Fraudster jailed for selling bogus Vatican investments

 An Italian fund manager was sentenced to four and a half years in prison by a court in New York on Friday, for duping investors into believing he had a special relationship with the Vatican and stealing their money.

Raffaello Follieri, 30, was also ordered to forfeit $2.44 million by US District Judge John Koeltl after pleading guilty last month to 14 criminal counts, including wire fraud and money laundering.

Follieri admitted he cheated investors by claiming he had a formal agreement with the Vatican to dispose of church properties, giving him exclusive access to church properties at cheap values. But instead of buying properties, he used investors' money to finance a lavish lifestyle that included private planes, yacht rentals, a live-in butler and a $37,000-a-month apartment overlooking Central Park.

Follieri's defence lawyer submitted more than 100 letters from family and friends attesting to his deep religious faith and charitable works. The lawyer said several Italian public officials wrote letters on his behalf.

At his sentencing Follieri said: "I have dishonored my family name and embarrassed the church I love. I will never be able to wash away that stain. '

Assistant US Attorney Reed Brodsky said: "Mr Follieri was a sophisticated scam artist."