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PORDENONE, Italy — A former Italian employee of Aviano Air Base has received 10,000 euros from the U.S. government, but says he is owed another 10,000.

And if an agreement on that money isn’t worked out before a series of court dates in April, his lawyer, Roberto Russi, said the bill will keep climbing.

Italian courts have consistently ruled in favor of Mauro Martin, who worked at the base from 1975 to 1991, Russi said Saturday.

When Martin was laid off in 1991, the U.S. owed him the equivalent of about 5,000 euros. But instead of paying all the money to him, payments were instead made to creditors. Under Italian law, only 20 percent of such payments can be made to creditors.

Martin took the matter to court and won a series of decisions beginning in 1994. The process then stalled, with Martin left searching for a way to collect.

Italians aren’t allowed to go onto U.S. military facilities and seize property in such cases. So Martin and Russi eventually targeted a warehouse outside the base that housed goods sold by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. About 20,000 euros worth of goods — including mattresses, barbecues, a lawn mower and other items — were set aside in August by a delegation that included Russi and a court representative.

The U.S. Department of Justice, represented by Italian lawyers, objected to that seizure, arguing that AAFES goods were not U.S. government property and were intended to benefit servicemembers and their families.

On Dec. 1, a judge in Pordenone disagreed with that assessment and ruled the goods could legitimately be seized. Following that, Russi said, Martin received a check of about 10,000 euros.

The U.S. side argued that the goods should then be freed up, he says, and it launched appeals with the court on the judge’s ruling and the legitimacy of seizing such goods. It also argued that the amount of goods under seizure should be cut in half because of the payment it had made.

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, acknowledged in an e-mail earlier this month that the U.S. had made the payment. But he said it disagreed with the amount of money it owed and other aspects of the case “and so the case remains active.”

Russi said he believes the seized goods are still under wraps in the AAFES warehouse but legal action would likely be brought if they’re not there.

A three-judge panel in Pordenone heard a U.S. appeal on Feb. 1. Russi said it essentially recommended that the two sides settle their differences before another hearing scheduled for May 17. Other appeals are scheduled for April 3 and 17 and Russi said he’s obligated under Italian regulations to increase his bill to his client if those motions go forward.

He said three-quarters of the money already paid to Martin went to the lawyer who originally represented him and won the initial battles of the case. Russi, who has been working on collecting the money for Martin for four years, received the remainder.

Russi said he believes the U.S. is continuing to fight the case — and may decide to appeal rulings to Trieste and Rome as it did originally — in order to avoid setting a precedent in Italy. He said he’s aware of doctors who have won rulings against the U.S. military in Vicenza and believes it’s likely there are other cases out there.

Valentina Scheu provided translation for this report.

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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