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A major mafia clan in Italy skimmed millions in public funds intended for one of the biggest migrant welcome centers in the European country, authorities said Monday.

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(file photo)

Italian police arrested 68 people, including a priest and the head of a Catholic volunteer group called "Mercy," face a variety of charges, including extortion and fraud, for allegedly aiding the organized crime group, Arena, in their scheme.  

"Mercy" subcontracted catering services to companies run by the Arena clan, investigators said. The Arena clan allegedly skimmed some 36 million euros ($39.5 million) of the 103 million in public funds meant to go toward migrant care between 2006-2015.

"The welcome center and 'Mercy' were the ATMs of the mafia," an incredulous Carabinieri Gen. Giuseppe Governale said Monday.

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Rev. Edoardo Scordio, a parish priest affiliated with "Mercy," was the "organizer of a true system of exploitation of public funds destined for the migrant emergency," according to police. In 2007 he pocketed 132,000 euros (almost $145,000) for spiritual services that he offered the refugees, police said in a statement.

The Arena clan of the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta mob secured a lock on servicing the Isola di Capo Rizzuto migrant center in Crotone for the past 10 years, investigators said, thanks in part to its ties to "Mercy" and its head, Leonardo Sacco. 

Sacco's arrest took on political implications given the number of politicians -- even Pope Francis -- who have been photographed with him, including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Newsweek reported.

"Mercy" subcontracted catering services to companies run by the Arena clan, investigators said. The Arena clan allegedly skimmed some 36 million euros ($39.5 million) of the 103 million in public funds meant to go towards migrant care between 2006-2015.

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Part of the scam involved putting in for more meals than were actually provided, and then using the money to buy real estate, fancy cars and luxury boats, a prosecutor said.

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