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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Trevi fountain 'copycat' thieves arrested
Roberto Cercelletta being arrested
Police have vowed to arrest all Trevi fountain thieves
A pair of copycat coin thieves have been arrested after they waded into Rome's famous Trevi fountain to fish for change.

The pair reeled in 200 euros ($195) before police intervened and charged them with theft.


It was as if they went into a church and emptied the collection box,

Massimo Improta, Police Chief
They were imitating the habits of d'Artagnan, a 50-year-old man who spent 34 years raiding the fountain for change until he was discovered by police on Tuesday and banned from the fountain.

Every day, thousands of tourists stand with their backs to the Renaissance monument and toss coins over their shoulders into the water pool in a tradition that is said to guarantee they will return to Rome.

Several hundred euros a day gather in the basin, and are supposed to be donated to a local charity.

D'Artagnan, whose real name is Roberto Cercelletta, reportedly netted up to 1,000 euros a day on his early morning sorties to the fountain.

Roberto Cercelletta fishing in Trevi fountain
Cercelli lived off the fountain for decades
On Wednesday police set up motion sensors and video cameras, warning that anyone caught entering the fountain would be arrested.

But Mr Cercelletta was not so easily deterred.

Despite his ban, the famous eccentric returned to the Trevi fountain, shouted to the crowd, and lightly slashed his ample belly with a blade as a form of protest.

Later, he scuffled with police and was arrested.

"If I'm dying of hunger and am forced to return to the fountain to get money, if they try to stop me then, I will cut myself again," he said from his mobile phone at his house in the Roman suburbs.

Mr Cercelletta said he only fished for coins six days out of seven, leaving the charity Caritas to collect on the seventh day. Rome city authorities estimate charities have lost out on as much as 12,000 euros a month.

Copycat crimes

Media coverage of Mr Cercelletta's illicit career inspired the copycats to try their luck.

On Friday, a cash-strapped 41-year-old woman and her 25-year-old son waded in, ignoring shouted police warnings.

They were caught after grabbing five kilograms of loose change.

"It was as if they went into a church and emptied the collection box," said local police chief Massimo Improta.

"People have to understand that they can't reap profits from money destined for charity."

Caritas now receives about 1,250 euros a day from the fountain, which is used to help Aids patients.

See also:

09 Jun 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
17 Feb 00 | Europe
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