An Italian man claiming to work on behalf of the Vatican was sentenced to 4 years in prison last week for running a fraud saying he could buy catholic church properties in the U.S. at a big discount.
Raffaello Follieri, 30, of Foggia, Italy pleaded guilty in September to taking at least $2 million from investors between 2005 and 2007.
He made claims to his investors that he had been appointed as Vatican CFO that had met with the Pope when visiting Rome. The only relationship he in fact had were with an administrative employee secretly paid with investors’ money and the relative of a former Vatican official. He also had a few meetings with clergy and monsignors.
Follieri, Chairman of the Follieri Group in Mahattan, netted over $2 million from the scheme.
Despite his attempt to promote his relationship with the Vatican by depositing investors’ money into the Vatican Bank in Rome, the Vatican’s Secretary of State warned Follieri two years ago to knock it off.
But Follieri continued represent himself as a Vatican emissary and then used investors’ money to pay for clothes and cosmetics for his girlfriend, expensive wine, yacht rentals, a luxury apartment in Manhattan, medical and dental care for his family members, family vacations, and dog walking services.
Follieri also used investor money to settle a lawsuit over expenses incurred during one of his vacations and to cover expenses for a non-existent office in Italy.
In 2006 Follieri’s principle investor cut ties with him which began the unraveling of his scheme. In addition to his prison term he is ordered to forfeit $2,440,000, 15 watches, and other precious metals and jewelry.