As a defense, it has all the simplicity, all the elegance—and all the flair—of a Gucci handbag. On trial in Milan for commissioning the murder of her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, 46, the heir to the storied fashion house who was gunned down in the northern Italian city three years ago, Patrizia Reggiani, 50, readily acknowledged that she had often voiced her desire to have him killed. After all, she said, she was angry with him, as any scorned wife would be. She told the court, \”I said it to at least 10 people, \’Find me a killer, because if you don\’t I\’ll kill him with my own two hands.\’ \” But, she insisted, the last thing she expected was for anyone to take her seriously. Her murderous musings, she explained, were nothing more than a harmless \”obsession.\”
Whether the court will buy her line—or will agree with prosecutor Carlo Nocerino that Reggiani used her longtime confidante, Pina Auriemma, 52, to recruit a team of hit men—remains an open question. The trial, which began in May and is likely to stretch on for another two months after an August recess, has riveted Italy with its tales of scheming, ineptitude and greed among the glitterati of Italian society.
According to Nocerino, Reggiani\’s prime motive was money. She and Maurizio—the parents of two daughters, Alessandra, now 21, and Allegra, 17—were married in 1972. During their early years together, Maurizio occupied a series of management jobs in the profitable but relatively sleepy Gucci empire, founded\’ by his visionary grandfather Guccio Gucci. Certainly Maurizio supported his family well enough. Their home was a sprawling penthouse apartment in central Milan, and they had a four-chalet getaway complex in the Swiss resort of St. Moritz. In 1983, when Maurizio\’s domineering father, Rodolfo, died, he inherited half the Gucci company. \”Maurizio and I were the most beautiful couple in the world,\” testified Reggiani, who will never be accused of false modesty, but then \”it all went wrong.\”
In 1985 Maurizio abruptly dumped Reggiani. By most accounts, he packed his bags one day, went off on a trip and sent word to his wife that he didn\’t intend to come home. Reggiani testified that the couple had agreed that she would receive $150,000 a month to cover expenses. But often, she said, Maurizio would send her only $90,000, or less. \”He gave me the bones, but not the chicken,\” she said. Suddenly she had to worry about money, not to mention keeping up her social standing. And she fretted over losing the use of the Creole, the family\’s 206-foot yacht.
Almost as worrisome to Reggiani in the years after the split was her growing realization that Maurizio was not a gifted businessman. Without the guidance of his father or his savvy uncle Aldo, whom he had ousted in a boardroom coup, he lost his way in the deep waters of commerce, she testified. According to her, he was drinking too much and relying on prescription drugs, and he surrounded himself with dubious advisers. He was, she said, \”a pillow that took the form of whoever last sat there.\” By 1993, with the company plunging toward ruin, Maurizio was forced to sell out to the Bahrain-based Investcorp, which has since retooled it into one of the profit-making engines of fashion.
But according to the prosecution, what also set Reggiani off were reports that Maurizio was about to marry his longtime girlfriend, decorator Paola Franchi, 44, a union which could have further clouded daughters Alessandra and Allegra\’s chances of inheriting what was left of the family fortune. In court, Reggiani dismissed that notion. \”I don\’t think he would have married her,\” she said. \”He had more than one blue-eyed blonde who stayed three steps behind him.\”
In March 1995, as Maurizio walked through the entrance of his office in Milan, he was shot four times by a lone gunman. Reggiani testified that she was shocked by the killing, but not particularly grief-stricken. So, she claimed, when her old friend Auriemma approached her and said that some acquaintances had arranged the killing and now wanted to be paid $300,000 not to place the blame on Reggiani, Patrizia was prepared to go along. Why would an innocent person agree to such a blackmail scheme? \”With [the $300,000], I was paying for something that I always wanted,\” she matter-of-factly told the court. \”I didn\’t see it at first as blackmail, but something like an appropriate compensation.\”
But according to Auriemma, who is on trial for her role in the killing, Reggiani eagerly solicited the hit and even met with Ivano Savioni, 42, a hotel porter in Milan, to seek help in finding assassins. (In his testimony, Savioni confirmed the meeting, while Orazio Cicala, 59, the alleged driver of the getaway car, said Reggiani paid him and warned, \”It must be done soon, or I want my money back.\” The alleged triggerman, Benedetto Ceraulo, 39, a dealer in car parts, has denied any involvement.) Auriemma said she went along with the plot because she was down on her luck and felt loyalty toward Reggiani.
The defense contends that whatever the testimony against her, Reggiani, who had a brain tumor removed in 1992, lacked the capacity to arrange the killing. \”She focuses on details,\” said lawyer Giovanni Maria Dedola, \”but the part they removed from her brain was that of reasoning and judgment.\” But Reggiani, who faces a life sentence if convicted, may never have had particularly good judgment to begin with. It was she who once famously told a reporter, \”I would rather weep in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle.\” Of course in jail, where she has sat for the past year and a half, she has the opportunity for neither.
Sarah Delaney in Milan