ROME (AP) — Italian police on Wednesday seized 27 pizzerias, cafes and other eateries in the heart of Rome as well as other businesses elsewhere in a probe highlighting the seemingly legitimate business fronting for organized crime in places beyond the Neapolitan mobsters' base.
The national anti-Mafia prosecutor's office said other confiscated properties included gas stations and parking lots near Naples train stations, allegedly used to launder Camorra syndicate revenue from drug trafficking, extortion and loan-sharking.
The office of Franco Roberti, Italy's national prosecutor in the fight against organized crime, described the operation as the most important investigation ever into the complex criminal activity of the Camorra's Contini crime family. It estimated at 250 million euros ($340 million) the total value of all the confiscated businesses, as well as homes, cars, land, bank accounts and other property which authorities suspect were obtained through illicit activity.
Ninety arrest warrants issued, some of them for mobsters already in jail.
Roberti's office said Edoardo Contini, who has been jailed since 2007 after years as a fugitive, was a mastermind of the business network for money laundering. His wife was arrested on suspicion of loan-sharking and extortion against a family of clothing merchants in the Naples area, Roberti's office said.
While shaking down Naples businesses in the Camorra's backyard is a generations-old activity, the suspect pizzerias and coffee bars in the historic heart of Rome underscored how the organized crime clans have increasingly penetrated the economic fabric of the capital.
On Wednesday, Carabinieri military police combed through eateries in the heart of Rome, in search of evidence. Pizzerias and ice cream parlors involved are near monuments and squares heavily frequented by tourists and Romans alike, some of them in the vicinity of the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.
Carabinieri Cmdr. Salvatore Luongo said the Contini family had extended its roots to the Rome area in the 1990s. The clan was "laundering its money through these pizzerias that were using a double accounting system," Luongo said.
Authorities said one of 90 suspects named in warrants jumped to his death from his fourth-floor Rome apartment when police came to arrest him. Roberti's office said the man was suspected of loan-sharking and extortion.
The probe also uncovered evidence that the Camorra clan had a network of clothing businesses whose products were manufactured in Prato, an area in Tuscany where past probes had found the Camorra dumped toxic refuse in its illicit waste-dumping business. Other places in Tuscany coming under scrutiny were near Pisa, Lucca and a posh stretch of coastal resorts.
Crucial to the vast extent of the money-laundering through legitimate businesses was the use of people without criminal records who allowed the mobsters to use their names on property documentation to avoid the immediate scrutiny of authorities, the prosecutors said.
Associated Press journalist Trisha Thomas contributed to this report.
Follow Frances D'Emilio on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio