A criminal organization allegedly dedicated to organizing fake weddings for migrants without papers was uncovered by security authorities in southern Italy. The scam was, they said, headed by a woman known as "the betrothed's magician."
According to Italy's Carabinieri military police, which recently arrested five people, and put 11 people under house arrest, a gang has been running a "fake wedding operation," allegedly organizing weddings to provide papers to migrants without the right to stay in Italy.
The gang was allegedly headed by a woman known as "the betrothed's magician" and was operating in two southern cities, Naples and Caserta.
The raid leading to the recent arrests was coordinated by the Public Prosecutor's Office in Naples.
40 fictitious marriages
A total of 66 individuals are under investigation, including more than 40 people accused of having been involved in these fictitious marriages which took place in 2019 and 2020. According to the police, revenues from the scam are thought to have totaled approximately €200,000 in that period.
The police say the organization, which also had suspected accomplices in the town of Avezzano, was headed by a woman. Most of its members were women, too. At the head of the organization was someone named in the Italian press as "zia Maria" ("aunt Mary"), whose real name is Matilde M. She's also known as "the blond."
The 61-year-old suspect is reported to have lived in the Neapolitan neighborhood of Ponticelli, which also allegedly served as the operational headquarters for the entire group. Along with the suspected leader of the operation, two of her personal assistants and two Moroccans were also arrested.
'€5,000 to € 6,500 per wedding'
According to the prosecutors, the gang would charge between €5,000 and €6,500 per wedding. The majority of the migrants involved, say the authorities came originally from Tunisia and Morocco.
A total of 25 Italian women, between 21 and 49, are suspected of marrying foreigners of approximately the same age. In some cases, the women are accused of agreeing to a promise of marriage, which is valid for six months and entitles the intended foreign spouse to receive a residency permit.
Most of the 'brides' selected were reportedly living in poverty themselves. One of the accused brides is thought to have entered into some form of marriage or promise to be married five times. During the course of the investigations, some cases have emerged where the women were less keen to marry.
In one telephone call intercepted by authorities, a suspected member of the criminal gang said to 'aunt Mary' that "he has everything ready" for the fictitious wedding, and that that he was only waiting for "the bride".
'The betrothed's magician'
"I am going to pick her up" replies the chief suspect, explaining that she had to go to the girl's home. In one Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, the suspect is reported as saying she will "convince the girl's mother" in order that the bride to go through with the marriage. In this case, the intended bride is reported to have been a 22-year-old. Investigators brought the case against Matilde M using a combination of telephone interceptions as well as through analysis of the documentation for the residency permit applications sent in by the migrants suspected to have been involved.
At the police station in Castel Volturno, a small coastal commune northeast of Naples where many migrants without papers live, police agents realized the documents could be false when the noted that different migrants were indicating the same person as their future bride. In addition, "all the residency requests were coming by post from the same post office in Naples."