“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.