6 Ridiculous Liars Who Managed To Fool The Rich And Famous
By Alex Hanton
It seems crazy that any random person can stroll into a fancy hotel, claim to be a wealthy heiress, and instantly be accepted into high society. But it turns out that's a lot easier than you'd think. If you're confident enough, you can shamble into an opera house with a dead prison guard shackled to your arm, introduce yourself as the Earl of Gondolin, and score free tickets to Anna Wintour's all-intern Hunger Games within the week. Look at how ...
6 LA's Hottest Playboy Was A Con Man Pretending To Be A French Rockefeller
Christophe Rocancourt, the son of a drunken house painter and a 17-year-old sex worker, grew up in a rural French "hovel" without water or electricity. This may sound suspiciously like a Dr. Evil monologue, but it's actually the only part of his backstory that checks out. After an unsuccessful criminal career, he fled armed robbery charges and hid out in Los Angeles in the mid '90s. There he would introduce himself as Chris Rockefeller. Occasionally he was Chris de la Renta or Chris De Laurentiis, but he was always some famous guy's beloved nephew. And while this exact scam saw him laughed out of Paris, in LA, he was wildly successful. Make of that what you will.
With his new rich douchebag persona opening doors all over town, Rocancourt spent time living in Mickey Rourke's house, married and fathered a son with Playboy playmate Pia Reyes, and moved into a suite in the swanky Beverley Wiltshire Hotel. There he inked deals to produce Jean-Claude van Damme's next movie and to partner with Jermaine Jackson to market a line of Michael-Jackson-themed fragrances, which would both be incredibly deals even without the involvement of a heavily accented French guy pretending to be a Rockefeller.
Law enforcement caught up to Rocancourt after an argument in a nightclub somehow turned into a shootout in Dodi Fayed's old Hummer. He fled to the Hamptons and tried to resume his scam, but was almost immediately arrested, because old money New Yorkers could somehow recognize that the heavily tattooed Frenchman was not a Rockefeller. After a prison sentence, Rocancourt was extradited to France, where he completely failed to reform himself. His most recent arrest was in 2014, for running a fake passport scam with the founder of France's elite special forces unit. Keep dreaming big, buddy.
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Just maybe not "Rockefeller" big. Powerful billionaires tend to press charges over that kind of thing.
5 The Fake Reality Show Star Who Swindled Socialites
Michael Manos was dubbed the "Glam Scammer," which makes him sound like a Josie And The Pussycats villain, and he has the fashion sense to match. He's known for passing himself off as a wealthy young socialite with a reality TV obsession, even though he was in truth a career crook on parole for an '80s kidnapping. Think of him as a wannabe Paris Hilton, if it turned out that Paris' real name was "Mugsy," and she was wanted for working over a bookie with a wrench.
It all started when Manos was released on probation and immediately fled New York for Atlanta, where he took on the overwrought pseudonym "Michael Christian de Medici" and started a fraudulent real estate company. He became a fixture of the city's social scene, attending galas hosted by the likes of Jane Fonda, whom he charmed by donating a house to her charity. He was long gone by the time it was determined that the house was not his to donate. He also used the de Medici name to film a reality show pilot starring himself as a "European trust fund baby," but vanished again after throwing a premiere party in New York.
Next he appeared in Washington, claiming to be a high-powered lobbyist and star of the reality show Two Gay Men, featuring himself and his dog. He threw an elegant fundraiser for John McCain before skipping town with the proceeds. In 2010 he hit Dallas, where he was Greek trust fund brat Mladen Stefanov, star of the reality show Bella Boyz, and scammed at least $87,000 from the local upper crust. Other aliases include Dain Alexander Manos, Brooke Carrington III, and Alexis Vanderbilt, and you know these accents were getting worse over time.
The law finally caught up with Manos, but when he was released in 2013, he immediately violated his parole by moving to New Orleans, where he introduced himself as J.P. Morgan's grandson, star of a reality show where he was journeying to the Big Easy looking for love. He held open auditions, became a fixture in the town's swankiest nightclubs, and put in a $2 million bid on a house while being evicted from a $500 rental. Once the whole town was abuzz, he announced he would host a fabulous red carpet masquerade charity ball, but the whole thing fell apart because his exploits had become infamous enough to get him recognized. He was rearrested, but to be fair to the guy, he did give us some reality-show-caliber antics. And has Lisa Vanderpump ever vaulted over a chain link fence, pockets stuffed full of John McCain's money, with a tuxedo-clad mob in hot pursuit? Probably, but imagine if she'd been willing to film it!
4 A High-Profile Economics Expert Was A Recently Released Fraudster
In 2012, some Portuguese prisoners were surprised to turn on the news and see top UN economist Artur Baptista da Silva issue a thundering denunciation of the government's austerity policy. And not because they had strong opinions on macroeconomics, but because they recognized him as their old pal, who had served time for both fraud and a hit-and-run. In under a year, he had apparently earned a doctorate, became a professor at an American university, taken a sabbatical to work as a UN special envoy, and became Portugal's top pundit. What a work ethic!
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"No one with that much bald and that nerdy a suit could possibly NOT be an economics professor." -- every cable news producer
OK, so it turns out the IMF isn't holding a lot of job fairs at prisons. Da Silva had simply downloaded a World Bank paper, slapped his name on it, and wandered around universities and think tanks, introducing himself as a UN envoy and asking for notes on "his" report. He bolstered his claim by handing out business cards declaring him a professor at Wisconsin's Milton College, which closed in 1982. They also had his Gmail address, which makes sense, since the UN had largely transferred over from RocketMail by that point.
That all got him an invitation to speak at a prestigious Lisbon intellectual club, which in turn got him a double-page spread in one of the country's biggest newspapers. And just like that, he was a respected pundit. It's like if Maureen Dowd was in fact running from the cops when she accidentally fell through a skylight into the offices of The New York Times.
Then he went international, as Reuters picked up an interview with him, which was featured in papers like The Chicago Tribune. The whole thing finally fell apart after he announced that the UN would be coming out against Portugal's financial policy and someone contacted the UN for comment. They clarified that they had no such employee, presumably after asking if they were about to be featured on a YouTube prank show.
What did da Silva get out of this? Nothing, aside from a chance to tell off a government he disliked for their strong "putting him in jail" stance. He wasn't paid for his media appearances, and he had seemingly no plans to exploit the scheme. He basically vanished after claiming that his analysis was still credible and announcing plans to sue the press for "tarnishing his reputation," possibly because he realized that they could sue him right back for the same thing before having him arrested for fraud.
3 The Glamorous Wedding Of The Duke Of Aragon, Who Was On The Run From A Motorcycle Gang
In 2006, the Dutch social event of the year was the wedding of Anthonie van Wilderode, the Duke of Aragon, to Tara Elliot, "the beautiful daughter of a Scotch-Irish aristocrat." The ceremony was to be held in the famous Basilica of Oudenbosch, followed by a reception for 250 guests in the royal Het Loo Palace, catered by celebrity TV chef Robert Kranenborg. The bride was to wear a fabulous ring of 108 diamonds set in platinum. Aside from the groom being stolen by jealous mer-folk, what could go wrong with such a fantasy marriage?
The big day came, well-heeled guests arrived at the basilica, and they ... found that the doors were locked. All the Duke's checks had bounced. Probably because he wasn't a duke, but a conman who was in witness protection after making a series of bizarre false confessions about one of the country's most notorious gangs.
His real name was Anthonie de Bruin, and he had served time for pretending to be a millionaire to get free meals and helicopter rides. After his release, he told authorities he had become prison pals with a key member of the Nomads, a chapter of the Hell's Angels. He provided incriminating testimony about their long chats, which the Dutch government used to charge the gangster with three counts of murder. But the case collapsed when it turned out de Bruin was a fantasist who had made stuff up.
With an angry motorcycle gang looking for him, the Dutch government felt begrudgingly obligated to change his name to van Wilderode. He tacked on "Duke of Aragon" himself, and used his new identity to pose as a wealthy young aristocrat. He was arrested for fraud the night before the wedding, served a prison sentence, then moved to Ireland to sell edible insects. He was most recently arrested again for using a custom-made carriage to steal fancy kitchen appliances and resell them online, which is not a crime that usually gets people whispering "The Duke has struck again!"
2 The Broke Grifter And His Bumbling Imaginary Friend Who Stole $8 Million
In 2008, 21-year-old Michael Wilson caused a stir in Buffalo, NY when he bid $6.3 million for a mansion and lodge owned by cheese magnate John Russo. Hell, for another $500,000, he probably could have picked up the rest of the city with it. For tax purposes, Russo agreed to accept $2.5 million upfront, with the rest in $1 million yearly installments. Wilson immediately began extensive renovations to the already obscenely opulent house, then tried to set himself up as the king of Buffalo, zooming around in flashy cars and hosting huge Christmas parties for local kids. He also entered negotiations to buy the city's famed Tishman skyscraper. Which was all rather impressive, considering he had no money.
Wilson presented himself as the owner of "New Frontier Development," which started when he used his mother's credit to buy four rundown homes and then somehow took out mortgages that were $200,000 more than they were worth. The houses were immediately foreclosed, but Wilson had already used that money for his first payment to Russo. He then started aggressively seeking investors for his "high-end real estate" business, and he got them. After all, the guy was buying the most expensive house in Buffalo, so obviously he was a good investor! Every investment he received immediately went to the rest of Russo's initial $2.5 million, then toward cars and artwork.
(Image: © Newfrontiertrust.com)
But honestly, what investor could keep their wallet closed when confronted with this misaligned, poorly spelled highway to financial ruin?
To secure the con, Wilson invented a New Frontier executive named George Possiodis, who was just Wilson doing a voice over the phone (and at one point, a hired actor). Whenever investors got suspicious, they were told to speak to Possiodis, a huge idiot who never seemed to know exactly what was going on. When a suspicious $5 million investor came to the house, Wilson excused himself and called in as Possiodis on speakerphone. That investor doubtless left furious. He wanted to speak to business prodigy Michael Wilson, not that klutz who kept bungling everything!
Wilson took in over $8 million in investor cash without ever making any investments, or even incorporating a company. the scam collapsed after Russo figured him out and foreclosed on him. Wilson's currently in prison, although the fiendish George Possiodis somehow slipped away.
1 A Colombian Fugitive Made A Series Of Insane Claims About Her Life, And Two Washington Insiders Threw Money At Her
When the mysterious Madame Giselle moved into a plush Washington apartment building popular with D.C. insiders, she quickly struck up friendships with her fellow tenants. They were charmed by incredible stories of her life among the jet set. And what a life it had been! Madame Giselle was the ex-wife of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the secret current wife of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, and pursued hopelessly by the lovestruck president of Angola. Where did she find a version of Tinder that only has world leaders on it? Let us know, because Moon Jae-in could get it. She was also a "mom figure" to Ivanka Trump, and had an office in the White House, which she'd also held when previously advising the Obama administration. Watch out, first ladies, the President's Choice is creeping 'round!
Naturally, Madame Giselle went everywhere accompanied by five undercover bodyguards. Sure, no one could ever see them, but that's how good they were. She would leave for weeks and send typo-riddled WhatsApp updates about helicoptering into Beirut, spending $3 million in Bogota to ransom her kidnapped brother, or meeting with Venezuelan generals. When she was in town, she spent money like crazy, handing out $100 tips and giving expensive gifts. And then she started asking for money.
Giselle told her neighbors that she had set up a deal to sell T-shirts to the Venezuelan army, and because they were such good friends, she wanted to cut them in on it. All they had to do was cough up a few grand for "registration costs." Now, the millionaire secret wife of the Egyptian president asking you to slip $1,870 under her apartment door would normally raise enough red flags for a Soviet parade, but two separate neighbors (an international development specialist and a foreign diplomat) went for it.
Shockingly, problems started cropping up with the deal, and she asked for more money to pay more fees. She eventually collected tens of thousands of dollars through this physical version of a Nigerian prince scam before vanishing. It was later learned that Giselle fled Colombia in the '90s after allegedly collecting at least $1 million through a fraudulent scheme to supply the army with ponchos. Hey, if a scam ain't broke, don't fix it.