'God's Banker' Guilty in Milan Murder

Times Staff Writer

Michele Sindona, the former Italian financier who once was known as "God's Banker" because of his close relations with the Vatican, was convicted Tuesday of ordering the murder of a Milan lawyer and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A Milan court found the 65-year-old Sindona and Robert Venetucci, 63, of Eastport, N. Y., guilty of taking part in the murder of Giorgio Ambrosoli, a court-appointed lawyer who was liquidating Sindona's crumbling banking empire. Ambrosoli was shot outside his Milan home in 1979.

A hit man named William Arico, of Valley Stream, N.Y., was accused of the actual shooting, for a $50,000 fee paid by Sindona, according to court testimony. Venetucci acted as a go-between, testimony indicated. Arico, a convicted bank robber, fell 40 feet to his death while trying to escape from a federal prison in New York in 1984.

Sindona already was serving a 25-year federal sentence in the United States for fraud in the biggest bank failure in American history, that of the Franklin National Bank of New York. He had gained control of Franklin National and diverted its assets in a complex swindle that led to the bank's collapse in 1974.

He tried to escape the U.S. sentence by staging a fake kidnaping, allegedly with help from organized crime figures, and even endured a deliberate gunshot wound in the leg to make the phony abduction look real.

Extradited to Italy

A federal court in New York sentenced him to 25 years in the bank fraud. Under a new U.S.-Italy extradition treaty, Sindona was returned to Italy in 1984 and tried first for fraud in the collapse of his Italian Banca Privata Italiana, for which he was sentenced to 15 years in jail, and then for planning the Ambrosoli murder.

Under the treaty, Sindona may be returned to a U.S. federal prison to serve out the remainder of his sentence in the Franklin National case, if the U.S. requests it, or begin serving his two sentences in Italy.

In prosecution testimony at the Milan murder trial, Sindona was said to have been attempting to revive his fortunes in Italian business in the late 1970s and feared that Ambrosoli, with his liquidator's expertise, would expose his manipulations in the Banca Privata Italiana case.

The flamboyant financier was once close to the Vatican's Institute for Religious Works, also known as the Vatican Bank, and became known as "God's Banker" because of his dealings on the Vatican's behalf. The connection put him in close contact with the man who succeeded him in that function, Roberto Calvi of the now defunct Banco Ambrosiano, which collapsed in 1982.

Calvi, whose illicit financial maneuverings eventually cost the Vatican $250 million, was found dead in June, 1982, hanging by a rope from London's Blackfriars Bridge in circumstances that remain a mystery.

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