Sunday, September 14, 2008

Real Estate Developer Closes Big Deal

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Raffaello Follieri, the Italian real estate developer, has entered into a deal with prosecutors in New York in relation to his alleged involvement in a real estate investment scheme.

In the indictment, prosecutors accused Mr. Follieri, the chairman and chief executive of the Follieri Group, of getting millions of dollars from investors by claiming that his connections with the Vatican allowed him to buy church properties at below-market prices and redevelop them for “socially responsible” purposes. Mr. Follieri had no special rights in terms of buying properties but was simply competing against other bidders, the indictment said.

Instead, the government said, he used money he received from investors to finance a lavish lifestyle including a $37,000-a-month apartment, meals and clothing. The charges accused him of misusing more than $2 million.

According to the WSJ, the deal includes four to five years in prison. Interestingly, the deal included a count of money laundering, which, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, often leads to a higher sentence than fraud or conspiracy charges. 

Appearing in Federal District Court in Manhattan, the businessman, Raffaello Follieri, 30, pleaded guilty to 14 counts of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. He had used his contacts to attract investors to real estate ventures.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 3. Under the plea bargain, he has agreed not to appeal any sentence that is less than five years and three months.

The plea requires Mr. Follieri to give up $2.4 million, 12 watches and 9 pieces of jewelry. The watches included a Rolex, a Cartier, a Harrods and a Donald Trump. The jewelry included a gold-colored ring with light blue-green stone, a pair of silver earrings with silver clasps and blue and clear stones, a 16-inch five-strand necklace with pearl beads, and a 32-inch gold-colored chain with a red-brown stone and gold-colored tassel. Under the proposed deal, Follieri would plead guilty to fraud and money-laundering and face roughly four to five years in prison. 

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