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Gangsters persuaded people to have their limbs smashed in insurance scam, police say

(CNN) Sicilian gangs persuaded drug addicts, alcoholics and people with mental health issues to have their limbs broken and then staged fake car accidents to get hundreds of thousands of euros as insurance payouts, according to police, who have broken up the scam.

Prosecutors in Palermo said 11 people, who were part of two connected criminal organizations, were arrested for taking part in the scheme that resulted in the January 2017 death of a Tunisian man during the staging of one of those accidents.

Gangsters picked their victims -- mostly the young and vulnerable with histories of drug addiction, poverty, alcoholism and mental health issues -- and with the promise of a wealthy insurance compensation crushed their arms and legs, police said in a statement that CNN obtained. The suspects often used 20-kilogram (44-pound) cast-iron weights similar to those in gyms, authorities said.

A nurse at Civico hospital in Palermo is accused of providing anesthetics from her workplace to help those injured to cope with their pain.

Then the gang would stage a fake accident by hiring false witnesses and recovering the vehicles involved to cash in between 100,000 and 150,000 euros (about $116,000 to $174,000) from insurance payouts.

The victims, who were reduced to using wheelchairs or crutches after being seriously injured, received as little as a few hundred euros from the scheme, police said.

Rodolfo Ruperti, head of the Palermo police operations squad, told local media the gang lured about 20 people in three months into the scam.

"The victims were always a little complacent as in the first part of the scheme they would give their consent," he said, "although we don't know whether they were (of) sound mind."

CNN's Valentina DiDonato contributed to this report.
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