It's unclear what Sgarbi was up to after leaving Credit Suisse in 1996, but much of what is known comes from court records. In 2001, he drew the attention of Swiss authorities when his new fiancée, 83-year-old Countess Verena du Pasquier-Guebels, reported that 20 million Swiss francs ($19 million) had gone missing from her bank accounts. Police arrested Sgarbi that September and charged him with extortion and theft. Sgarbi returned the 20 million francs to his dowager bride-to-be. Feeling sorry for him, the countess dropped the charges. She died the next year; by then Sgarbi had sponged from her or otherwise cost her 7 million francs, for which he was never charged.

How many more affairs he had over the next three or four years is unclear. But in 2005, he seduced the 64-year-old wife of a German furniture-maker. By this point his grift had evolved from simple transfers of money into a brilliant two-phase scam. In this case, he told the woman he had struck a child with his car in the United States; if he did not pay €1.2 million, he would face jail time. He persuaded her to put up half the money in cash. Then he turned the screw, saying he had secretly photographed the two of them having sex ("to have something to occupy myself with in between our rendezvous," he told her) and that his laptop had been stolen. The Mafia had gotten hold of it and was threatening to make the images public unless he paid €1.2 million. The woman borrowed the money from a bank and brought it to Sgarbi, who simply took the bundle of cash from her hands and sped off in a van. She told police, "He didn't even say thank you."

But this was only a test run for the con he would work at one of Europe's toniest spa resorts.

The Hotel Lanserhof is a luxury spa near the Habsburgs' summer palace in Innsbruck, Austria, the type of retreat bored wealthy women seek out when they want to pay more than $300 for a "deep liver detox" and sip herbal tea in white robes while gazing out on the Alps. In short, it is the perfect hunting ground for a gigolo.

Sgarbi arrived, in the summer of 2007, with a sad story: His wife had run off with a Spaniard and he had come here to heal his soul. He quickly ingratiated himself with the well-heeled matrons: He displayed impeccable manners and an apparent pedigree. They loved that Sgarbi listened, he understood—unlike their busy husbands. He was an expert flirt, "more or less the 'flame' of women a certain age," one of his victims that summer later told police. "Women absolutely wanted to know more about him."

For his first big score, he seduced Monika Sandler, a 49-year-old German divorcée and owner of a textile empire. Within days of meeting her, Sgarbi was staying at her home in the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel. "I realized he had a rather spiritual vein," Sandler told police. And a physical one—there was lots of sex, "in several hotels, several times, in various cities," she said, "in Rome, Munich, and my home in Kitzbühel."