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Italy scandal a labyrinth of intrigue

The governor made off to a monastery after having affairs with transsexuals, but not before the cops videotaped a tryst, all flesh and white powder, and offered to sell copies to a magazine owned by the prime minister, who, at the time, was rumored to be entangled with an underage Neapolitan model.

Then one of the transsexuals, a Brazilian named Brenda, turned up naked and dead, her laptop computer submerged under a running tap. Oh, yeah, and the drug dealer who supplied cocaine to the governor and Brenda would meet his own demise. It’s an odd coincidence.

Note to reader: The writer would love to pretend he has made all this up, but this is Italy, where one’s imagination pales beside the operatic brio of real-life librettos that unfold with delicious, unseemly decadence.

Piero Marrazzo, a married governor and onetime crusading TV reporter, was having a dalliance with Natalie on a July afternoon when four cops burst into her apartment and began recording with a cellphone camera. Marrazzo, blushing in his skivvies, found himself the victim of blackmail, while Natalie, a transsexual with an artistic flair for makeup, hit YouTube and the news show circuit.

Marrazzo resigned his government post and reportedly sought refuge in a Benedictine monastery. The police officers were arrested and charged with extorting about $27,500 from Marrazzo to keep the video hush-hush, even as they were peddling their scratchy little production to potential buyers.

Unpleasant as it all was, the tawdriness might have vanished in the clamor of unending Italian scandals had Brenda, who was Natalie’s friend and Marrazzo’s other lover, not been found dead in November.

She was asphyxiated when a suitcase surrounded by candles caught fire in her flat, filling it with smoke. Police say Brenda was drinking heavily and may have passed out, but that doesn’t explain why the laptop had been doused. It’s just the kind of revelation that sends the Italian media into a buzzing espresso high.

What was on the computer? More politicians in various throes of ecstasy and stages of undress?

Prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo doesn’t think so. Investigators found no incriminating tales on the hard drive, but Capaldo, a circumspect man, believes that Brenda was slain and so was the drug dealer, Gianguerino Cafasso, who overdosed in September on heroin and cocaine.

People here mutter of a byzantine, puppet-master political conspiracy to set up Marrazzo, an opposition center-left politician, and rub out anyone connected with the case, but there’s no proof. It appears to be a blackmail scheme by sloppy cops, but in Italy -- think of poor Caesar -- the tantalizing aura of political intrigue is too hard to ignore.

“We don’t know if anyone outside of the four officers was involved,” Capaldo said, predicting that the killings would be solved within weeks, but not disclosing the identities of the suspects. “The crime has potential political value. It speaks to the kind of political battle that’s fashionable these days in which one reaches to destroy his enemy not on the political stage but on a personal level.”

Enter billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose ego is somewhere between the size of his wardrobe and his bank account. A magazine in his media empire, Chi, was offered the video of Marrazzo and Natalie; the cops were arrested before negotiations got very far. But Berlusconi, a center-right politician, knows a political gift when he sees one. He likes to remind voters of Marrazzo’s, shall we say, exotic sexual proclivities while hinting at, but not quite admitting, his own more traditional conquests.

Berlusconi, 73, has denied allegations of an affair with the teenage model, saying that nothing “spicy” happened. He has also suggested he was unaware that women at his villas, some romping naked, others dressed as Santa Claus, were escorts. His wife wants a divorce.

In a speech last month, the prime minister said, “When I see women, you know, I lose the thread of the conversation. But do you prefer people like me or the other ones, Marrazzo, for example?”

Ouch.

Word in the Italian press is that Marrazzo has done his penance and quit the monastery. He wants his old job back on state TV, which in a strange way may make him beholden to Berlusconi, who as head of the government has influence within the network.

Which brings us back to where it all started: Natalie’s apartment on Via Gradoli, the street where decades ago the leader of Italy’s murderous Red Brigades lived and the nation’s intelligence services reportedly rented addresses.

The portiere said that Natalie had left to spend time north in Perugia. Via Gradoli led to a wider boulevard and then to Via Due Ponti, where, through an underpass and up a hill, the door to Brenda’s flat was crisscrossed with police tape.

Brazilian transsexual prostitutes peeked from doorways; it was afternoon and they had yet to put on their working faces. China, as she calls herself, said, “Brenda could have been murdered. There’s lots of fear. It’s a big mess. Oh, and by the way, I only grant interviews if I get paid.”

She waved her hand and disappeared upstairs to meet Raphael, another friend of Brenda who also intimately knew Marrazzo, but like China, talks only for money. Alessia strolled up wearing a knit cap and carrying a purse of blue feathers. She said Brenda threw tantrums, took drugs and often seemed lost.

“But then she started seeing Marrazzo,” she said. “He came here many afternoons, and Brenda told me, ‘Alessia, we have no problems anymore.’ So we went shopping.”

Alessia glanced down at her ripped coat and unpainted nails: “I become more beautiful at night.”

China signaled from upstairs for Alessia to stop talking for free. Alessia considered this, mumbled something about a nightmare and wandered away.

Doors closed and it grew quiet on the edge of town.

jeffrey.fleishman

@latimes.com


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