Rome   -  Italian police on Thursday arrested 19 people including the head of Calabria’s regional council in an anti-mafia sting against the powerful ‘Ndrangheta organized crime group.

Investigators say the Grande Aracri clan, based in the southern Italian region but also active in pockets of the north and abroad, was laundering dirty money through a chain of 23 pharmacies. Regional council chief Domenico Tallini, 68, is accused of cutting the red tape required to set up the pharmacies in exchange for votes in the 2014 regional elections, police said in a statement. Tallini, who belongs to ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party was placed under house arrest.

The other 18 suspects, arrested in Calabria and Rome, face accusations ranging from mafia association to attempted extortion,harbouring illegal weapons, money laundering, and vote exchange. The raid comes as Calabria, Italy’s poorest region, struggles with a health crisis following the resignations in quick succession of three commissioners tasked with boosting its defenses against the coronavirus.

The region that makes up the toe of Italy’s “boot” is the stronghold of the Ndrangheta, Italy’s wealthiest and most powerful organized crime syndicate.