Commentary. Their stated objective was to control the local drug market, a goal they pursued through torture, threats of every kind, staged arrests and alliances with some Italian drug dealers.

There’s organized crime – and then there’s Piacenza

These days, the scandal of what was going on at the Levante station of the Carabinieri in Piacenza is constantly being compared to novels or television series. One particular adjective being thrown around is “unbelievable,” while the phenomenon of criminal gangs within law enforcement is an endemic one worldwide and has been noted for at least 20 years.

In Italy as well—a country which seems to have become memory-challenged—other scandals just as serious have already been investigated and the criminals punished, among the Carabinieri and not only. These affairs, wherever they occur, always feature the same elements: a group of officers led by a charismatic leader who distinguish themselves for their achievements in the fight against drug trafficking, while their direct superiors, obsessing about their own careers, fail to look closely into the methods with which these results are being obtained.

But a gang always behaves like a gang—and violence, blackmail and corruption are the fundamental tools they use to get the right quantity of arrests and confiscated goods to show off at press conferences. And, given the impressive amount of money that circulates in drug dealing circles, it seems only fair to these officers, who risk their lives every single day, to pocket some of that cash, perhaps as a “pension fund.”

However, in the end, there is always an incorruptible character who comes along, restores legality and expels the rotten apples from the institution, proving after all that crime doesn’t pay and that the rule of law always triumphs.

What happened at Levante is already arousing the interest of novelists and screenwriters, always on the hunt for those episodes where reality and fiction seem to mix—however, at the moment, the story as we know it has such enormous narrative holes that even the wildest imagination would have difficulty making sense of it.

Piacenza is not an urban metropolis, but a beautiful and civilized provincial city, where the drug trade has always been kept at bay and under control by the police. The first strange aspect concerns the informers working for local law enforcement and the Finance Police, who never mentioned anything about this gang of Carabinieri which seems to have been operating in broad daylight for over three years.

At the same time, their stated objective was to control the local drug market, a goal they pursued through torture, threats of every kind, staged arrests and alliances with some Italian drug dealers, with whom they were photographed waving stacks of cash. Here is where the matter becomes even more disturbing than at first glance, because it is not clear what major criminal interests these gentlemen were actually working for.

At this point, one can glimpse the long shadow of a “blessing” that must have been given to them by the cosche [translator’s note: the local Mafia clans], because it is obvious that, according to the geography of drug trafficking, them taking over the Piacenza market must have been useful to someone “big.” Otherwise, the carabinieri at Levante would have been taken out of action much earlier. The ‘ndrine, with deep roots in this territory, would have never been willing to forego their profits.

In 2018, this Carabinieri station even received a solemn commendation, partly due to the impressive staged arrests. This is particularly appalling to us today, as the torture and the wild escort parties that were happening inside the institution have come to light. To preserve a semblance of decency, everyone has moved away from the “nobody knew” narrative, replacing it with “rumors that had been circulating for a while”—but the real question is why the gang was allowed to act undisturbed for such a long time. A question that goes much further than the Carabinieri as an institution, of course.

At this point, however, it looks like a story told a million times before, both in real life and in fiction. Even the characters embody all the clichés: the higher-up leader of the group, his girlfriend, his followers, the whole spirit of a corrupt institution. The villa with a swimming pool, the bottles of champagne, the brazen ostentatiousness of a standard of living incompatible with the salary of a public servant. And the casual practice of violence.

The real novelty of this story is the one least apparent from the media narrative: namely that the gang treated criminals and law-abiding citizens in exactly the same way. The episode of the car dealer forced to sell the gang leader a luxury car at a low price after being beaten bloody and threatened with guns must give us pause.

Even a drug dealer who was close to the gang leader was astonished at that scene, and, in a wiretapped conversation, said that it looked like something from the TV show Gomorrah. During the lockdown, while Piacenza was fighting against the virus and counting its victims, the gang was helping drug dealers get supplies in Milan and was throwing parties. An outraged neighbor called the Carabinieri to complain—and was not only not taken seriously, but reported to the gang leader himself.

At Levante, not only were several levels of malignant interests intertwined and stratified in a dangerous manner, but the impunity—which someone had perhaps guaranteed them—also led to new forms of criminal behavior: a sort of qualitative leap that we have not seen before.

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