A Note to Potential Vatican-Themed Swindlers: Do Your Homework!

The chickens are finally coming home to roost for Raffaello Follieri, former boyfriend of Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway and alleged defrauder of big-time investors. Follieri used his family’s Vatican connections to persuade capital firms to bankroll a scheme whereby he would buy up Church properties in the States and redevelop them for socially responsible purposes. It seems, however, that he was simply pocketing the cash and using it to fund an extravagant playboy lifestyle.

All in all, not a bad short-term scheme, and Follieri managed to drag it out for two years. It likely reminds fans of French literature of a famous forebear: Andre Gide’s The Vatican Cellars. In that novel (whose plot is partly borrowed from an actual 1892 scam), the scheming Protos poses as a priest to persuade credulous Catholics that the Freemasons and a cabal of mutinous Cardinals have imprisoned the Pope in the Vatican cellars, replacing him with an impostor. Under the utmost secrecy, Protos collects donations for a holy special forces team to free the Pontiff. Donors are warned not to mention a word of the situation to anyone, lest the plans be blown or the faith of the masses shaken.

Might Follieri have been wiser to have used such a scheme? Unlike real estate transactions, top-secret kidnappings and rescue efforts are entirely off the books. And impostor accusations are hard to disprove: we all know that Saddam Hussein had look-alikes. Perhaps Mr. Follieri now wishes he’d read his French classics. It looks like he’ll have plenty of time to catch up.