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ROME (AP) — Italy's civil aviation authority on Friday suspended the license of the helicopter pilot who flew low over Rome to drop flower petals during the over-the-top funeral of a purported local crime boss, the first head to roll in a scandal that has outraged city residents.
In addition to the flower petals, the funeral Thursday of Vittorio Casamonica featured a gilded, horse-drawn carriage carrying his casket and a band playing "The Godfather" theme outside the church.
The level of ostentation prompted Italy's interior minister to demand an explanation from city officials — especially after reports that police and Carabinieri patrols accompanied the funeral procession.
Police identified Casamonica as a leader of the eponymous clan active in the southwest part of the capital but said he was "on the margins" of organized crime and hadn't emerged as a suspect in recent mafia investigations.
A chastened Rome prefect Franco Gabrielli said Friday that such a scene of adulation for a purported mobster "never should have taken place."
In an interview with the Catholic publication Famiglia Cristiana, Gabrielli blamed a breakdown in communications caused partly by August holiday absences, saying neither he nor the police chief learned about the police escort in time to do anything about it.
The civil aviation authority ENAC said it was suspending the license of the pilot as a precaution, given that single-engine helicopters are prohibited from flying over the capital. ENAC said the helicopter also flew below the 1,000-foot (330-meter) limit and violated regulations by tossing out objects without authorization.
The priest who celebrated the Mass, meanwhile, defended himself. The Rev. Giancarlo Manieri said he had no idea what was going on outside the church, that he did his job by celebrating a sober funeral of a practicing Catholic, and that he received no prohibition from doing so from his superiors.
Asked by Sky TG24 if he would do it all over again, Manieri said: "Probably, yes. I do my job."
"It's not up to me to block a funeral," he said.
Manieri added that as soon as church officials saw the posters praising Casamonica affixed to the church they took them down.
One read: "You conquered Rome, now you'll conquer Paradise." Another featured an outsized image of Casamonica, looking very papal in white with a cross around his neck, superimposed over an image St. Peter's Basilica and the Colosseum with the words "King of Rome" underneath.
The funeral was the latest scandal to rock Rome following a summer of revelations of mafia-linked corruption among politicians and a breakdown in public transport and other services.
"It seemed like being inside a movie set. Ostentatious luxury, horses decorated in black, a carriage with golden decoration that probably not even Queen Elizabeth could afford," resident Walter Grubissa said Friday.
Others said the service itself was sober.
"People inside the church followed the ceremony with care," said Giovanni Segatori of the San Giovanni Bosco parish.
AP video producer Paolo Santalucia contributed.
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