Dear Blog Readers,
I am in the city of Padua in northern Italy where today I was covering the trial of the couchsurfing policeman, Dino Maglio. In the first day of the fast-track trial, the prosecutor asked for Maglio to be sent to prison for 7 years and 4 months for drugging and raping a 16-year-old Australian girl. We had to keep the story brief for AP, so here is a little behind-the-scenes version on a story of the dangerous effects of some forms of social media.
In March 2014, an Australian mother came to stay with Maglio with her two daughters, the older was 16. They had contacted Maglio through his profile on the “Couchsurfing website (www.couchsurfing.com)
Today the girl’s lawyer, Boris Dubini, told reporters outside the courtroom that Maglio had first given the 16-year-old girl alcohol and tranquilizers until she was a “rag doll”. He added, “she was reduced by the drug to a piece of meat to take sexual advantage of.”
Dubini explained that the next morning the Australian mother discovered her daughter naked in bed with Maglio acting lethargic as though she had been drugged. She took her girls and fled to the police in Venice.
But the Australian girl was apparently not the only one. Many young women looking for a cheap vacation in Italy had a similar brutal surprise when they used the couchsurfing.com website to find a place to stay in the northern Italian city of Padua.
The thirty-five-year-old Dino Maglio had a popular profile page on the website and attracted young female guests from all over the globe including Australia, Canada, Portugal, the US, Hong Kong and the Czech Republic. He used the nickname “Leonardo” on his profile and with his guests.
The website is designed to help people traveling on the cheap find places to stay for free and has millions of users. The website sounds convincing: “We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”
“Cultural exchange and mutual respect” was not exactly what Maglio had in mind.
While in Padua, I had a chance to discuss this case at length with Alessia Cerantola, an investigative reporter with the website IRPI, Investigative Reporting Project Italy. Cerantola is part of a team of investigative reporters who have been collecting testimony from women who stayed with Maglio. She provided me with extensive information and several of the photos used in this post.
Maglio began in 2013, perhaps even earlier, having girls stay at his apartment. According to testimony gathered by IRPI from the young women, he took them around, plied them with compliments, took them out dancing and to dinner and late at night, back in his apartment, offered them his homemade wine or some tea. What the guests did not know is that the late night drinks were laced with narcotics intended to knock them into a stupor. While the young women were drugged out, Maglio allegedly raped them.
The first young woman to report anomalous behavior was from Portugal—she wrote a comment on the website review section. She told Cerantola’s team at IRPI that Maglio then contacted her by Facebook and threatened her that he would use his power as a policeman to create problems for her at border controls throughout Europe. He has made similar threats to a Asian girl. Undeterred, the Portuguese woman worked with IRPI to contact other young women who had left reviews and found that many had had similar experiences.
Alessia Cerantola told us that the IRPI team has now gathered similar stories of drugging and alleged rape from other countries including the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, and Canada with reports from over 10 women. She says now that more articles are being published about the case, even more women have contacted them.
Despite the complaints and investigation, Maglio managed to wiggle free and try again with new phone numbers, email addresses and profiles on the couch-surfing site.
Cerantola explained that many of the young women were afraid to go to the Italian police because Maglio was a policeman. However, when they reported the incidents in their own countries, nothing was done. Medical checks weeks after the incidents did not confirm they had been raped, and in several countries, including Portugal and the Czech Republic according to Cerantola, police did not act. *** Only Scotland Yard, after receiving a report from a British woman, filed a report to the Italian police. Meanwhile Maglio, according to IRPI’s testimony, repeated his routine over and over again.
It was not until the Australian woman went to the police in March 2014 that Maglio got caught.
Police searched Maglio’s apartment and found pedophile pornography and an illegal gun. Maglio was arrested but then later released on bail. He was put under house arrest and ordered not to use the couch-surfing website again.
At the end of the month, lawyers say, the prosecutor sent police on a simple check of Maglio’s apartment to make sure he was obeying the house arrest. When police entered, they found Maglio with two other young women couch-surfers, one from Argentina and one from Armenia. Both young women were acting drugged out and said they felt nauseous. Maglio had managed to create a new couch-surfing profile under another false name and had already found new prey.
Maglio is now being held in the military prison Santa Maria Capua Vetere in southern Italy.
The couch-surfing website does provide a list of suggestions for safety, and has a “safety team” which reviews suspicious profiles and a place for couch-surfers to privately report negative experiences. Nevertheless, lawyers say, Dino Maglio did manage to quickly open a second profile after he was released on bail and within a few weeks have two new female couch-surfers. Clearly the couchsurfing safety net has a few holes in it.
Today Couchsurfing.com sent a representative to the trial and when today’s hearing was over the website released a statement from their CEO, Jennifer Bullock, to the press. It said:
“Couchsurfing applauds the courage of the women who have chosen to speak out in the interest of seeing justice served. Our hearts are with them today. We have cooperated – and will continue to cooperate – with local law enforcement officials in their investigation of these allegations, and offer these brave women our heartfelt support.
Alessia Cerantola of Investigative Reporting Project Italy told me that more young women continue to report similar incidents to them. If any blog readers have something similar to report, they should contact the www.irpi.eu or Alessia and the other IRPI investigative reporters directly at
***UPDATE from Alessia Cerantola
Below is extra information that Alessia Cerantola provided me after I published this post. The names she uses have been changed to protect the young women.
“On September 29th, 2013, Marcia, the Portuguese girl, reported “Leonardo Maglio” to the Portuguese police in a small town near Porto. Then the three Czech girls went to the police but they were told it was too late and they could do nothing from where they were. They tried through the Czech Embassy in Rome but with only a vague reply. Then Oliwia from Poland went to the local prosecutor in her town without any success. It was later discovered two other Polish girls, Emma and Amalia, had reported Dino Maglio’s behavior in August 2013 in Austria. According to Cerantola, these girls told them the following, “It was awful, scary and embarrassing. The police did not take us seriously. I was trying to hold back tears. We were asked why we didn’t report this in Italy. We said we were scared since he was a police officer. Austrian police said they could do nothing as none of the individuals involved were Austrian citizens.”