Bologna Court Acknowledges Mafia's Existence for First Time

Northern Italy's Emilia-Romagna region is widely known for its medieval cities and seaside resorts.

It also has the distinction of being the birthplace of some of the world's premier delicacies, including Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and Balsamic Vinegar.

And, up until a few years ago, it was one of the few places in Italy not typically known to have a Mafia presence.
Nicola Femia was arrested for running a gambling racket.

Historically, Italy's various organized crime groups tended to keep away from Emilia-Romagna, either by chance or by design.

That was then.

In 2013, Ndrangheta boss Nicola Femia and 28 criminal cohorts were arrested and charged with operating a $65 million illegal gambling racket that included websites as well as thousands of rigged slot machines.

He was sentenced to 26 years in prison at the conclusion of what amounted to a three-year trial.

The guilty verdict, which came down last week, has been hailed as a landmark decision in Emilia-Romagna. It is the first time the Court in Bologna acknowledged the existence of "a Mafia-linked group" in the province's history, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Project (OCCP), which recently published a story detailing the case.

Gazzetta di Modena journalist Giovanni Tizian broke the story about the Ndrangheta-linked group operating in the Emilia-Romagna region. (Yes, the mob threatened to kill him -- but in the end he sued and was quite successful.)

Local police arrested Femia and the group after linking him to 1,500 rigged slot machines, noted Poker News, a gaming news website.

Associates in Romania and London, where the websites were hosted, were involved in criminal activity.

In addition, three police officers were nabbed for participating in the Ndrangheta-linked operation.

The websites were available to players who frequented the various storefront venues -- including shops and bars -- where the rigged slot machines were installed.

Data regarding the size of the traffic to the various websites was not available, though Femia’s London-based partner, Massimiliano Rizzo, reportedly pocketed a monthly sum of around $25,000.

For conspiracy to organize fraudulent online gambling, Rizzo was given a relatively minor sentence of three years in prison.

The judge threw the book at the Femia family, sentencing Femia's son, Nicola Rocco, to 15 years, and his daughter, Guendalina, to nearly 11 years.

Journalist Threatened
Referring to Tizian, Femia reportedly threatened to "shoot his mouth off"  if the journalist didn’t stop writing about the mob's business. This is based on conversations he'd had with confederates that were caught on wiretap recordings.

Tizian sued Femia concurrently with the criminal trial and was awarded $52,900.