The small Sicilian town of Castelvetrano has recently set a new record for the biggest municipal debt in the country after an accounting review conducted by the country’s Interior Ministry found a staggering €42 million missing from municipal coffers. An investigation subsequently revealed that roughly two-thirds of the town’s 30,000 residents reportedly failed to pay their taxes over the past five years, largely due to mob influences.
The Sicilian town, nestled in the western interior of the island near Trapani, gained notoriety as the birthplace of the mafia’s top godfather, Matteo Messina Denaro. Italian authorities believe that the mobster is hiding out in the Sicilian countryside around Castelvetrano, helped and abetted by a web of conspirators. Denaro is wanted in relation to a number of crimes – including several murders – but has not been seen publically since 1993. The police have regularly searched properties in the surrounding area for insight into his location but haven’t had any success in tracking him down. Meanwhile, mob influence in the area remains pervasive.
According to Italian authorities, the mafia-controlled municipal government turned a blind eye to systematic tax evasion in the town for half of a decade. The city sent out tax notices to residents, but these were routinely ignored or returned to sender, and city officials reportedly ignored the unpaid notices, aware that the cases would simply expire after five years under Italy’s statute of limitations. The mob also exerted control of the town’s management of bids, permits, and administrative tasks. Private companies that secured bids to provide the town with services also reportedly routinely reneged on their tax obligations. Notably, the private enterprise that installed Castelvetrano’s water treatment plant owes the municipal administration an estimated €1.7 million. The company that modernized the town’s public lighting network has a tax debt of €1.8 million, and the company responsible for waste removal has a debt of €700,000.
An investigation revealed that mobsters had so thoroughly infiltrated the government that last year, Italy’s president opted to dissolve the entire Castelvetrano municipal administration and assign a special commission to clean house. Salvatore Caccamo, an official from the Interior Ministry, was tasked with leading these efforts. Caccamo is currently heading up a commission in the town to look into the tax evasion and is actively working to collect information on some 1,400 cases. So far, the commission has had limited success in cracking the cases but is optimistic that it can prevent tax evasion of such scale in the town in the future.