So much for fairy tale endings. For the last month, rumors have been swirling in Italy that George Clooney and his yearlong girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis were going to announce their engagement at his Lake Como estate this summer. A conspicuous white tent has been erected on the grounds, and local caterers and florists have hinted that they are working overtime. But all that might change now that the Italian beauty is at the center of a sex and drugs scandal with allegations that she did cocaine—and maybe more—as a frequent guest-for-hire at two Milan VIP nightclubs.
Canalis, 31, worked as a swimsuit model and a television showgirl before meeting Clooney in 2009, appearing in sequins and glitter as a “velina,” or side-show girl on the popular news parody program Striscia la Notizia, a sort of soft-porn version of The Daily Show. She also had bit parts in Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo and the Tuscan romantic comedy Virgin Territory, inevitably playing the silly vixen opposite otherwise uninteresting men.
But the scandal that threatens to engulf her concerns her work as a paid guest—something of a Paris Hilton-style celebrity—who would earn income just for showing up at posh clubs where she and her model friends would drink and dance with VIPs. It was during the height of that work in 2007 and 2008 that Canalis frequented two Milanese clubs, Hollywood and The Club. The two venues were shut down by authorities on July 26 amid allegations that a lively drug trade and high-priced prostitution ring were integral parts of the clubs’ business strategies. Five people, including the owners and managers, were arrested in a sting operation.
Canalis was not arrested, but her name appeared twice in sworn testimony garnered earlier this summer as part of the investigative stage. That testimony was just unsealed. In it, French model Karima Menad, who is under criminal investigation for prostitution and drugs, claimed she saw Canalis use drugs. "I used cocaine along with other people,” she told prosecutors. “Among whom was Elisabetta Canalis."
Menad’s testimony related strictly to events in 2007 and 2008, before Canalis met Clooney, who is not implicated in the matter. “We were in The Club in December 2007,” Menad’s testimony states. “We had been at a party of some famous celebrity whose name I cannot remember. Nor do I remember who brought the drugs, but I do know we all took them.”
Since meeting Clooney, Canalis has taken her career up a notch. She’s given up her role as a party girl for hire, and instead hosted a number of Italian variety programs and taken on some speaking roles. She was a fixture on Clooney’s arm while he was promoting his two recent films, Men Who Stare At Goats and Up In The Air, for which Clooney was nominated for an Oscar. And she is a regular at his palatial Como villa.
The prosecutor in the prostitution-ring case doesn’t care if Canalis has settled down, however. He believes that she, Menad, and a number of other models and showgirls are complicit in the clubs’ dirty business. After all, he says, they were regulars, paid by the clubs to ply customers with drugs and entice customers to drink more—and sometimes go to bed with them. "Their job was to encourage these customers to drink alcohol as to increase the table's bill, followed up by sex off-premises," prosecutor Frank Di Maio told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper. "The girls were often given cocaine for free by those who want to sit at a table of famous people.”
Di Maio believes that the goal of the men who hired Canalis and her colleagues was to be seen as players surrounded by beautiful women. (Never mind that they were paying top dollar for it.) “The men wanted the visibility that comes from being seated at a central table, and to be seen with models, or celebrities from fashion, entertainment, and sport."
Canalis is so far not being criminally investigated for wrongdoing, but sources close to the case say that the prosecutor will call her in for questioning based on Menad’s comments. Di Maio is also very interested in the many photos of Canalis with “clients” that have come to light since the clubs closed down. Neither she nor Clooney have made a public statement on the matter, and, at least for now, the white wedding tent is still up in the lake-view garden of Clooney’s Como villa.
Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek magazine since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel Magazine and Frommer's.