In this photo taken on Nov. 4, 2015, Gianfranco Romeo speaks to the Associated Press as he sits a table of Il Barroccio restaurant in Rome. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
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Romeo is among several people under investigation for suspected false property registration in one of a growing number of investigations in which mobsters are suspected of systematically buying up Roman tourist restaurants to launder cocaine profits, allegedly installing people like Romeo as figurehead owners.Romeo contended bitterly that investigators were targeting him and others merely because they are natives of Calabria, the southern region that is home to the 'ndrangheta, one of the most feared global crime syndicates. In seizing restaurants from hard-working people like himself, he said, authorities are essentially alleging that all Calabrians in Rome are crooks.Romeo recounted how police roused him from sleep the morning two Via dei Pastini restaurants were seized.Rome offers the right ingredients for mobsters, being hundreds of kilometers from their centuries-old power bases.The lobby group for Rome's 15,000 restaurants is alarmed by organized crime infiltration, saying that mobsters – unlike honest restaurateurs – have nearly unlimited funds to make establishments successful as eateries, not just fronts for organized crime.So how, investigators wondered, could this man suddenly start snapping up restaurants, and even a building, along pricy Via dei Pastini?Some mobsters seem to challenge investigators to catch them.
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