Senior 'adoption' sours in Italy

Offered a home after his ad for a family was answered, Giorgio Angelozzi ran up bills and left.

The grandchildren never really warmed to their new grandfather. As Giorgio Angelozzi, "adopted" by the Riva family here last year, lectured the children on good manners, just days after moving in, they developed a sudden interest in computer games and hid in their bedrooms with headphones firmly on.

This modest family in Spirano, near Milan, took the 80-year-old in after he offered his services as a live-in grandfather in the classified pages of a national newspaper. His tale of years of loneliness, with only cats and Latin poetry for company - relayed on TV networks and gossip magazines, and covered in the Monitor - sent a wave of guilt across Italy.

But eight months and a large dental bill later, the nonno appears less innocent.

Mr. Angelozzi lived with the Rivas, who paid for an operation, new glasses, and a vacation. Then things soured. He ran away in May, leaving a dentist bill for more than $3,600.

A few weeks later he produced a couple of large checks, saying he wanted to settle his debts. But he had stolen the checks from a family near Piacenza, south of Milan, who put him up while on the run.

Carabinieri - military police charged with domestic investigations - found Angelozzi in an old people's home in Milan, where he remains under a sort of house arrest. He had told staff that he had no money and or home.

"I went away out of sensitivity," he said, smiling, before carabinieri took him away for questioning. "I could feel there was tension in the house, that perhaps I was irritating the husband. I faced up to the problem and left."

Angelozzi said he "found" the checkbook in a jacket the family in Piacenza loaned him.

Angelozzi had said that he chose the Riva family because of the mother's smooth voice. He followed Marlena Riva around, stroking her hair like an infatuated child.

"He has made fools of us all," said Mrs. Riva, who had instigated the adoption out of sympathy and in the hope Angelozzi could fill a gap for the children after their grandfather died.

Carabinieri have discovered that Angelozzi was reported to police for four instances of petty theft and fraud, first in 1977 and most recently in 1998. While he held a classics degree from Bari University, Angelozzi had never held a teaching post, as he claimed. He had broken ties with his family after an inheritance dispute. "I thought he was dead," said his sister Giulia in a newspaper interview. "I have had no contact with him for years. He was the black sheep of the family."

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