October 23, 2008 / 1:39 PM / 9 years ago

Italian fraud who dated star gets 4 1/2 years

<p>Italian businessman Raffaello Follieri is seen in New York in this February 1, 2008 file photo.Lucas Jackson/Files</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Italian businessman who dated Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway, made a deal with supermarket mogul Ron Burke and exaggerated ties to the Vatican, was sentenced on Thursday to 4 1/2 years in prison for fraud.

Raffaello Follieri, 30, pleaded guilty in September to fraudulently obtaining $2.4 million by leading investors to believe he had Vatican connections that enabled him to buy the Roman Catholic Church's unwanted U.S. properties at a discount.

Hathaway, who starred in "The Devil Wears Prada," broke her silence last month, telling W magazine she felt like "a rug was pulled out from under me" when Follieri was arrested in June.

"I have dishonored my family name and embarrassed the church I love," Follieri told Judge John Koeltl in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in a statement in Italian that was translated into English. "I will never be able to wash away the stain.

"I hope that someday those hurt by my actions will forgive me," Follieri said before the judge handed down the sentence.

Koeltl sentenced Follieri to 4 years and 6 months in prison and ordered three years of supervision after his release. He will be deported to Italy once he completes his sentence.

Follieri, dressed in a dark blue prison uniform, looked up at the courtroom ceiling and then briefly lowered his head, rubbing his face with his left hand.

SOPHISTICATED SCAM ARTIST

On Sept 10, Follieri pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and five counts of money laundering.

In the plea agreement, Follieri agreed to forfeit $2.4 million, 12 watches and 9 pieces of jewelry. He waived the right to appeal any prison term that was 5 years and 3 months or less.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reed Brodsky told the court on Thursday that Follieri "was a sophisticated scam artist" who lied about himself from the outset of his business dealings in America, when he lied about having a law degree and millions of dollars.

"It spiraled in the direction of greater lies," Brodsky said. "That was the start of trying to convince investors he was someone he really wasn't."

The case reads like a Hollywood film, with the man from Foggia, Italy, aggressively pursuing money and celebrity while flaunting his ties to further his lavish lifestyle.

But prosecutors say Follieri's web of lies began in 2004 by forming a company with his father, who in 2005 was convicted in Italy of embezzling funds.

In May 2005, the younger Follieri began lying to Burkle's group, Yucaipa Companies, including telling them he needed a luxury New York apartment to house visiting dignitaries, according to the prosecutors' sentencing memo.

Yucaipa's losses included more than $911,000 for phony reports, $985,000 for unauthorized expenses, $739,000 for flights, $600,000 for unauthorized medical expenses and $430,000 for a nonexistent Italy office.

At one point, Follieri showed investors a fake letter from the late Pope John Paul II and told them he regularly met with the pope when in Rome, prosecutors said.

Additional reporting by Grant McCool

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