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December 5, 2003

Italy police smash gang that exploited deaf - mutes

From: Reuters AlertNet, UK - Dec 5, 2003

ROME, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Italian police said on Friday they had arrested 17 members of a ring of Russian criminals who forced deaf-mute people to hawk trinkets and then pocketed their takings.

Police said the Russian mafia gang, based in the northeastern coastal city of Rimini, had brought at least 500 deaf-mute people from ex-Soviet republics, mainly Russia, to sell trinkets in streets, restaurants, or on public transport.

In some cases they tortured their victims to force them to take part in the scheme, worth about 1.5 million euros ($1.8 million) a year, police said at a news conference in Bologna.

Police were still searching for eight other suspected ring members and a further 18 people were under investigation.

Russian crime groups are also active in prostitution and the drugs trade on Italy's central Adriatic coast.

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