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The Raffaello Follieri Indictment: The Best Bits

Follieri, July 2, 2004; September 7, 2007; March 11, 2008.Photo: Getty Images

We finally managed to plow our way through the indictment against Raffaello Follieri, and we have to say this: This is one brazen dude. If he’s convicted, Follieri is going to go away for a long, long time — twenty years for each count, to be precise. And there are eleven. Anne Hathaway will be like Jessica Fucking Tandy by the time he gets out of the clink!

For those of you just tuning in, here’s the quick idiot’s guide.

Back in 2005, Raffaello Follieri was introduced to supermarket magnate Ron Burkle by
Doug Band, the adviser to former president Bill Clinton. Follieri was very charming and solicitous and he told them all about his plan: He would use his family’s v. v. close ties to the Vatican in order to purchase Roman Catholic Church properties in the U.S. at low prices, flip them, and sell them. Everyone thought this sounded like a great idea, and Burkle invested a bunch of money. Follieri was in like Flynn. The former president publicly praised the Follieri Foundation’s work vaccinating children in Honduras, and they all even hung out on vacation in the Dominican Republic this one time.

But as time went on, Burkle noticed something funny was going on. Although Follieri was spending plenty of money — on apartments, on fancy dinners and vacations with his girlfriend, Devil Wears Prada star Anne Hathaway — he didn’t seem to really be buying any church properties. And the churches he did buy weren’t being developed: In Pittsburgh, people were freaking out about it.

By the time Burkle filed suit against Follieri for misappropriating funds, he had spent $50 million for only ten properties and been photographed at the Waverly Inn approximately a bajillion times. (Is this why Vanity Fair hasn’t covered this?) In September 2007, The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page juicy story about the shady dealings of the “handsome and charming” Italian businessman. Soon after, in March, Follieri’s D.C.-based PR firm sued him for nonpayment. In April, he was arrested for bouncing a $215,000 check. Eventually he settled — supposedly — with Burkle, paying him back $1.3 million. He continued swanning around with Hathaway and was noted by “Page Six” to have met with the Sultan of Brunei in London.

On Christmas Eve last year, Roger Cohen in the Times likened Follieri to Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker who cheated the bank of Italy out of billions and “ended up hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London.”

It is worth noting that Hathaway reportedly did not dump Follieri until just last week.

So, anyway, last week it was announced that the Follieri Foundation had not filed basic tax forms; and today Follieri was arrested. A criminal indictment unsealed in federal court rehashes many of Burkle’s previous claims that Follieri was misappropriating funds and contains liberal anecdotage from “a primary investor” who is clearly very ticked off. Is this primary investor Burkle? Most likely, although the U.S. Attorney’s office won’t say, and Radar, the magazine Burkle allegedly owns, is conspicuously silent on the matter. But one thing is certain: The indictment is pretty amazing. Below, we have bulleted the most important/best/most entertaining parts.

• Follieri claimed that the Vatican appointed him to manage its financial affairs and that he met with the Pope in person when he went to visit Rome, Italy. (In reality, he bribed an administrative assistant at the Vatican so that he could meet with low-level clergy.)
• He also transferred thousands of dollars he was supposed to spend buying churches to “the Italian office,” a.k.a. private accounts in Monaco and Rome. (There was no Italian office.)
• Sometimes the transfers went “to a manufacturer of custom-made suits.”
• Once he paid $30,000 to fly his physician to London for a “minor ailment.”
• Also, once he paid thousands of dollars of investors’ money to charter a plane to fly 90 minutes from L.A. to Vegas.
• Overall, he spent $800,000 on “engineering reports.” When he eventually submitted them to investors, the reports were, they noted, each two to five pages long, written in Italian, and contained exactly no engineering information.
• “According to several witnesses, Follieri kept various ceremonial robes, including robes of senior clergymen, at his office in New York, New York. One witness told [the FBI agent who wrote the complaint] that he/she had been traveling with him to change out of the monsignor’s robes and put on the robe of a more senior clergyman in order to create the false impression that Follieri had close ties to the Vatican.”
• He bought an apartment on Central Park West to “house Vatican officials.” (Did not know any Vatican officials.)
• He chartered a flight to the Dominican Republic for a vacation with Anne Hathaway and his father (oh yeah, and according to the Journal article from the fall, Mr. Follieri’s father was some years ago convicted in Italy of misappropriating more than $300,000 from a failed resort company whose assets he had been charged with overseeing. AHEM.)

May the Lord be with ya, Follieri.

Businessman Follieri Faces Charges Tied to Real-Estate Investment [WSJ]

The Raffaello Follieri Indictment: The Best Bits