It was a sting operation that would have made Henry Gondorff proud. Italian police recently went undercover as Catholic priests to halt a group of grifters posing as prelates. The con men have allegedly pulled at least 20 such scams, robbing businesses of millions.
According to CruxNow, the scheme worked so well because it preyed on the trust of the faithful. Since 1988, a group of five men have posed as priests, masqueraded as monsignors, and even connived as cardinals. The team would approach financially troubled businesses, offering advantageous loans.
The thieves would require their victims to put up a one-time “good faith” payment to get the loan started. Once the payment was made, the scam was complete and the group would disappear. The scam worked for nearly 30 years, but the police got wise to the operation after they hit two hotels in 2017.
Dressed as clerics
One of the reasons the scammers were able to succeed for so long was that they dressed in legitimate priestly attire. As the center of the Catholic world, there are plenty of vestment sellers in Rome and the garb is relatively easy to get. These clerical costumes were often bolstered by other fake accessories and fabricated scenery to complete the illusion.
In one instance, they set up a fake office that even included plaques and wall-mounted credentials. Meetings would often take place near the Vatican or other Church properties in order to maintain their cover. In fact, it was at Rome’s Basilica of Holy Mary of the Angels and Martyrs that they were captured.
The arrest was the result of a two-year investigation into the grifting ring. Daily Sabah reports that the investigation got word of a possible scam that would be conducted at the basilica. The officers disguised themselves as parish priests and busied themselves around the church while the hand-off took place.
Once the group dressed as cardinals accepted the money, they made an excuse to make the victim wait. At this point they tried to escape through the back of the basilica, and that’s when the police stopped them. One of the crooks was even brazen enough to claim prelate privilege, saying to officers:
“How can the Carabinieri arrest me? I am extraterritorial.”
Read the full story and learn how a retired cardinal helped bring an end to the scheme at CruxNow.