The Italian Almanac

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Italian Life

A self-proclaimed 'psychic healer' who cheated the taxman out of millions of euros has been nabbed in Palermo. The Sicilian tax dodger had been betrayed by his love of flashy cars.

Giuseppe Lo Burgio, 60, was charged with evading some three million euros in taxes over a ten-year period in a probe triggered by the healer's bright red Ferrari. Tax police became suspicious after seeing Lo Burgio zipping around a run-down neighbourhood of Palermo in his Testarossa. They noted the number plate and began running checks on Lo Burgio, discovering over the course of a three-year investigation that he owned extensive property including several luxury villas and a collection of sports cars ranging from Porsches and Ferraris to Jaguars.

Police said Lo Burgio worked across the country as an energy healer and clairvoyant but had not declared any income for the past decade. They said they found bank accounts containing 300,000 euros in payments from his clients. Prosecutors, meanwhile, said it was not the first time the healer had been caught dodging his taxes. They said that in the early 1990s, he had been charged with evading some 1.7 billion of old lire in taxes. They also cited an incident in 2002, when Lo Burgio was stopped by police in his Ferrari and was found to be carrying false ID documents and a driving license.

The fortune that Lo Burgio managed to accumulate appeared to testify to Italians' love of magical healers, clairvoyants and the like. According to a 2002 study issued by the Eurispes research institute, some 9-10 million Italians, about 17% of the population, have resorted to the services of fortune-tellers, faith healers, magicians and purveyors of allegedly magical cures.

The report said fees ranged from 26-129 euros for palm-reading to just about anything for a lucky charm or amulet and up to 15,500 euros for an 'anti-AIDS potion'. Italy's broadcasting standards watchdog recently complained that Italian TV was "plagued" by fortune-tellers and seers.

Consumer rights' groups have called for a crackdown on the phenomenon, saying that too many people were falling for con artists. They also expressed alarm over the level of gullibility shown by some Italians. In 2002, a well-known 'wizard' from northern Italy was jailed after duping some of his clients into buying a place in paradise. Followers of Francesco De Barba, the so-called Magician of Sanremo, not only purchased guarantees of an afterlife from the wizard but also luxury apartments to ensure their comfort when they got there.