John McCain has been hammering rival Barack Obama for being little more than a vapid "celebrity" and "elitist." But The Nation has obtained a photo revealing just how star-struck a straight-talking maverick can become when offered the chance to celebrate his birthday aboard a yacht filled with celebrities–even if one of those celebrity types turns out to be an A-list con man.
The photograph substantiates reports that in late August, 2006, McCain celebrated his 70th birthday aboard a yacht, the Celine Ashley, rented by A-list con man Raffaello Follieri and his then-movie star girlfriend Anne Hathaway. In the current edition of Vanity Fair, Michael Schnayerson reported that Follieri rented the Celine Ashley for the month of August 2006. Montenegro’s leading daily
newspaper, Vijesti, earlier reported that during McCain’s visit in 2006 he celebrated with birthday cocktails and sweets aboard the Celine Ashley yacht. In the photograph, taken in Montenegro at the end of August, McCain is shown boarding the yacht ramp towards the smiling Follieri and Hathaway. Just ahead of McCain and shaking hands with Follieri appears to be Rick Davis–McCain’s top aide and now co-manager of his campaign, who accompanied him on the trip and advised the government of Montenegro. A few months after McCain’s yacht party, Follieri strengthened his ties to McCain’s orbit by retaining Rick Davis’s well-connected Washington lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, and offering Davis both an investment deal and help in securing the Catholic vote for McCain’s presidential bid.
Follieri, who posed as Vatican chief financial officer in order to win friends and investments, pleaded guilty Wednesday in a Manhattan district court to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and five counts of money laundering. As part of the plea, Follieri admitted to misappropriating at least $2.4 million of investor money and redirecting it to foreign personal bank accounts that were disguised as business accounts.
At the time he met McCain, Follieri was adept at collecting friends in powerful places and using those connections to attract investments in projects which later turned out to be bogus. His ties to Bill Clinton and his entourage have been well-documented; the charismatic Follieri, whom Vanity Fair has likened to an ambitious nineteenth-century protagonist from a Balzac novel, ingratiated himself to President Clinton and aides by posing as a mega-donor to the Clinton Global Initiative. He also formed an investment partnership with California business mogul and Clinton donor Ron Burkle to develop surplus real estate properties owned by the Catholic Church, which Follieri claimed to represent. Burkle later sued Follieri for $1.3 million in misappropriated funds.