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Dirty Laundry Bags Mafia Boss

Italy's anti-Mafia investigators have long battled money laundering. Now they're cracking down on jailed mobsters' dirty laundry.

Imprisoned Mafia boss Leonardo Vitale smuggled messages out of prison in laundry given to visiting relatives so he could keep running extortion rackets targeting vintners in the countryside near Partinico, outside Palermo, prosecutors said Monday.

The revelation came as police arrested 24 people in connection with the extortion ring, including Vitale's wife, whom investigators said received and transmitted her husband's orders so he could continue running the Vitale clan from behind bars.

More than 300 police officers, aided by helicopters and police dogs, scoured the Partinico area at dawn Monday to carry out the arrests on charges of Mafia association and extortion.

The discovery of Vitale's smuggled messages was the latest indication that Italy's supposedly extra-tough treatment of mob bosses had cracks. Critics say Italian law is too benevolent toward mobsters, despite a much-publicized toughening of conditions for convicted organized crime members.

"Bosses, when they're sent to their cells, want to continue communicating with the outside world and still today, unfortunately, they succeed in doing so," said Palermo Prosecutor Alfredo Morvillo, one of the prosecutors who signed 24 arrest warrants targeting the Vitale crime clan.

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