Mafia's new business enterprise: renewable energy
Willie Sutton, a notorious thief from the 1930's, was once asked why he robbed banks. "Because that's where the money is," he replied.
So where's the money today? Government subsidies for renewable energy - massive subsidies with little oversight.
In Europe, this means easy pickings for organized crime. And the Sicilian mafia is cleaning up.
The still-emerging links of the mafia to the once-booming wind and solar sector here are raising fresh questions about the use of government subsidies to fuel a shift toward cleaner energies, with critics claiming huge state incentives created excessive profits for companies and a market bubble ripe for fraud. China-based Suntech, the world's largest solar panel maker, last month said it would need to restate more than two years of financial results because of allegedly fake capital put up to finance new plants in Italy. The discoveries here also follow so-called "eco-corruption" cases in Spain, where a number of companies stand accused of illegally tapping state aid.
Because it receives more sun and wind than any other part of Italy, Sicily became one of Europe's most obvious hotbeds for renewable energies over the past decade. As the Italian government began offering billions of euros annually in subsidies for wind and solar development, the potential profitability of such projects also soared - a fact that did not go unnoticed by Sicily's infamous crime families.
Roughly a third of the island's 30 wind farms - along with several solar power plants - have been seized by authorities. Officials have frozen more than $2 billion in assets and arrested a dozen alleged crime bosses; corrupt local councilors and mafia-linked entrepreneurs. Italian prosecutors are now investigating suspected mafia involvement in renewable energy projects from Sardinia to Apulia.
"The Cosa Nostra is adapting, acquiring more advanced knowledge in new areas like renewable energy that have become more profitable because of government subsidies," said Teresa Maria Principato, the deputy prosecutor in charge of Palermo's Anti-Mafia Squad, whose headquarters here are emblazoned with the images of assassinated judges. "It is casting a shadow over our renewables industry."
In the US, we don't need the mafia to rob us blind. All we need is Barack Obama and his clueless energy department to throw loans at Obama cronies who are running green schemes with little or no hope of profitability. Flawed business plans and mismangement, not to mention misreading the market, all combine to condemn taxpayer dollars to oblivion once failure is inevitable and bankruptcy occurs.
The stim bill threw $80 billion at renewable energy companies. How much of that went down a rabbit hole and into the pockets of corrupt businessmen who laughed all the way to the bank? We almost certainly will never know.