ROME Italian police arrested five morticians on Wednesday on charges of making tens of thousands of euros a month in bribes from funeral homes and profiting from grieving families of the dead.
The morticians would tip off a favored funeral home when a corpse arrived and take kick-backs from the cost of the burial ceremony, Francesco Pastore, regional financial police chief in the central town of Pesaro, said by telephone.
They are thought to have made 10,000 euros ($13,800) a month each from the practice, Pastore said.
Corruption is a serious problem in Italy's public services, siphoning 60 billion euro ($82.69 billion) annually from national finances, according to its audit court.
Pastore said former employees of the hospital and town council of Pesaro also operated on bodies to remove pacemakers despite lacking the correct medical training.
Investigators are probing whether the heart-regulating devices were sold on the black market.
"These pacemakers in theory should have been destroyed. But instead we are trying to discover what happened to them. It cannot be excluded that they were reused," Pastore said.
Other accusations the morticians face include pocketing payments from families for preparing and dressing the dead rather than passing them on to the hospital, selling clothes, shoes and rosary beads for the dead at inflated cost, and giving formaldehyde injections without the proper medical training.
They were put under house arrest and 29 others including doctors and funeral home owners were charged with crimes including fraud, embezzlement and illegal medical practice.
(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary, editing by Catherine Hornby and Mark Heinrich)