Con men disguised as cardinals arrested in sting

The Tablet

A group of con men who dressed up as Catholic clergy to swindle victims out of millions of euros as been caught by Italian police.

The thieves’ ruse involved dressing as priests, monsignors and cardinals and presenting themselves as “intermediaries of the Vatican” to business owners in financial trouble.

They offered their victims seemingly advantageous loans either from the Vatican bank or a non-existent Luxembourg financial company called “Eurozone,” without requiring personal financial guarantees.

All they requested of their “investors” was an upfront cash payment, billed as good faith money, which the group would collect before vanishing.

The undercover sting operation saw police play their own game using disguises. They dressed themselves as priests and lay in wait at the Basilica of Holy Mary of the Angels and Martyrs in central Rome.

The con men were using the church as a base for a new exchange, having made an appointment to collect 15,000 euros as a surety for a loan of 500,000 euros.

When the group attempted to leave the basilica the “priests” stopped them.

Although the five thieves’ swindling trail goes back to 1988, it wasn’t until 2017 that the police received complaints from two hotels scammed out of 20,000 euros and 75,000 euros in 2017.

A number of other scams has seen many other Church charities skimmed of money.

To help defend themselves against con men and other fraudsters, the Diocese of Padua in northern Italy launched a new training course recently for clergy.

Its aims are to help clergy recognise fraud and to learn good business and financial management practices.

Padua’s bishop decided to launch the course after an elderly priest in the area who used to run a charity was swindled out of more than $450,000.

For years, the priest had lent money to scam artists pretending to be individuals and families in need, often asking him to give them prepaid credit cards or cash and promising to repay the money.

When the priest finally stepped down from his role leading the charity and no longer had access to the money, the criminals began making threats, so he turned to the police, leading to the arrest in May of 11 people.


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