Money laundering

Feds seek ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ rights and artwork given to DiCaprio

The Department of Justice on Wednesday moved to seize roughly $1 billion in assets, including future proceeds from the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street” in an international corruption investigation.

Federal prosecutors are seeking the rights to Hollywood movies Dumb and Dumber To and Daddy’s Home in the latest expansion of a forfeiture effort launched to recover more than $4.5 billion in assets allegedly stolen from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

Artwork given to actor Leonardo DiCaprio, including a Pablo Picasso painting bought for $3.2 million, are also on the recovery list prosecutors disclosed Thursday as the estimated total value of assets in the U.S. allegedly linked to the scam rose to $1.7 billion.

The new forfeiture targets join a targeted inventory that already includes future profits from The Wolf of Wall Street, the 2013 blockbuster movie that starred DiCaprio, plus Old Masters artwork and luxury real estate in New York and California.

In all, the federal effort ranks as the largest action ever pursued under the U.S. Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, prosecutors said.

The money used to buy the assets allegedly was stolen from 1MDB, a fund intended to help Malaysia by issuing bonds that would fund economic development projects. But federal prosecutors allege that a group of Malaysian officials and other conspirators from 2009 through 2015 siphoned away billions of dollars by diverting bond funds, defrauding foreign banks and other schemes.

The conspirators then laundered the proceeds through personal investments, including luxury condos in New York City and a Beverly Hills hotel, luxury purchases, such as the purchase of the 300-foot Cayman Islands-registered yacht Equanimity, and other transactions.

“These cases involve billions of dollars…

Unzipping the Story of Fashion Cafe

In the spring of 1995, Italian brothers/entrepreneurs Tommaso and Francesco Buti opened the first Fashion Cafe in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. It was an attempt to meld two hallmarks of the 1990s: theme restaurants and supermodels. Having enlisted Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Elle Macpherson to be the faces of the business, the Buti brothers believed that patrons would flock to a chain of eateries celebrating haute couture design and glamour.

They also believed that customers would walk out with a souvenir from the attached gift shops, including a $28 polyester T-shirt. The Butis imagined that Fashion Cafe would mirror the success of Planet Hollywood, another celebrity-endorsed eatery, which featured sizzling nachos served next to Sylvester Stallone’s Lucite-encased boxing trunks.

Unfortunately, it took less than three years for the Cafe’s eight locations to shutter and for the Butis to be indicted for fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. From that point on, the only runway that concerned them was the one that could get them on the next plane back to Italy.

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Tommaso Buti came to the United States in 1989 for what he described as a “fresh start” after feuding with his wealthy father. According to a 1997 profile in New York Magazine, Buti had actually left Florence, Italy in the wake of passing 51 bad checks and promissory notes.

Calling it a “financial problem,” Buti dismissed the $30,000 to $40,000 in dispute. “We’re not talking about $3 million,” he said. It was an inadvertent bit of foreshadowing.

Immediately upon Buti’s arrival in New York, he ingratiated himself into the upper classes of Manhattan’s social scene. After befriending an Italian real estate magnate, Buti developed connections that would prove invaluable to his future business pursuits. One friend, Luca Orlandi, was model Naomi Campbell’s ex-boyfriend; Kevin Costner often accompanied Buti to nightclubs.

After investments in a deli and an Italian restaurant, Buti set his sights on something larger. He noted that the mass media of the 1990s was preoccupied with supermodels, the ultra-famous clothing mannequins who populated fashion shows, television commercials, magazine covers, and music videos. Models like Macpherson and Schiffer had become A-list celebrities, and Buti wanted to parlay their fame into his existing knowledge of the restaurant business.

Although he would later describe the models as “part owners,”…