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once a scam artist

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 15, 2008

When is a plea bargain not really a bargain? When the perp who cops the plea has "deeply religious" reasons for wanting more favorable treatment. An attorney for Raffaello Follieri, the convicted con artist who raised millions of dollars for a fraudulent real-estate business and then used those millions to finance a jet-set lifestyle, has told a New York court that his client should serve only 3 years in prison, rather than the 5-year term to which he had already agreed in a deal with prosecutors. The lawyer argues that Follieri needs to get back to his native Italy to be with his invalid mother. Moreover, the lawyer says, Follieri is no threat to society; he was only temporarily seduced by the glitter and glamor of the high life in the big city. Best of all, the convicted felon is "deeply religious" and likely to amend his ways.

It's a moving argument; you can almost hear the violins. But unless the laws of causality have been reversed recently, Uncle Di is not likely to be persuaded that Follieri was corrupted by the New York glitterati. He was able to join the fast crowd only because he had plenty of money. And he had plenty of money only because he was able to fast-talk a few millionaire investors. Thus the fast talking came first, and the opening nights with starlet Anne Hathaway came later. It's not easy to conclude that the later developments cause the earlier ones.

As for being "deeply religious," let's remember how this all began. Follieri arrived in New York promising to buy up Catholic parish properties at bargain prices and sell them for a profit (which is not exactly the sort of scheme that St. Francis of Assisi would have endorsed). He talked his way into the millionaires' pocketbooks by claiming to have close ties with the Vatican. (He did, in fact, have a business partner who was the nephew of the former Vatican Secretary of State.) The scheme collapsed because the con man did not have any special clout within the Church, he could not pull off the promised flips of parish properties, and eventually his gullible investors realized they'd been had.

Still, having failed to exploit the Catholic Church for financial gain, Follieri is ready to try once more, citing his close ties with the Vatican-- spiritual ties this time, as evidenced by his "deeply religious" life-- as an argument for lenient treatment. 

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