A former Italian mayor has been handed a lengthy prison sentence for aiding illegal immigration.
Domenico "Mimmo" Lucano was also convicted of fraud, embezzlement, criminal association, and abuse of office by the court in Calabria, southern Italy.
The former mayor of Riace was sentenced to 13 years and two months in prison on Thursday.
Lucano will also have to repay €500,000 for the funding received from the European Union and the Italian government.
Prosecutors said that Lucano had facilitated marriages between Italian men in Riace -- dubbed “the town of welcome” -- and foreign women.
Lucano was also accused of misusing government funds earmarked for helping migrants, including €5 million that prosecutors say ended up in private pockets. The former mayor has denied any wrongdoing.
"I will be stained for life for wrongs I didn’t commit,″ Lucano said, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. "I expected a full acquittal, I did not imagine anything like this."
Lucano's lawyers said they will appeal both the conviction and the sentence, which was over five years longer than what the Locri prosecutor's office had requested.
Humanitarian groups that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean have expressed outrage at the court’s decision.
"The former mayor of Riace gave life and future to his city through welcome and solidarity," tweeted Sea Watch Italy.
"We are at the side of Mimmo Lucano and whoever practices solidarity every day."
Many migrants in Riace -- a town of some 1,700 people -- have obtained municipal jobs while Lucano was mayor. Abandoned buildings in the area had been restored with European funds to provide housing for immigrants.
Mediterranea Saving Humans also decried the verdict as "shameful" and "the gravest repressive attack on the culture and the practice of solidarity in our country."
But Thursday's verdict was welcomed by right-wing parties in Italy, who had long criticised Lucano's migrant projects.