Source: The Weekend Australian, 6-7 February, 1999, p.??

Lotto's child cheats

Imperfect numbers: a blindfolded child at a lottery draw in Milan and, below, a woman  
fills in a Lotto form shortly after the scandal broke.

Italians, who spend squillions 
each year on Lotto, have been 
rocked, Clare Pedrick reports 
from Rome, by revelations of 
systematic lottery rigging 
FOR a nation whose passion 
for gambling is second only 
to its devotion to children, 
the discovery was doubly 
Italians have been shocked to learn that 
the lottery millions of them play each week 
in the hope of landing a life-changing 
windfall is not so much a game of chance as 
an elaborate confidence trick. 
Almost as distressing has been the revel- 
ation that the huge lottery fraud was rigged 
using children, who had been imperfectly 
blindfolded and coached to pick out pre- 
arranged numbers. 
Detectives investigating the scandal say 
they believe many of Italy's weekly lottery 
draws have been rigged for at least the past 
13 years. Investigators put illicit winnings 
from the scam at more than 133 billion lire 
($133 million), but the true figure is likely to 
be far higher as cases continue to emerge. 
The news has come as a cruel blow in a 
country where gambling is a national 
obsession, on a par with soccer and eating. 
The average Italian family spends a million 
lire a year on trying to win the sort of 
money that will enable its members to give 
up work and live in luxury. 
A hefty share of the annual 20,000 billion 
lire spent by Italians on betting goes on the 
Lotto, a lottery game based on predicting a 
winning series of numbers, which are 
extracted each week in 10 Italian cities. 
The police inquiry into the running of 
this most time-honoured of institutions has 
so far centred on Milan, where 13 people 
have been arrested. But the investigation is 
spreading rapidly to other Italian cities, 
with lotteries in Home, Genoa and Venice 
falling under heavy suspicion. 
Ironically, the plan to manipulate lottery 
results was dreamed up by the very group 
of officials appointed to oversee fair play in 
the draw - members of the Milanese 
finance police force. 
Architect of the fraud was Giuseppe 
Aliberti, 58, an employee at the finance 
police, who charged a percentage in return 
for tip-offs on upcoming winning numbers. 
Children aged between eight and 10, who 
are traditionally used in the Italian lottery 
to fish the winning numbers out of a 
revolving drum, were primed to select 
certain pre-arranged numbers. The ruse 
was engineered with the help of a faulty 
blindfold, which afforded the child some 
degree of vision. 
Hollow metal balls containing the perti- 
nent numbers were polished so they would 
be shinier than the others and would feel 
different to the touch. After the game, the 
children were given a toy and told to keep 
quiet. Some of them were relatives of 
officials caught up in the fraud. 
The rigged lottery system appears to have 
started out as a relatively low-key operation, 
aimed at earning Aliberti and his 
accomplices some extra cash for themselves 
and their families. Often, the fraudsters 
would pass on the winning numbers to their 
friends and relatives, who could then be sure 
of coming away with jackpot winnings. 
A colleague of Aliberti even distributed 
winning numbers to family members in the 
run-up to Christmas, telling them this was 
his present to them. 
On one occasion, a punter in Brescia won 
eight billion lire. Police have yet to identify 
the winner, but it is known that some of the 
corrupt officials involved in the ring had 
family in that northern Italian city. 
The game quickly spiralled out of hand 
when organised crime gangsters got word 
of the racket and demanded to be allowed 
in on it. Members of the Sacra Corona 
Unita, an emerging but particularly vicious 
crime syndicate from the south-eastern 
region of Apulia, insisted on being supplied 
with the lucky numbers. They are believed 
to have ploughed most of their winnings 
into buying narcotics for drug trafficking. 
When Aliberti and his accomplices tried 
to call a halt to the increasingly dangerous 
game, they and their families were bom- 
barded with death threats. One member of 
the ring awoke one morning to find his 
Mercedes saloon-a suspiciously flashy car 
for a clerk in the finance police squad- 
pitted with bullet holes as a warning. 
High-ranking finance police officers were 
equally unwilling to be left out. When one of 
Aliberti's superiors stumbled on the racket, 
he reportedly blackmailed his underling, 
demanding that he too be given a cut. 
When investigators finally caught up 
with Aliberti, he was almost relieved to 
confess everything. 
"I didn't make that much money out of it, 
but others did," he reportedly told police as 
he and his family were spirited away into 
hiding, to protect them from vengeful 
mobsters. "It all got out of control." 
The crooked finance police official has 
already spent most of the estimated 500 
million lire he made from the rigged lottery. 
The bulk of it reportedly went on buying an 
apartment for his grown-up son. 
Several worried relatives of officials 
involved in the ring have come forward to 
hand over their it/-gotten gains. So far, 
police have retrieved a total of 30 billion lire, 
including one billion lire recovered after a 
bank manager became suspicious about the 
sudden flow of cash into the account of one 
of his clients. 
Giorgio Raggi, a colleague of Aliberti who 
also made an estimated 500 million lire, 
fumed himself over to police when he 
realised that the ring's mastermind was 
bound to talk. 
"He's admitted everything," says his law- 
yer. "He became caught up in something 
that was bigger than he was. On some 
occasions, he was in charge of blindfolding 
the children. On others, he turned the 
handle of the revolving drum. Now he is 
tired and wants to give the money back." 
Investigators face the long and difficult 
task of sifting through records to discover 
the true extent of the lottery racket. Among 
wins that are being viewed with suspicion 
are two jackpots of 1.5 billion lire each, both 
of them in Milan. 
"By looking at past results, we are trying 
to uncover cases where players got unusu- 
ally high winnings," says Inspector Gio- 
vanni Pepe, one of the police officers 
heading the inquiry. "But it may not ever be 
possible to determine precisely which wins 
were rigged and which ones were genuine." 
Since the scandal broke, the Italian finance 
ministry and the organisation that runs the 
lottery have been inundated with calls from 
angry Italians, demanding to be compensated 
for the money they have lost. Some have 
threatened to take civil action against the 
State for faring to protect their interests. 
Yet, incredibly, the rigged lottery affair 
has done nothing to dent most Italians' 
mania for playing numbers. Immediately 
after the first arrests were made, a survey 
revealed that 55 per cent of people no longer 
had any faith in the lottery and only 32 per 
cent would play again in the future. 
But just days later, the number of bets 
being placed was as high as ever. Indeed, 
the stakes being played for the Superena- 
lotto, a national lottery with a jackpot 
currently standing at 57 billion lire, soared 
by 20 per cent on the previous week. 
In the wake of the Lotto scandal, all 
lottery draws are now being televised, and 
officials swear scrutiny will be drastically 
improved. One proposal under consider- 
ation even involves using a parrot. There 
are those who believe that in any case it is 
time to call a halt to the practice of using 
youngsters in such a grown-up spectacle. 
Child psychologists have warned that the 
children used in the rigged lottery scam 
may be left with indelible scars. 
Says Livia Pomodoro, chief magistrate at 
Milan's Tribunal: "To have used children in 
this kind of activity, even if nothing illicit 
was involved, is criminal in any case." 

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