President Donald Trump's crime-ridden former campaign chairman Paul Manafort once tried to get in on a Vatican land scam, before he got involved in Ukrainian politics and running the scandal-plagued 2016 campaign.
Manafort and his then-business partner Rick Davis told associates they intended use Italian businessman Raffaello Follieri's purported access to the Vatican to get a sweetheart deal on real estate owned by the Catholic Church, two sources told The Daily Beast.
“It was intended to be an inside, sweetheart deal,” said a person who overheard numerous conversations between Manafort and Davis about Follieri.
Follieri pleaded guilty in 2008 to wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy charges, and sentenced to more than four years in prison.
Federal prosecutors said Follieri, who dated actress Anne Hathaway for four years before his arrest at his parents' Trump Tower apartment, claimed to be the Vatican's chief financial officer as part of an elaborate scam.
Follieri claimed the Vatican wanted to sell off unused real estate to raise money to pay off costs related to its child sex scandals, and he cultivated ties to political and business elites.
He became close with Clinton ally Doug Band, and offered to help Hillary Clinton reach out to Catholic voters ahead of her 2008 presidential campaign.
Bill Clinton invited Follieri onstage at a Clinton Foundation event, and thanked him for a promised donation that he never made.
Sen. John McCain drew heavy criticism after celebrating his 70th birthday on a yacht Follieri had rented, and American lobbyist Tony Podesta sang his praises.
John Weaver, a longtime Republican operative who worked on McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, told The Daily Beast that he heard Manafort and Davis discuss their relationship with Follieri multiple times when he worked on a PAC that rented an office from the pair.
“I don’t know that they knew he was a fraudster, but peas of a pod travel together so none of that surprised me,” Weaver told the website. “They traveled in low circles with other authoritarian or fraudster-types.”
A spokesperson for Davis disputed that description of his relationship with Follieri, whose own spokesperson did not dispute the website's reporting.
Manafort's representatives declined to comment.
The former Trump campaign chairman is due back in court Wednesday for sentencing, where he could have 10 years added onto the four-year sentence he got last week.