Tuesday, February 1, 2011
U.S. Charges Fraud Scheme by 2 Fake Guggenheims and One Fake Countess
Of all the frauds charged in Manhattan federal court in recent years, few have offered as bizarre a cast of characters as those described in a complaint unsealed by prosecutors on Monday.
The fraud even included people who falsely claimed to be members of the Guggenheim family to try to insinuate themselves with both former President Bushes in hopes of making financial deals, prosecutors said.
“The Bush family is always invited to Manhattan, where they will be a guest of the Guggenheims, at any time,” one defendant, who called herself Lady Catarina Pietra Toumei, wrote to a man who had worked with the elder Mr. Bush, the complaint said.
Prosecutors said that the two fraudulent Guggenheim family members and Ms. Toumei, who claimed to be a countess married to an actor from the television program “Cheers,” tried to solicit money and promote billions of dollars in false investment deals that involved diamonds, crude oil, vodka and bank notes.
They said that as part of the scheme, the fraudulent Guggenheims and Ms. Toumei claimed to be working with the “Guggenheim Fund” and “Guggenheim Bank,” organizations that the government said were “sham, nonexistent entities.”
The two men charged in the scheme were arrested on Monday, the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan said. They were identified as David Birnbaum, 67, of Brooklyn, who called himself David B. Guggenheim, and Vladimir Zuravel, 45, of Queens, who called himself Vladimir Z. Guggenheim.
Prosecutors said that both men were ordered released on bond, while Ms. Toumei, 45, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., remained at large. Mr. Zuravel’s lawyer would not comment, and lawyers for Mr. Birnbaum and Ms. Toumei could not be reached.
In one scheme last fall, prosecutors said, Ms. Toumei, describing herself as investment relations manager of the Guggenheim Fund, wrote to the chief executive of a company whose clients buy and sell commodities, saying she was brokering a sale of rough diamonds worth more than $1 billion from the Guggenheim family’s private collection.
She was eventually put in touch with a representative of a potential buyer, according to the complaint, which was signed by Gregory T. Botti, a federal postal inspector.
In a follow-up message to the buyer’s representative, Ms. Toumei wrote that Vladimir Guggenheim and David Guggenheim were “ready, willing and able to supply you with up to 100,000 carats worth of rough diamonds” and asked for proof that money was available for the purchase.
Around the same time, prosecutors charged, Ms. Toumei learned that the chief executive she was in touch with had previously worked with the elder President Bush. In one letter to the chief executive, she said that her colleagues were interested in “a private and confidential meeting” with either former President Bush, the complaint said.
The complaint does not indicate that money was actually lost in any scheme.