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Italy's Mafia troubles creep north

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Public officials and politicians were no exception. “They said that everything was under control, although there were many signs that things weren’t quite right,” Ms. Di Antonio says.

An undeniable presence

In recent years, however, the Mafia’s presence has become harder and harder to ignore.

The national Anti-Mafia Directorate, a unit of high-level anti-mafia prosecutors, reported in 2007 that a 2006 bombing attack against a local branch of the Italian revenue agency in Sassuolo, a small town in Emilia-Romagna, may have been carried out by Mafia groups. At the time, the agency was investigating a case of tax evasion by several entrepreneurs with known ties to organized crime.

Then, in 2010, Reggio Emilia-based construction entrepreneur Vito Lombardo was shot twice while taking a walk. Prosecutors, who view the attack as a settling of Mafia accounts, filed charges against a suspect for attempted murder with the aggravating factor of Mafia connections.

But Giovanni Tizian’s story was perhaps the most unsettling for the public. The freelance journalist has been under police protection since December, after reporting on organized crime in Emilia-Romagna. While in the south it is not unheard of for journalists to be threatened by the Mafia – writer Roberto Saviano has been under police protection since publishing “Gomorrah,” a bestselling exposé on the Neapolitan Mafia – Tizian’s case is the first recognized by authorities in the north.

Violent episodes notwithstanding, a 2010 report by Italy’s National Council of Economics and Labor, a government consultative body, found that the Mafia has generally opted for a “social camouflage” strategy that has proven to be very effective in infiltrating new territories without raising public alarm.

According to a 2008 report by the Italian parliament, the “colonization”  of Emilia-Romagna started in the 1980s, when a large number of mobsters from the south were sentenced to forced residence in the region for up to five years. The measure, first introduced in the 1960s, was intended to disrupt crime by uprooting suspected members of organized crime groups from their local networks. 

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