxi drivers can pass at a slow speed. To me this seems like a tiny gesture and yet all the taxi drivers despise him for this. When he was first elected, the current Mayor Ignazio Marino made a huge deal about how he was NOT going to use the blue limo with an escort that so many politicians use in Rome. He said he was going to go around on his bicycle. Seemed like a great idea to many of us. But then he got something like 8 traffic tickets on his Fiat Panda for parking in an illegal spot near the Italian Senate, and he didn’t pay them, they were somehow canceled. When this was exposed a few months back, he was taken to pieces by the Italian press– and he deserved it. He eventually paid all the tickets. So, all this is to say, I am not a very good judge of Roman Mayors. Alemanno is looking very bad right now, and sitting on top of all that corruption at City Hall is bad news — if he knew it, he is a criminal, and if he didn’t, he is a complete fool. However the government officials that are involved come from both the left and the right and some were there before Alemanno’s time. So– all this is to say, I really can’t judge Alemanno or any of other Mayors at this time, but I hope the investigation continues and they get to the bottom of all this and the guilty parties go to jail. And finally, in response to your question about the current Mayor’s security– he held a press conference the other day saying he is considering giving up the bike and going with the limo and escort because police intercepted phone conversations from these alleged mobsters saying that they wanted to get rid of him or find a way to force him out of office. What a mess!!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Kay
        2014/12/15

        Thanks for the great answer, Trisha! I guess that I have read a lot about corruption and politics in Italy because that is part of my job (anti-corruption) so stories like this tend to fascinate me. This whole situation coupled with the aspect of the inflamed anti-immigrant protests we witnessed when I was in Rome in early November make me wonder how any immigrant are able to survive at all living in Italy or why they would even chose to live in Italy as a viable option. Like the Rom, I wonder if their options are better in France or Germany?

        Thanks for the answer about Alemmano and Marino.i had read that Marino was still riding around on his bike a week or so ago, and it reminded me of the Pope going around in the open air pope mobile…which reminds me, I would love to know your thoughts on the Pope firing the head of the Swiss Guards!

        Reply
  9. Avatar
    Barbara Landi
    2014/12/15

    Sta veramente Carminati il pezzo di merda!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/12/15

      Brava Barbara!!!!

      Reply

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