A Sicilian journalist hailed as an anti-Mafia hero has suffered an abrupt fall from grace, after police accused him of using his media power to extort money and passing off a vindictive act carried out by his mistress's jealous husband as a mob threat.
Pino Maniaci, the editor of the Telejato, a tiny independent TV station based in the small town of Partinico, near Palermo, made a name for himself over the past two decades with investigations into Cosa Nostra's illicit traffics and its ties to corrupt officials in the area.
His work won national and international praise. In 2011 Telejato was featured in a BBC report, while, last year, Maniaci was deemed an 'Information Hero' by Reporters Without Borders. However a police investigation has now revealed the veteran reporter, who toured Italian schools to tell students of his experience fighting the Mafia, has more than one skeleton in the cupboard.
Prosecutors investigating a crime syndicate in the nearby town of Borgetto found that Maniaci allegedly extorted small sums of money from the local mayor in exchange for a more lenient coverage of his troubled administration. Footage recorded on hidden cameras show the mayor, Gioacchino De Luca, handing the editor €466 (£370, $535) after the latter tells him he has information on a damning police report on the council's activities.
In a separate taped conversation, Maniaci is heard bragging with his lover that she was hired at the Partinico city council only thanks to his influence. "This morning I have to see him [the mayor, Salvatore Lo Biundo] again and will steal another €50," he is heard saying. "You scare them all with this television," she tells him in another phone call.
From the wiretappings, it also emerged that when the woman's jilted husband killed Maniaci's two dogs and hanged them outside his home, the journalist decided to spin the incident as Mafia-related. Despite knowing the identity of the culprit, he claimed the animals were slayed by the mob in retaliation for a Telejato investigation into cocaine trafficking.
The episode made headlines around the world, including on IBTimes UK, and Maniaci even received a phone of solidarity call from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The reporter is now facing extortion charges and has been temporarily banned from the provinces of Trapani and Palermo, which includes Partinico, a precautionary measure that de facto prevents him from carrying on with is work.
He denies wrongdoing, claiming the investigation was deliberately set up to discredit him. In an interview with TV show Le Iene he maintained that prosecutors in Palermo decided to punish him for one of his reports that last year snowballed in a major corruption probe into the alleged mismanagement by local authorities of assets seized from the Mafia worth billions.