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Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Mob Town That Conspired to Gang Rape a Girl

ROME—The small Italian town of Melito Porto Salvo in the region of Calabria sits on the southernmost tip of the toe of Italy’s boot, with rugged hills rolling down to the unspoiled coastline where the Ionian and Mediterranean seas meet. It is not a tourist destination, per se, despite its Bergamot forests, impressive dwellings built into ancient rocks, and stunning views of Mt. Etna across the Strait of Messina in Sicily. There are simply friendlier places in Italy to visit.

Melito Porto Salvo is known primarily as the foothold of the powerful Iamonte crime family, an ‘ndrina or clan associated with the ‘Ndrangheta, Italy’s most potent organized crime syndicate. “Literally 100 percent of this town is under the control of the Iamonte family,” says Claudio Cordova, a local journalist who runs Il Dispaccio, or The Dispatch (named after Joseph Pulitzer’s muckraking 19th-century St. Louis Post-Dispatch). “And that power means that no one talks much about what happens here, which is immensely helpful to the ‘Ndrangheta which then gets a pass.”

 The Iamonte crime family’s grip is apparently unbreakable, even though many members of the patriarchy are in jail, including the boss Remingo Iamonte and his favorite son, Giovanni Iamonte, who is now 30 years old. The latter stands accused with six other local men of orchestrating the repeated gang rape of a girl who was 13 when her ordeal began in late 2013, and attempting to blackmail her with intimate photos she took of herself.

So strong is the Iamonte influence that many in the community knew about the blatant abuse and did nothing to stop it. “People saw [Giovanni] Iamonte pick her up at school, at church, under her house—in clear distress,” Cordova says. “Yet no one helped her.”

Cordova says the branco, or herd, of young gangsters were well-known to law enforcement, but because the victim did not come from a powerful crime family, there was little motivation to step in. The gang rapes allegedly started when Maddalena, as the girl is called in court records, dated Iamonte’s best friend, Davide Schimizzi, who was then 20. At the time, Maddalena’s parents were separating and the young girl was especially easy prey.

Early in the relationship, Schimizzi had convinced Maddalena to send him provocative photos of herself, which local investigators say he then used to blackmail her when he decided to share her sexually with his friends, threatening to distribute them via social media where she would be condemned for her “libertine” behavior, which is particularly frowned upon in small communities of conservative Calabria.

 “The rape is difficult at first, but then she will calm down.”

— Davide Schimizzi, scorned boyfriend

When Maddalena refused to go along with the threats and tried to leave the relationship, which she did for a short time during which she apparently texted another boy, investigators say Schimizzi was jealous, and furious. To avenge her supposed betrayal, he allegedly set up a series of forced sexual encounters with Iamonte and five of their friends: Daniele Benedetto and Lorenzo Tripodi, then 19, and Pasquale Principato, Michele Nucera, Antonio Verduci then 20, which went on for more than two years. Schimizzi wrote to the other young men on Facebook Messenger, which was entered into court documents, that “The rape is difficult at first, but then she will calm down.”

Schimizzi was apparently not directly involved in the rapes, but rather directed them both in person and remotely. According to court documents, Maddalena was raped in cars, in the open countryside, and at some of the young men’s houses. She was made to pose for sadistic pornographic photos which they then shared among themselves, and she was forced to succumb to what the court describes as acts of “extreme sexual perversion” on the part of the seven men.

Finally, when Maddalena turned 16, nearly three years after the horror began, she wrote about the abuse in a creative writing essay for her English teacher, who was also the school psychologist.

At first the teacher, who cannot be named because she is under protective custody, alerted Maddalena’s parents, who were not exactly amicably separated at the time. The teacher says Maddalena’s father was indignant, but her mother, curiously less so, warned against denouncing the powerful Mafia families involved. The father, now also living under protective custody, held off for as long as he could, instead helping comfort and clean his daughter’s wounds when she came home from the rapes.

The father had first approached Iamonte and Schimizzi in early 2016 to warn them to stop abusing his daughter or he would go to police. According to court testimony, Iamonte told him not to bother, that nothing would come out of a complaint from such a weak man. “Let me know if you decide to anyway, though,” Iamonte told the victim’s father, according to court documents. “Then we’ll see what will be done.”

Finally, when he could no longer stand by to watch his daughter suffer, he denounced Schimizzi and Iamonte, against Maddalena and her mother’s wishes, and the seven men were arrested for aggravated rape and torture of a minor, possessing child pornography, and a host of other charges. Their trial, which opened behind closed doors last year only to be suspended pending various legal acts filed by the seven suspects’ lawyers to try to free them from jail, continues next week.

But it is hardly an open and shut case.

During the initial phases of the investigation, police checked various historical wiretaps of the Iamonte crime family and found that the crime boss Remingo Iamonte apparently had been in a consensual sexual relationship with Maddalena’s mother in the years before he went to jail in 2010.

Then, upon further investigation, it was suggested that Giovanni, the crime boss’ son and lead instigator of Maddalena’s alleged gang rape vendetta, was, like his father, also in a carnal relationship with Maddalena’s mother, although investigators are skeptical that this is true. The younger Iamonte’s defense has been to claim a case of mistaken identity, that he was actually involved with the mother, not the young daughter. Maddalena’s mother denies such a relationship.

“Townspeople have blamed Maddalena for ‘getting involved with such a family’ and for ‘wearing miniskirts’ and ‘taking pictures of herself.’”

During the preliminary hearings to determine if there was enough evidence to go forward with a trial, the presiding judge, Barbara Bennato, asked Iamonte if he had known his own father had a relationship with the woman he claims to have slept with himself. “Yes,” he said. “I read about it somewhere.”

To complicate matters more, despite the fact that Iamonte and the others were seen multiple times picking up Maddalena to take her to the countryside to torture her, the townspeople are largely too afraid to testify in court against any of the seven men on trial. There are still plenty of members of the Iamonte crime family free to exact revenge.

Cordova, who has covered the gang rape case from the beginning, told The Daily Beast that instead of supporting the victim, the townspeople have blamed Maddalena for “getting involved with such a family” and for “wearing miniskirts” and “taking pictures of herself.” The local Calabria channels of Italy’s state-run broadcaster RAI did a short story on the case in which it asked a dozen or so local residents what they thought. Not one condemned the alleged rapists, instead offering comments like “things like that happen everywhere” and “it was the girl’s fault.”

The trial continues in Calabria on April 13 and is expected to reach a verdict by the end of the year.

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