Saturday, August 13, 2011

Phony Gladiators Arrested for Shaking Down Tourists

From the Guardian

For the first time perhaps since the fall of the Roman Empire, a group of centurions faces prosecution for mounting an assault on brother officers just a few paces from the Forum.

Unknown to the attackers, their fellow "centurions" were undercover police officers sent to investigate claims of racketeering and fraud in the shadow of the Colosseum. Dozens of modern-day Romans dressed as centurions or gladiators make a living by posing for photographs alongside tourists in return for tips and by enticing them onto tours in exchange for payments from the organizers.

But the business has been plagued by complaints from holidaymakers of centurions resorting to threats, and allegations that it is a "closed shop" from which outsiders are rigorously, and sometimes brutally, excluded. The three men arrested on Wednesday have been accused of assault and risk additional charges of criminal conspiracy, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

They were among 30 people arrested as a result of the investigation. Others included tour guides and the owners of tour agencies.

The officers posing as centurions were reportedly approached and threatened in the Piazza Venezia by the three men who were subsequently arrested. An argument broke out, and swords – albeit wooden ones – were soon cleaving the air.

Unknown to the trio, a party of street cleaners at work nearby was also made up of undercover police officers. On seeing their colleagues attacked, they sprang into action and, watched by bemused tourists, clamped handcuffs on the aggressors.

The police operation was launched after four complaints from tour agencies and two more from Italian tourists who said they had been tricked by a costumed tout into paying for a tour of the Vatican museums that never materialized and then threatened by him when they demanded their money back.

Read the full story here.

No comments:

Post a Comment