Alleged extortion, pornographic images latest twist in NEX theft
A top Italian police official and a former Naval Exchange manager in La Maddalena, Sardinia, were placed under house arrest last week, charged with attempted extortion as part of an ongoing probe into roughly 1.5 million euros worth of merchandise allegedly stolen from the NEX warehouse and store.
In July, Carmine Di Martino lost his job as the NEX manager after Italian and U.S. officials raided homes of several NEX employees and confiscated truckloads of suspected stolen merchandise.
In an attempt to regain his job, Di Martino allegedly sought the help of Carabinieri officer Attilio Mele, saying he possessed a compact disc containing “compromising images of U.S. military personnel” that he threatened to make public, according to Capt. Cesare Antuonfermo of Italy’s finance police, the Guardia di Finanza.
Mele, who commanded the carabinieri station in La Maddalena at the time, then allegedly took the CD to the base commanding officer at Naval Support Activity La Maddalena, making the same threats if Di Martino was not reinstated, Antuonfermo said.
Antuonfermo declined to provide details on the content of the images because the matter still is under investigation, but characterized the images as “pornographic.” He said the images do not contain any child pornography.
After being approached by Mele, the base commander then reported the incident to the Guardia di Finanza, who is leading the investigation into the alleged thefts.
Because of the sensitivity of the case, and because of the ongoing investigation, Navy officials declined to comment.
“Our NCIS is working closely with the [Guardia di Finanza] and the whole matter is still under investigation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, a spokeswoman with Navy Region Europe. “Because of the sensitivity of the case, there are a lot of details we would not be privy to or release.”
Messages left with a lawyer for Mele and Di Martino were not returned.
A Navy Exchange spokesman did not respond to a query seeking information on Di Martino, such as his job position or his status with the NEX.
Last summer, agents from the Olbia and Santa Teresa precincts of the Guardia di Finanza, raided the homes of Navy Exchange employees, finding merchandise they suspected had been stolen from the NEX warehouse and store. Investigators needed two large moving-style trucks to haul the recovered merchandise, Antuonfermo said when interviewed in July.
The merchandise included television sets, barbecues, perfumes, computer monitor and equipment, jewelry, and even rolls of toilet paper, he had said.
Inconsistencies in the store’s inventory originally prompted an inquest by Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, who in late December or early January, contacted Italy’s finance police for help since suspects included Italians, Antuonfermo said. NCIS does not have jurisdiction to search off-base housing.
The U.S. Navy base at La Maddalena is slated to close in February. When the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land left La Maddalena in late September, it took with it most of the Navy base’s population.
The closure ends a 36-year history of U.S. presence, when a secret agreement between the U.S. and Italian governments — without the consent of Parliament at the time — set up the base at the height of the Cold War.