Report: Con Artist Hired Atlantic City Pastor

By Regina Schaffer
Press of Atlantic City
July 1, 2008

An Atlantic City pastor was one of two Catholic monsignors hired by accused con artist Raffaello Follieri in Follieri's at tempts to dupe real estate investors into thinking he had close Vatican connections, according to a published report.

Monsignor William Hodge, of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, was paid with money Follieri obtained from billionaire Ron Burkle, the New York Post reported. Follieri, an Italian national, is accused of defrauding Burkle to fund his lavish lifestyle with his ex-girlfriend, actress Anne Hathaway.

Hodge, a pastor for 10 years, has not been charged in the case. He has known Follieri since 2006, when Follieri was trying to buy a long-closed Catholic school in Atlantic City, according to Andrew Walton, spokesman for the Diocese of Camden. The deal fell through when Follieri's company failed to meet its obligations, Walton said.

Walton said Hodge is on vacation in Ireland but said he spoke with Hodge about the matter Monday morning and Hodge denied any criminal involvement with Follieri.

"Monsignor Hodge ... stated to the diocese that he did not accept employment or salary or remuneration from Mr. Follieri or his company, The Follieri Group," Walton said.

It remained unclear whether Hodge was the monsignor accused of putting on the robe of "a more senior clergyman" to create the illusion of having higher-level church ties, though Walton said Hodge denied ever doing that.

"Monsignor stated this morning that he always presented himself as a monsignor and was never asked by Mr. Follieri or anyone else to present himself otherwise," Walton said.

Follieri, 29, was arrested Tuesday in New York on federal wire-fraud and money-laundering charges for allegedly misusing as much as $6 million that investors placed with him to buy and develop Catholic Church properties. Follieri remains in jail on $21 million bail.

Walton said the diocese is unaware of any priest in the diocese being employed by Follieri or his company.

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