On Thursday, Andrea Grassi, a 33-year-old bricklayer, was excavating in the tunnel under Via Innocenzo XI with a pickaxe and shovel when the roof of the tunnel gave way, leaving him buried under the rubble.
Firefighters managed to free Grassi after some 8 hours underground by digging a parallel ten-meter tunnel to extract him alive. He was taken to the San Camillo hospital where he is considered to be in serious but not life-threatening condition.
Grassi, along with accomplices collectively referred to by Italian media as the “hole gang” had rented a defunct laundromat on the street. The basement of the laundromat served as the starting point for the tunnel, believed to be directed to a nearby bank, of which there are three within a 200-meter range.
The excavated passage had nearly reached a sewer tunnel that leads to a spot just four meters from the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank, their likely target.
Investigators discovered dozens of bags of dirt in the basement of the shop, which is only a half mile from Vatican City.
Two of the gang of four are from Naples (Italy), 57-year-old Mario Mazza and 46-year-old Antonio Pinto, while the other two — 35-year-old David Sciavarrello and Andrea Grassi — are from Rome. All four have police records from prior convictions.
Mazza reportedly has a record of theft, beginning with an arrest in 2004 for 15 counts of armed robbery in the Italian region of Liguria, where he and his cohort would rent an apartment next to a bank or post office. Breaking through the wall, the armed gang would hold up the establishment and empty its coffers.
In 2010, Mazza stole gems worth a million euros from one of the most important jewelers in Naples. Pinto, on the other hand, was part of a large cigarette smuggling gang who probably met Mazza in prison in 2011.
The two Neapolitans were apprehended by plainclothes carabinieri — military police — as they attempted to flee the scene. They were detained for resisting arrest but later released, to await trial set for December 20.
While the four denied knowing each other, video footage and police investigations reveal that they were often seen together.
Local media also report that the “hole gang” was likely working with a mole within a local bank. The diggers had maps of the sewers, routes to take between cavities and cellars, and precise information, including timetables to be respected to empty the vault of the bank.
Some have speculated the proposed heist could have been planned for the August 15 feast of Ferragosto, when stores are closed and many people are out of town.
Andrea Grassi’s parents have defended their son, telling police that he “worked for 50 euros a day. They told him to dig and he dug.”