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Thursday, July 15, 2004 · Last updated 5:54 p.m. PT

Producer: 'Ocean's 12' rumors 'ridiculous'


LOS ANGELES -- "Ocean's 12" producer Jerry Weintraub wants to set the record straight: Mobsters didn't try to extort anyone connected with the production during shooting in Italy.

"We were never approached by any Mafia for extortion money," Weintraub told The Associated Press on Thursday after reading news dispatches that Mafia-busting Italian undercover officers secretly monitored the star-studded "Ocean's 12" production in Sicily.

As part of a Mafia investigation, officers noticed that suspected mobsters were hanging around the "Ocean's 12" set in the seaside town of Scopello, western Sicily, police official Giuseppe Linares said earlier this week.

The mobsters may have been looking to extort the production or could have been worried that a secret alcove used to hide arms in the area could be discovered during the production, Linares said.

"It's ridiculous. It's total fabrication," Weintraub said. "They said I was worried about my stars. That was nonsense. No one ever threatened any of us. If anybody was going to get extorted it was me.

"All of Italy was great. We had nothing but a wonderful time. I hate for them to get a bum rap like this."

The "Ocean's 12" stars - including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones - and Weintraub are back in Southern California to complete shooting of the sequel, which will be released Dec. 10.

Linares said the film's crew and cast were unaware of the investigation and of the local Mafia activity. News of the unusual movie-monitoring emerged when police in Trapani announced Tuesday that they had arrested 19 alleged mobsters after a two-year investigation.

The gang's alleged crimes revolved largely around the extortion of local businesses around the town of Castellammare del Golfo, near Trapani.


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(5:54 p.m. PT)

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