Embezzled Heaven: Raffaello Follieri's Folly
When I was in grammar school and high school, we had the occasional "treat" of watching a movie. Sometimes we paid for the pleasure (with the proceeds going to the missions), sometimes it was free. Invariably, the movies were out of date, something we could just as easily see on TV on Boston Movie Time. The movies were also was either exceptionally weird or spectacularly clunky, and boring. (The one exception I remember was The Last Hurrah, the fictionalized portrayal of Boston Irish mayor James Michael Curley.)
In the latter category, I'd place the movie Kim, which I found so boring, I watched the reels go around, and Mario Lanza in The Student Prince (no doubt chosen because Lanza had been the teen-age heart throb of some of the nuns before they "went in").
In the former category, I'd have to go with The Boy with Green Hair, a post-war "message" movie in which, as I recall, Pat O'Brien befriends/adopts a wise child who's an orphan from a Displace Persons camp. I think. Anyway, I'm sure we got that one because the nuns assumed that anything starring Pat O'Brien had to be good and wholesome.
The other oddball I remember was Embezzled Heaven. Without resorting to Google, I recalled nothing of the plot, other than a poor old lady coming to Rome to find her priest son - that and the fact that, once she got to Rome, the movie turned from black and white to color. (I ended up googling: the plot revolves around a woman who thinks she can gain heaven by paying for her nephew to become a priest. Instead he becomes a layabout. I couldn't bear to read through the entire plot line. Somewhere the Pope factors in.)
In any event, the strange case of Raffaello Follieri brought the title Embezzled Heaven front and center to my little mind.
Follieri is the head of the Follieri Group, a NYC-based real estate investment company founded in the aftermath of the Catholic Church's clery abuse scandals to:
...provide assistance to the Catholic Church in divesting themselves of real estate assets that were no longer serving the needs of the Church. They saw the necessity of ensuring that these properties were converted to uses that would continue to serve and contribute to their respective communities in a socially responsible fashion consistent with the ideals of the Church. Sensitivity to the Church's goals and views is of critical and ongoing importance.The Follieri Group was formed to assist the Catholic Church by purchasing, as principals, the Church's properties and then renovating them for uses such as low and middle income housing, community centers, daycare facilities, senior citizen housing, places of worship, offices and retail spaces.
How noble of them!
And apparently the investors who poured millions of dollars into their fund thought so, too. Hey, they could do good and make money - all with the seeming imprimatur of the Vatican. After all, Raffaello claimed to be buds with the Pope. (Maybe he could answer for once and for all that pressing question, Is the Pope Catholic?) Sure, the Catholic brand has been a bit tarnished over the last decade or so, but I guess it's still plenty potent.
As we used to say in Latin class: nihil obstat. Let nothing stand in their way.
I know virtually nothing about Church finances, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that, when it comes to business, they're not about lending their name to make the other guy rich. And I could be wrong, but I thing that the sell-off of local Church assets (under-performing parishes, etc.) are the responsibility of the diocese where the property is located - not Rome. (Wouldn't you think someone might check all this out before they made a big investment here?)
In any case, the Follieri Group did precious little investing in Church properties, but plenty of spending from their well-lined coffers - with the spending including Raffelo's $37,500 a month digs in Trump Tower, and dates with the actress Anne Hathaway, someone I rather liked in The Princess Bride and The Devil Wears Prada.
In the wake of Follieri's recent arrest, Hathaway has dumped him.
Follieri is currently housed in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center, charged with fraud and money laundering, and with bail set at $21 million (which as of this writing they haven't found a bail bondsman to touch). And this devil is no longer wearing Prada, he's in a regulation orange jumpsuit. I'm sure he can take some solace in the fact that orange isn't all that bad a color on someone with dark hair and a tan.
Follieri's career, as laid out on the FG site, is quite impressive for someone who's just 30 this year.
While still in school, he :
...founded a cosmetics company, Beauty Planet, S.R.L., producing mass market hair and body care products. One of the company's most noteworthy successes was the prestige hair and body care line Shatoosh, licensed by an internationally-renowned hairstylist in 2000.
He was then EVP of an investment firm the dabbled in real estate, oil trading, gold mining and diamond mining. Nothing unsavory there, I'm quite sure.
And now, if the Feds have their way, Follieri will have another item to add to his c.v. - that of convicted felon.
Bet he'll be wishing then that he hadn't tried to get away with embezzling heaven.