A convicted drugs trafficker with links to the Italian mafia has been living in a flat above a Lancashire off-licence while claiming housing benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Giuseppe Persico was previously on the run from the Italian authorities for drugs offences and was convicted of drugs trafficking in November 2008 when he was extradited to Italy.
It is understood he served a three-year jail term there, but returned to his old haunts in Chorley on his release and has been living on benefits.
Sources say he even sought assistance from the Help the Homeless charity in Chorley. He hit the headlines five years ago when his links to the notorious Naples mafia, the Camorra, emerged.
When the Evening Post caught up with Persico, he denied ever being a member of the mafia and claimed the Italian authorities had jailed him with no evidence.
He said: “I’m trying to live a normal life. I am not a member of the mafia. If I was a member of the mafia I would have money.
“There’s a simple explanation. I was born in Naples where there are a lot of people in the mafia and if you are ever seen talking to anyone in a bar, they think you are too.”
He admitted he had previously been arrested, in 1997, but would not say why.
Persico previously lived and worked in Chorley for two years while on the run.
He had been working with a removals firm in Adlington, and had lived in Geoffrey Street and Eaves Lane.
He was a regular in the Bretherton Arms in the town.
But in 2007, police swooped on him at Faro airport in Portugal and extradited him to Italy, where he was jailed for drugs trafficking.
It came 18 months after a mafia don, Gennaro Panzuto, was extradited from Lancashire on behalf of the Italian authorities.
Panzuto then turned into a supergrass, confessing to involvement in mafia murders and naming other members.
He had been living a secret life in Cock Robin Lane, Catterall, near Garstang, with his wife and children.
In one conversation, Persico told the Evening Post he had no links to Panzuto, but then called him a “grass”.
Then in a second phone call Persico admitted: “I had met him once. He asked me to act as his interpreter so he could rent a house. I was living near him at the time. I tried for a couple of days then I had enough.
“I didn’t know him in Naples.”
Persico claims on his release from prison in Rome in November 2011 he returned to the UK because he had a girlfriend in Lancashire.
A few months ago the 37-year-old, who is now single, moved to a flat above Stump Lane Stores on Stump Lane, an ordinary looking street of terrace homes, where he lived alone.
But his attempts at clean living did not last long – four weeks ago he fled the property and his landlord alleges he left an unpaid £900 rent bill behind him.
When asked why he returned to Lancashire with no job, no means to support himself and no family here he joked: “I like the weather.”
As Persico has served his sentence and is an EU citizen he is entitled to live in England and claim benefits, regardless of his mafia links.
Today outraged Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle said he would be taking the matter up with the Foreign Secretary.
He said: “Quite rightly this is what brings membership of the EU into question in people’s minds.
“First of all what is he doing in the country, why is he allowed in, is he a risk to people? What we do know is that many taxpayers will be asking why they are paying for a citizen from overseas with alleged mafia links to claim benefits.
“I will be writing to the Foreign Secretary and expressing concerns with the minister responsible.”
Previously a friend of Persico’s told the Evening Post he had scars from gunshots and stab wounds all over his body and still had open wounds when he first came to Lancashire in 2007 – but Persico denied ever having been shot.
His landlord, who did not wish to be named, told the Evening Post he had met Persico a few years ago while drinking in the Bretherton Arms on nearby Eaves Lane.
He said: “I knew he had been wanted by the Italian authorities previously but that he had returned.
“As far as I know he had no job and was receiving benefits towards his rent.
“He did pay at first but he has not paid the last couple of months and he basically did a runner, owing £900.”
A worker at Stump Lane Stores, beneath the flat, said Persico used to go into the shop to collect his post as he did not have a post box.
He said: “He lived here for about four months but left about a month ago.
“He used to come in to get his post but did not seem bothered about it. He had a letter from TV Licensing but he just ripped it up and threw it away.”
Persico had registered his name on the electoral role.
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “ We are not currently investigating Persico”.
A spokesman from the Help the Homeless charity in Chorley, said he could not confirm he had been helped by the charity and said individual cases could not be discussed.
Coun Peter Wilson, Deputy Leader of Chorley Council, said: “We cannot give any information about whether an individual has or is claiming benefits because it is personal information that we cannot disclose.
“In terms of the process of administering housing and/or council tax benefit we do not check any criminal wanted lists or ask any questions relating to convictions, which is standard procedure across all local authorities.”
However, an Evening Post source said Persico had been claiming housing benefit from the council towards the cost of his accommodation.
In order to be eligible for these benefits, a person is usually on another benefit like Jobseeker’s Allowance.
The Department for Work and Pensions would not confirm if they had given Persico Jobseeker’s Allowance.