Page 4 of 4   <      

As Italy's Banks Tighten Lending, Desperate Firms Call on the Mafia

"I had hoped I could pay him back in a month," he said, shaking his head.

Over and over he drove to the lot where Mauro also leased heavy construction equipment. He pulled in beside a Porsche and Lamborghini and gave Mauro whatever cash he had toward the escalating interest payments.

When he couldn't keep up, the threatening calls at night started. "Be careful," the voice would say.

That's when he called police and hired a lawyer.

"How did I get to this point?" he said, his tired eyes tearing up.

He said he wanted to tell his story because, as the economic crisis deepens, more and more lives are being destroyed by loan sharks.

"I could have decided to go bankrupt and not gotten involved with all this," he said. "But that is a hard decision to make."

Special correspondent Sarah Delaney contributed to this report.


<             4

© 2009 The Washington Post Company