Hathaway ex pleads guilty to fraud

September 10, 2008 8:48:22 AM PDT
A smooth-talking Italian businessman who dated actress Anne Hathaway and claimed to have friends in high places at the Vatican is headed to prison after pleading guilty Wednesday in a Manhattan real estate fraud case.Raffaello Follieri will serve more than four years in prison for his plea to wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

Prosecutors have said the 30-year-old Follieri posed as the Vatican's representative to the U.S., telling investors that the Roman Catholic church would sell him property at a steep discount.

Authorities said he took their money and spent up to $6 million - much of it on his jet-set lifestyle.

Prosecutors said Follieri was a sophisticated con man who went to elaborate lengths to carry out his scam and then spent his ill-gotten gains to fly across the world in a private jet with his celebrity girlfriend and to live a life of luxury at his Manhattan penthouse overlooking Rockefeller Center and Central Park.

The FBI arrived at Follieri's doorstep weeks after his split with Hathaway, the "Get Smart" and "The Devil Wears Prada" star.

According to the FBI, Follieri claimed the Vatican had formally appointed him to manage its financial affairs and that he had even met with the pope in person in Rome. His actual connections to the Vatican were slim, including his hiring of a relative of a former Vatican official.

Prosecutors allege that Follieri was so intent on carrying out the Vatican ruse that he kept ceremonial robes, including the robes of senior clergymen, in his Manhattan office.

Follieri's scheme fell apart after an investor sought an audit of the partnership.

Follieri's corruption appears to have touched people at high levels, including supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle. A division of Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. has settled lawsuits accusing Follieri of misappropriating more than $1 million. Burkle is a close friend of former President Clinton.

And the Camden Diocese says the bishop there received a call from the office of the Secretary of State at the Vatican, who boasted of the work the Follieri organization did in developments that benefited the church. While Follieri may not have had the church backing he allegedly told investors he did, the Camden Diocese's experience suggests that at least one official inside the Vatican was willing to help Follieri.

The Vatican has declined to comment on Follieri's case, citing the ongoing U.S. probe.

Hathaway was once on the board of the Follieri Foundation, but her publicist has insisted that she no longer serves in that capacity and is not part of any probes.