Italian police follow their noses to Rome's biggest marijuana bust

ROME -– Led by the unmistakable smell of pot, Italian authorities stumbled across the biggest marijuana-plant cultivation site ever discovered in Rome –- right below the vaults of the Bank of Italy.

On the outskirts of the Eternal City, where the ruins of ancient aqueducts stand next to dilapidated warehouses, officers out on a routine patrol Monday detected the odor of marijuana rising from an air duct of an underground tunnel, according to a statement by the Guardia di Finanza, or financial police. The officers followed their noses to a metal door that opened on to what appeared to be a subterranean mushroom-growing business.

But after pushing aside a few bricks of a false wall, the agents stepped into a 43,000-square-foot tunnel filled with marijuana plants in various stages of growth, dozens of halogen lights to help them along and advanced climate-control, irrigation and fertilization systems, police said.

The ostensible mushroom growers had in fact been cultivating 750 pounds of pot, worth about $3.7 million, police said. Rome's record heat this summer had given rise to the distinctive aroma that tipped off authorities.

The owner of the mushroom-growing business was arrested and police are investigating possible connections to organized crime. Authorities are also looking for people who may have worked in the tunnel.

News reports said part of the underground hot house was located just beneath vaults belonging to the Bank of Italy, the country's equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve. The marijuana plot was inside a tunnel built in the 1930s as part of a subway project ordered by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The advent of World War II halted work, and the tunnel was abandoned.


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-- Sarah Delaney

Pope's butler to stand trial in scandal over leaked Vatican documents

Pope butler
This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

VATICAN CITY -- The butler who served Pope Benedict XVI has been ordered to stand trial by a Vatican judge in the alleged pilfering of hundreds of confidential documents from the papal apartments and passing of them to an Italian journalist.

Paolo Gabriele, 45, will stand trial in a Vatican tribunal in the fall on charges of aggravated theft, along with Claudio Sciarpeletti, 49, a computer technician in the offices of the Holy See who is charged with aiding and abetting the butler.

Gabriele, the indictment alleges, stole the pope’s papers because he said he felt the need to root out “evil and corruption in the church.” Gabriele was arrested May 23, shortly after the publication of a bestselling book that reproduced many internal letters and papers that seemed to indicate not only a power struggle and backbiting between factions within the church, but also corruption and price-fixing in purchasing for the Vatican city-state.

He was held in a cell in the Vatican police barracks before being transferred to house arrest in July. As a member of what is known as the papal household, Gabriele, a layman, lives with his wife and children inside Vatican City.

Gabriele’s attorneys have said that he cooperated with the authorities and that he acted alone, despite a barrage of news reports in the Italian media saying that a number of insiders had become whistle-blowers eager to shed light on unsavory goings-on within Vatican walls.

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U.S. nuns meet with Vatican over its critique of their work

VATICAN CITY -– Top doctrinal officials at the Vatican met Tuesday with Roman Catholic nuns from the United States who are seeking to mitigate a harsh Vatican judgment of the organization they represent.

Statements from both sides described as open and cordial the meeting between two senior Vatican officials and the American nuns who have been accused of promoting "radical feminism."

The controversial assessment has prompted a large show of support for the sisters. But the Vatican reiterated Tuesday that it expects the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to change its ways to energetically promote church doctrine “as faithfully taught through the ages.”

LCWR President Sister Pat Farrell said in a statement that “it was an open meeting and we were able to directly express our concerns” to Cardinal William Levada, who heads the Vatican’s doctrinal office, and Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, the man chosen to oversee reforms ordered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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Another earthquake strikes northern Italy; at least 13 dead


ROME -- A strong earthquake on Tuesday devastated north-central Italy for the second time in less than two weeks, leaving at least 13 people dead, some 200 injured and 14,000 homeless.

Seismologists said that the worst of the dozens of shocks felt throughout the day in the Emilia Romagna region came about 9 a.m. and registered magnitude 5.8. Factories collapsed, roofs of homes caved in and, as with the magnitude 6.0 quake in the same area on May 20, historic towers and churches crumbled into massive piles of bricks.

News reports said that 12 people were still missing and rescue squads continued to look through the rubble in the affected towns, most of them small but distinguished for their historic centers, some dating to the 14th century.

Seven people were killed and about 5,000 left without homes in the May 20 quake. Many of those were being housed in tents set up in fields.

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Police in Rome exhume gangster's body in 29-year-old cold case

ROME -- Investigators disinterred the body of a notorious gang leader from a crypt in a Rome basilica Monday, disturbing his rest among long-dead popes, cardinals and nobles in search for clues to the disappearance of a 15-year-old girl nearly three decades ago.

Surrounded by television crews and curious onlookers, medical examiners and technicians opened the three-layered coffin of Enrico de Pedis, the leader of a ruthless organized crime gang known as the Banda della Magliana. Fingerprints taken on the scene showed that the man in the coffin was indeed De Pedis, who was gunned down in central Rome 22 years ago.

But authorities were really hunting for clues -- and perhaps even a second corpse -- to help them solve the case of Emanuela Orlandi, whose June 1983 disappearance has become one of Italy's most enduring mysteries. Her body was never found.

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Rome pushes costumed gladiators away from Colosseum


Every day on WorldNow, we choose a striking photo from around the world. Today we picked this image of a costumed centurion giving a thumbs-up outside the Colosseum in Rome, a photo-op that might disappear.

Rome has pushed before to get rid of the costumed gladiators and centurions who ring the Colosseum, ready to draw their weapons and pose with tourists for a price. According to news reports, the Eternal City has passed a law banning unauthorized people from asking for money outside the famous attraction.

The faux fighters have gotten in trouble before: Several gladiators were arrested by undercover police in August after tourists complained of scams and threats to get money, the Guardian reported.

Officials say gladiators and centurions will still be able to work elsewhere, including the road leading  to the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Renaissance Piazza Navona, news services reported.

The costumed vendors aren't happy. “This will end badly. We’ll wage a revolution. We’ll burn down the Colosseum rather than move from here,” said one centurion  quoted by Adn Kronos International.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A man dressed as an ancient Roman centurion at the Colosseum on Friday. Credit: Filippo Monteforte / AFP/Getty Images


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