An Italian man faked being disabled for 12 years in order to claim £118,000 in benefits along with special privileges including meeting the Pope, police say.
Roberto Guglielmi, 55, from Florence, pretended to be wheelchair-bound following a car accident in 2007 – but in fact the crash was faked along with his disability, prosecutors say.
Guglielmi even injected his legs with an anesthetic to weaken the muscle tone and underwent painful physical therapy in order to fool doctors, it is alleged.
Italian conman spends 12 years in a wheelchair to fake disability
He was caught on Tuesday at Florence’s international airport returning from a holiday in Togo when authorities say he walked off the plane without assistance.
Police say Guglielmi devised the scheme in 2007 along with his house-mate as a way for the pair to avoid paying rent,reports.
The housemate agreed to fake hitting Guglielmi with his car, who then managed to attain a faked medical certificate saying he was unable to walk.
As a result he was granted a disability allowance which allowed him to pay an at-home carer, was given a disabled parking bay outside his home and allowed use of disabled parking bays and driving lanes.
Over the years, prosecutors say Guglielmi’s deceptions became more and more extreme as he became a campaigner for disabled rights in local newspapers.
One man even claims that Guglielmi told him that he was a police veteran who was crippled in a shootout with criminals, reports.
Before he was arrested, the man was even planning to run for elected office, according to the newspaper.
Perhaps his greatest deception came in 2014 when, after writing to the Vatican to explain his story, he was put in contact with Pope Francis.
After a brief correspondence he was granted an audience with Francis the following year and posted images to his Facebook page of the meeting.
He wrote: ‘The sky has reopened for me. I told him my gratitude, he was affectionate. I returned home with joy and with a spirit full of hope.’
Guglielmi is also said to have kept up his deception in front of close friends and acquaintances, who also believed he was disabled.
But prosecutors say that while he maintained this deception in public, at home and while outside of Florence he walked around normally, including in front of his carer.
Hidden camera footage taken by detectives inside Guglielmi’s home appears to show walking around with little difficulty.
Investigators say they have also interviewed the carer and she has confirmed that Guglielmi’s disability was a con.
He is now being held under house arrest while further investigations are carried out.
A judge has also raised the prospect of forcing him to pay multiple stays in hospital and private clinics while his disability was being assessed.