Prosecutors urge urges no leniency for Hathaway's ex

October 20, 2008 5:01:20 PM PDT
Prosecutors said Monday they were surprised the former boyfriend of actress Anne Hathaway sent a judge a photo of himself and the pope while seeking leniency for cheating investors of millions of dollars by claiming he could buy Catholic Church property on the cheap. They urged the judge Thursday to impose the more than four years in prison that Raffaello Follieri agreed to when he entered a guilty plea last month rather than the three years his defense lawyers requested in a recent submission of their own.

The prosecutors said Follieri included pictures of the pope and other clergymen even though his claims of Vatican ties were the foundation of his fraud.

"This is surprising because Follieri used these same photographs and connections in order to defraud investors and now seeks to use them in an effort to obtain a reduced sentence," they said.

Follieri, 30, last month pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering and agreed to forfeit $2.4 million.

Prosecutors said Follieri betrayed and hurt numerous friends and business associates as he "committed crimes out of greed and a desire to live a lifestyle like the rich and famous."

Follieri used several million dollars from investors to travel the world on private planes, spending thousands of dollars on food, wine, hotels, yacht rentals, flowers, cosmetics, clothes, wine, expensive dinners, dog walking services and personal vacations for himself, his girlfriend and his parents, the government said.

He spent another $37,000 per month for a luxury Manhattan condo. As part of his plea, Follieri agreed to forfeit any interest in 50 expensive watches and other jewelry.

Asked during a recent appearance on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" what she carried away from her four-year relationship with Follieri, Hathaway said she kept their dog.

The government noted that the U.S. Probation Office had recommended a sentence of more than eight years.

Follieri duped investors from at least May 2005 through June 2007 by using his "considerable charm and skill" to trick people into investing, the government said.

"Follieri shamelessly told investors that the Catholic Church was vulnerable as a result of its financial obligations arising out of the sexual abuse lawsuits against the church while simultaneously misrepresenting that his connections with the Vatican enabled him to obtain special and exclusive access to church properties at cheap values," prosecutors said.

They said Follieri assured representatives of the Catholic Church in the United States and elsewhere that he had the best of intentions in buying their properties even as he told investors he would develop them for substantial profits, prosecutors said.

The government said Follieri came to the United States in 2003 and immediately lied about his background, his business history, his education, his family and his connections to the Vatican.

In 2004, Follieri and his father started a real estate company, the Follieri Group, and enticed Yucaipa Cos to invest, the government said. Yucaipa is controlled by supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle, a close friend of former President Clinton.

Follieri showed at least one representative of Yucaipa a phony letter in Italian, purportedly written in 2002 by Pope John Paul II to Follieri, and said the letter authorized him to represent the Vatican in the United States in the purchase of church properties, it said.

Follieri claimed he was the chief financial officer of the Vatican; he exploited a relationship with a nephew of then-Secretary of State of the Vatican Cardinal Angelo Sodano to his advantage; and he hired two monsignors to travel with him, prosecutors said.

Despite these things, Follieri was unable to buy church properties at a discount because various dioceses throughout the country sold properties to the highest bidder, the government said.

When he was arrested, FBI agents recovered a letter in Follieri's safe from Sodano saying "how perturbed I am to hear that your company continues to occasionally present itself as having ties to `the Vatican,' due to the fact that my nephew, Andrea, has agreed on some occasions to provide you with professional consulting services," the government said.

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