He called doctors "assassins" and convinced sick followers to adhere to a strict macrobiotic diet, police in Italy say. But in reality, police say those who followed the teachings of 73-year-old Mario Pianesi and his 51-year-old wife were fleeced for money, manipulated into working for next to nothing for Pianesi's chain of eateries and macrobiotic centers, and often ended up sicker and frighteningly thin. The Guardian says one person's weight plummeted to 77 pounds. The Telegraph reports 14 people were arrested in the country's Le Marche region, and five (including Pianesi and his wife) are under investigation for charges including tax evasion and maltreatment, including making followers cut off contact with others. "I've never come across a case like it in my life," Ancona police chief Carlo Pinto tells the Guardian.
The probe started five years ago when a young woman approached cops and said Pianesi promised the "MaPi" diet he designed—based on whole grains, veggies, and beans—could offer miracle cures for their maladies, per the BBC. An investigative report cited by the Telegraph says Pianesi was able "to obtain the trust of numerous people who were in a fragile psychological condition because of personal health or family problems," then get them onto the strict five-stage diet. Cops say he'd also cajole followers into quitting their jobs, serving as basically free labor with his "psycho sect", and donating money. Pianesi, who along with his wife met with Pope Francis in 2016, is "well respected" and "dominated" the world of macrobiotics, says Pinto. (Madonna reportedly made macrobiotic demands of her staff.)