Italy police keep peace at memorial for gangster clan head

AP News
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Posted: Aug 26, 2015 12:27 PM
Italy police keep peace at memorial for gangster clan head

ROME (AP) — Police formed human chains to keep the peace Wednesday outside a discreet memorial service for a local clan leader after his ostentatious funeral prompted complaints from lawmakers and even the Vatican newspaper that it glorified the mob.

Relatives of Vittorio Casamonica have lashed out at the media for portraying their family as mafiosi, and there were some scuffles with journalists outside the church Wednesday.

The service was no way near as extravagant as last week's funeral, which featured a horse-drawn carriage carrying the casket, a helicopter dropping flower petals overhead and a band playing "The Godfather" theme song outside the church, which had banners hung on it reading "King of Rome" and "You conquered Rome, now you'll conquer Paradise."

In interviews with Italian gossip magazine Oggi published Wednesday, several Casamonica family members acknowledged that some had criminal records. But they denied they were a mafia family and said they were being tarnished by the reputation of other members of the large clan.

"If we were mafiosi, how difficult would it have been to go and get the people who disrespected Uncle Vittorio?" Oggi quoted Tony Casamonica, a nephew, as saying. "The real mafia would have already put them in cement."

Prosecutors have never described the Casamonicas as a "mafia" family in the classic sense, but have said they are the richest and most dangerous local gangsters in Rome with a patrimony of more than 90 million euros ($102 million), much of it obtained through loansharking. Police said in a statement on the day of the funeral that Vittorio Casamonica was "on the margins" of organized crime, but hadn't figured into any recent mafia investigations.

Family photos provided to Oggi showed the same gold-trimmed black carriage used last week for the funerals of Casamonica's parents, in 1967 and 1977, when a whole procession of horse-drawn carriages carrying floral wreaths lined up outside the same Rome church used by the family last week.

Tony Casamonica said the family took up a collection to pay for the funeral, which he said cost 9,000 euros ($10,260). Relatives said their family traditions call for such lavish send-offs, that "The Godfather" theme was one of "Zio Vittorio's" favorite tunes (along with "My Way") and that they thought the helicopter pilot had obtained all the necessary permits to fly over Rome.

Italy's civil aviation authority suspended the license of the pilot, saying single-motor choppers aren't allowed to fly over the city and that regardless the pilot didn't have approval to throw objects out.

Over the weekend, the Vatican newspaper quoted several Italian prelates as criticizing the lavishness under the headline "The scandal of a funeral."

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AP writer Frances D'Emilio contributed to this report.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield