CASERTA - "What stage are we in now?" a lady asks by phone.

"No contractions yet," answers another female voice from the other end of the line. The faint sound of an irritated gesture can be heard, before the lady wonders: "if there's another one available?" This was the kind of routine call at the "baby supermarket," a brutal black market of newborns Italy's carabinieri military police have uncovered in the Caserta region near Naples.

According to the investigation, led by the Public Prosecutor's Office of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, the racket was organized so that young women were recruited in Bulgaria, and babies were sold to childless couples in Italy. Each newborn child cost 20,000 euros, with transport and office registration included. Once a child was born, the new "dad" told the office registry that the baby was indeed his child, the fruit of an extra-marital affair with a Bulgarian lady that his wife has since forgiven.

The three people arrested are a married Bulgarian couple and an Italian man from Caserta.

The investigation started in 2009 when the carabinieri started to examine the list of about 20 children, all born in the region of Campania to Italian fathers and Bulgarian mothers. At their first analysis of the list, investigators noticed that the same mobile number was written down in the "next-of-kin contact" on the birth certificate for two different cases. This was Antonio Maione's number: the 56-year-old is believed to be the "broker" of infertile couples who were desperate for a child. In a phone call recorded by police detectives, he can be heard announcing a birth to a new would-be father: "Come over, he's born. Congratulations, you're a Dad!"

A father of 13

Maione's personal story is strange, as he himself is the father of 13 children from 5 different women. When asked about the reason for such numerous offspring, he reportedly replied that he was an only child himself and he missed company as a kid. Eight cases are currently being screened by investigators, but only in two have they managed to piece the process from the start up to the moment when the child is handed to the Italian buyers.

Stefan and Anna, the Bulgarian couple, had the task of going to their native country and spotting pregnant women who would be ready to give up the baby in exchange for cash.

The chosen girls, who were often eight-months pregnant, were brought to Italy to give birth in a clinic of the Casertano region. They entered the country through Greece, and went back home to Bulgaria once the deal was completed. Getting the girls was an easy job for the Bulgarian couple, so much that in more than one instance, Anna, whose calls have been intercepted, has an argument with Maione, whom she accuses of not working enough.

"I did find the couples," the Italian says, defending himself. "The problem is they don't have the money." In only one case was the payment of the negotiated price recorded, when the couple who "purchased" the child had signed a loan contract for 20,000 euros.  

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Photo - Wikipedia