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Vandal fined, given suspended sentence in Rome fountain case

August 22, 1997

ROME (AP) _ The man who broke off part of Rome’s beloved 17th-century Four Rivers statue admitted Friday that wasn’t his first swim in the historic fountain.

``But whoa _ don’t blame me for old stuff, eh?″ Sebastiano Intili, 43, blithely told the court.

Intili said he just had a ``whim″ to do a somersault off the statue’s marble dragon on Tuesday.

``But I’m light. I went on top like a feather, not like some donkey,″ he insisted, according to a court transcript by the AGI news agency.

Intili’s dive snapped the tail off the dragon in the Bernini masterpiece, which sits in the middle of Rome’s oblong Piazza Navona.

The plunge earned him a three-month suspended sentence Friday, along with an order to pay $1,175 in court costs and still-undetermined damages. City officials say repairs could cost $8,500.

Charges were dismissed against two of his friends, Giovanni Pisano and Mario Giorgini, both 33. The three Italians had faced up to a year in prison.

The case horrified residents of a country bulging with public artistic treasures _ and the brazen attitudes of the defendants and their feisty lawyer turned the trial into a Roman soap opera.

Many Italians were shocked that one of their own, and not a tourist, was responsible for the damage.

Some suggested having retirees, the unemployed or art students guard public monuments at risk of vandalism. Others said soldiers should be posted. Film director Franco Zeffirelli proposed corporal punishment for art vandals.

Then there was Intili’s lawyer, Aldo Ceccarelli, who keeps his shirttails out even in court. Ceccarelli declared he would sue the city for negligence because his client could have hurt himself in the dive off the statue.

Claiming that the monument belonged to the nation, Ceccarelli asked that a Rome city lawyer be barred from court. That motion was rejected after the city introduced a papal bull from 1847 granting control to Rome.

The defendants’ light-hearted attitude didn’t sit well with some Italians.

``I love this thing deeply,″ said Rome police officer Donato Lepore, nodding at the fountain. ``It’s like the Statue of Liberty, or the Parthenon.″

The vandalism was a ``blow to humanity,″ he said.

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