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Italian Police Conduct Raids on Brothels Posing as Cinemas

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In one case, Genoa's Cinema Centrale was closed after police found "homosexuals, transsexuals, boys, girls, and women" there peddling their services.

ROME -- Police in recent days conducted a series of secret sting operations on cinemas across northern Italy on suspicion that the facilities were being used as fronts for brothels.

It is not clear how many cinemas were raided or how many arrests were made, but one high-profile case has come to light: the Cinema Centrale in the northwestern Italian port city of Genoa, which, according to police, played films haphazardly "spliced together without concern for plot, or endlessly looped."

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According to an article in the Genoa edition of the La Repubblica newspaper, customers could buy a film ticket and gain entry into a cinema where, "homosexuals, transsexuals, boys, girls, and women" proffered their services "on theater seats, in the bathrooms, the foyer, and even the projection room."

Local police did not return calls seeking comment.

According to reports, 19 people, including the cinemas two managers, are under investigation for facilitating prostitution. The cinema has been closed while the investigation takes place.

The Cinema Centrale is a historic two-screen cinema near the main train station in Genoa that had fallen on hard times with the proliferation of larger multi-screen cinemas in and near the city of 600,000 residents.

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Prostitution involving legal adults is legal in Italy, but brothels have been outlawed since 1958.

The country's prostitution laws have earned headlines in Italy since 2010 when then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was charged with paying an under-age girl, Karima el-Mahroug (best known as "Ruby the Heartstealer"), for sex. The 76-year-old media tycoon was found guilty of the charges last year, and the verdict is currently under appeal.

Twitter: @EricJLyman