Sunday, February 4, 2007
He showed up one day in the swank Hamptons beach resort area of New York's Long Island, introducing himself as Christopher Rockefeller. In a strong French accent he told the swells he hailed from the little-known Gallic branch of the famously fixed family whose members have graced every Forbes 400 list since its 1982 inception.
With such a moneyed name and an ex-Playboy model for a wife, Christopher was accepted into the society crowd--until he stole $200,000 and defrauded assorted investors, many of whom he met through society circles, of another $1.2 million by promising them big returns in exchange for advance fee payments.
Christopher Rocancourt (a.k.a. Rockefeller).
He was Christopher, all right--Christopher Rocancourt, a convicted criminal in his native France wanted in Los Angeles for a passport bribery scheme and who reportedly had once posed as, among others, the nephew of filmmaker Dino De Laurentiis. Rocancourt, 37, pleaded guilty on both coasts, as well as in Canada, where he was jailed a year for swindling $100,000 posing as a race car driver. He is now serving a five-year federal prison sentence, after which he likely will be deported to France. Unabashed, he's written a book about his life and, says his lawyer, Victor Sherman, a movie is on the way.
Rocancourt is one of about 30 folks we found who over the last decade managed to get people to part with their money by posing as members of well-known families with access to great wealth or influence. Some of this group posed as star athletes or musicians such as lead Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti. At times their game wasn't money but sex or pricey medical treatments.
Nearly all of the 30 got caught, but often not before inflicting financial harm. French novelist Honoré de Balzac once wrote, "Behind every great fortune there is a crime." He could have said: Behind many a great crime there is a fortune.
Many of these scammers are smart enough to avoid impersonating the family leader, whose image might be well-known. Like Rocancourt, they often present themselves as a close relative.
In 1997 an Iranian immigrant named Anoushirvan D. Fakhran badly wanted to attend a suburban Washington, D.C. Catholic high school. Press accounts say he changed his name legally to Jonathan Taylor Spielberg, lowered his stated age from 27 to 16 and duped the school into thinking he was the nephew of director (and Forbes 400 member) Steven Spielberg. He drove to school in a BMW sporting the license plate "SPLBERG." Fakhran later pleaded guilty to forgery for submitting phony school forms and drew an 11-month suspended sentence.
Valliola Gnassemi Dakdare posed as Iranian royalty
Benjamin Maybanks lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the New York City borough of Queens, which, judging from extensive press coverage, is about as close to royalty as he ever got. But he changed his name to Sultan Ibn Chandler Sabah al Sabah Dantata and said he was a son of the fabulously wealthy Kuwaiti royal family. He then romanced $110,000 out of two highly impressionable Japanese women. He was found out only because the ladies met and discovered in comparing notes about their happiness in America that they had the same exotic and rich boyfriend. In June a New York judge sent away the would-be prince, 41, for 11 to 22 years.
Then there was the man who made headlines in Denver several years ago telling folks he was Ali Patrik Pahlavi, nephew of the late Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and worth "billions." Suspicions arose after he couldn't meet hotel and wardrobe bills while trying to entice locals into dubious investment deals. Police determined his real name was Valliola Gnassemi Dakdare and that he had entered the U.S. on a fake Belgian passport. Dakdare pleaded guilty to theft and criminal impersonation charges and was sentenced to 31/2 years.
Another time-honored con is to claim a piece of an ancient fortune. As described by Philadelphia newspapers, Tereza Solomon Demoody la-dee-dahed around town claiming she was a descendant of Revolutionary War financier Haym Salomon (despite the spelling discrepancy) and heiress to his $47 million fortune. She rode limos and stayed at the fancy Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Harvey Sklaroff, a suburban real estate broker, lent her $80,000 after she said she wanted to avoid withdrawals from a $20,000-a-month trust fund because of heavy taxation. Alas, it turned out that Salomon had died childless and poor and that Demoody was a widow, who herself had filed for bankruptcy a decade earlier. In 2003 she was found guilty of theft by deception and writing bad checks. Sentence: 12 to 23 months.
Posted by blogger at 6:22 AM