Nearly half a billion seized in epic Casalesi sweep

Over 50 mobsters arrested for 'gambling racket'

Nearly half a billion seized in epic Casalesi sweep

(By Christopher Livesay) Naples, June 27 - Police arrested over 50 suspected mobsters and seized nearly half a billion euros in assets across Italy Thursday in their biggest crackdown in years on the infamous Casalesi gang. Agents detained 55 alleged members of the Naples-based Camorra mafia spanning the length of the country, from Modena and Reggio Emilia in the north, Viareggio and Frosinone in the center, to Caserta, Naples and Catania in the south. Police said the gang was most heavily invested in the northern Emilia-Romagna and central Lazio regions, focused primarily on running slot machines, bingo halls and other types of gambling. The suspects are also wanted for conspiracy, collusion, extorsion, threats of violence, computer and other types of fraud, and money laundering. Police seized 450 million euros in assets that included 247 bank accounts, 347 properties, 148 businesses and 280 automobiles, two of which were Ferraris. Investigators said the gang's most lucrative ventures were the illegal distribution of slot machines, collecting sports bets, and online gambling. Police uncovered a number of sites used to manage online gambling with servers located in Romania. Authorities said that all of the gambling outfits in the sweep were not necessarily corrupt to begin with. "All of a sudden you notice companies in the area that were once in the hands of honest entrepreneurs that have now ended up in the hands of organized crime," said prosecutor Giovanni Colangelo. The gang was especially successful due to collaborating with rival mob groups the Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta and the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, police said. "This important bust shows once again the mafia's significant involvement in the gambling business," said Father Armando Zappolini, speaking on behalf of Mettiamoci in Gioco, an anti-gambling association. "Bingo halls, slot machines and online gaming are now among the main tools used by mafia groups to launder money and make profits. "This clear and irrevocable fact...requires strict regulation of the industry that the government and parliament should implement as soon as possible". Deputy Interior Minister Filippo Bubbico called attention to the "enormous phenomenon" of mafia ties to gambling. "We must act immediately, working on sufficient regulatory instruments that commit ourselves to prevention," he said. The Casalesi gang came to world notoriety with the 2006 bestseller Gamorrah by Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, whose accounts of their crimes prompted death threats and a permanent government escort. The book was later turned into a critically acclaimed film.

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