When I became aware of the situation with Harry Fitzsimmons and his partner Antonio Velardo I honestly did not foresee how intrigued I would be or how involved internationally the story would be. But I am glad it happened that way. I have intervewed Antonio a bit of over the little time we have known each other. I think it's time to tell his story.
Antonio Velardo was born in Naples, Italy in 1977.He was an ambitious young man with his head in the clouds even at a young age. His dreams and goals were to take him around the globe. His determination served him well. At the age of 19, he went to London. but he wanted to go to the US; the American dream was beckoning him . He settled in Florida. In Daytona Beach, he studied to be a pilot. His ambitions to soar with the eagles was finally recognized. He achieved a FAA Multi-Engine Commercial license at the young age of 21.
After finding out that the world was really open to him and that all he needed was a vision, Antonio travelled extensively and eventually converted his pilot's license from the US to a European one. In 2002, something was still missing, so Antonio decided to go to college in the UK. He earned a Bachelors's Degree in English with Honors at Loughborough University, a very prestigious university in the UK. He then moved to Spain where he got a job with a high end real estate agency. Within this company, he excelled as one of the top salesman. With an entrepreneurial spirit and a recently attained knowledge of real estate, he opened his own business. He sold and developed vacation or holiday homes in Southern Italy. Antonio then moved to Ireland where he met Harry Fitzsimmons, a Belfast gas station owner who he had sold property to in the past. He and Harry formed a business VFI (Velardo Fitzsimmons Investment) Overseas Property.
In 2007, VFI was hugely successful. Within the first year, they sold more than 450 units. By the age 29, from a modest upbringing, Antonio was a multimillionaire. This is literally the American dream fulfilled. All of us that have been taught hard work pays off see the success Antonio attained as the gold standard. Who wouldn't want to be in his shoes?
In 2009, VFI won several industry awards. There were offices in Dublin, Stockholm, London, Moscow and the Ukraine. This endeavor was unbelievably successful in wake of the global economic crisis. The upper echelon were still indulging in luxury properties. Antonio and Harry were the men to sell them. They started building a gated resort on the coast of Calabria. This well kept coastal paradise had been a secret getaway for the rich before but Antonio and Harry made it a much bigger luxury resort area. They single-handedly brought millions of dollars into the Calabrian economy at a time when other European and Mediterranean countries were struggling. Political and social unrest in Italy made the area volatile. So Antonio took his business to Tunisia and began investing in distressed properties around the globe. Eventually ending up settling in Miami in 2010, where he started several different businesses.
Now cut to the dawn raid of VFI holdings in March, 2013. Property seized, people arrested without real cause, lives destroyed. In the blink of an eye, years of hard work, suddenly cease to be. How does that happen? How can one man's baseless allegations destroy lives and dreams before he has to justify his actions? It seems like some sort of third world country with corruption and justice for hire systems in place. It is beyond comprehension. The ambition of a prosecutor who jails people first and investigates later? Apparently that is the standard in Italy. Didn't we just go through years with Amanda Knox aka Foxy Knoxy? Trumped up charges and questionable prosecution that inevitably is thrown out. At what cost? Why is no one concerned?
Harry Fitzsimmons is 63 years old sitting in a prison in Senegal. He is sickly. He may die before this prosecutor releases him on these unfounded charges. Will Harry's life be another tragic story of a life ruined by an Italian justice system that is in dire need of reform or could this tragic story be stopped before being another tragic statistic? One can only hope that maybe divine intervention wil prevail.