A Curious Tale

by Michael D. SellersA couple of months back I was contacted by a certain “Luciano Marzotto” of Milan, Italy, who said he represented a Russian “billionaire” who wanted to invest in film. “Marzotto” is, to Italians, a name on the level of “Rockefeller” here. He didn’t identify the Russian but said he was part of Alrosa Diamonds — which is the Russian diamond monopoly. It sounded like a probable scam but you never know – there are real Russian billionaires out there (Forbes lists 113 of them) and it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that one might want to throw some money into a film.So, cautiously to be sure, I allowed some email exchanges to ensue — thinking that if it somehow did turn out to be real and MovieBank could snare a production contract that would net several million dollars or more in fees for the company that would be a great thing for us. At first it seemed all they were looking for was a professional producer/production company to handle a film for them, so it didn’t immediately look like a scam — but then it turned out that they wanted the producer to put up $185,000 in order to trigger a release of $50M to finance the film. This was a major red flag. The twist here was that he insisted we would never lose control of the money (which had to be cash, another red flag) until after the production funding was in our account. The other scams I’m familiar with (the Nigerian pipeline scam comes to mind, and one I encountered in the Philippines as well) don’t include that wrinkle. Along the way I brought Don Barton our attorney into it and he too suspected a scam, but we agreed to let it play out a bit more before shutting it done. Don also had a financier who would, if we validated, front the $200k–but only if we validated the whole situation to everyone’s satisfaction.Well — “Marzotto” has stayed in touch and I haven’t shut him down simply because there’s always that 2% chance you just have an eccentric, not a scammer, on the other end. Then this morning, because he was pressing me to get on a plane and go to Milan, I did another round of googling trying to find something that might give me a clear indication that he was either a scammer (98% probability) or not (2%).Previously I had been searching using various combinations of marzotto, alrosa, milan, diamonds, movies. Today it occurred to me to type in “marzotto fraud” and — bingo. The following article came up. I’m printing it all here but you can view it at http://allafrica.com/stories/200707100945.htmlThe article recounts the story of a South African producer who was given the same story, including the part that your money never leaves your control until the production funding is in your account. Turns out, what they do is swap out the cash that the producer brings, replacing it with fake money — so that the producer ends up thinking his money is safe in a swiss vault but in reality all that’s in the vault is the counterfeit money. In that sense it’s pretty elaborate.They say in the article that the Swiss Police and Interpol are chasing “marzotto”. I have filed a report with the FBI just in case they would like to sting this guy. Otherwise I’m done with it and regret wasting a few hours of time (probably 10 or 12 hours altogether, so not too much) on itHere’s the article.

South Africa: Filmmaker’s Movie Dreams Dashed as Scamsters Steal R1.5 MillionCape Argus (Cape Town)10 July 2007Posted to the web 10 July 2007Murray WilliamsA Cape filmmaker is devastated after being robbed of R1.5 million – seed capital for an exciting new movie – by brazen international scamsters.The saga began four months ago when Craig and Isabel Tarling, of PC Stage in Somerset West, were approached by Steen Marcussen, author of 2 000 Carats.The book, subsequently adapted into a film screenplay, is a true story based on the huge diamond stolen out of Namibia’s Spergebiet diamond region in the 1970s – and the subsequent dramatic manhunt that followed the thief across the globe.Marcussen wrote from first-hand experience as one of the Interpol agents who chased the thief at the time.The Tarlings sought and found what they thought was a reputable financier for their project but the couple’s dream ended in heartbreak in a Swiss bank vault recently when they discovered that the “investors” were a high-class scam outfit and that R1.5m of their money had been secretly switched and replaced by worthless paper.”It was our dream and passion – we were so excited because financing is so difficult for movies,” said Craig Tarling yesterday.The thieves are now being sought by both Swiss police and Interpol.When they began their search for an investor, the Tarlings were pointed to an agent in Milan, Italy, named Luciano Marzotto, who represented a Russian investor with major interests in a large diamond corporation.Craig Tarling explained that he and his wife had been cautious and had done a background check on the “investors”, including Interpol, and they had seemed to be legitimate.Months of negotiation followed and the investor eventually committed to providing $20-million.The Tarlings were asked to “show their company’s legitimacy and good standing” by providing R1.5m as a deposit but this would only have to be deposited once they had re-ceived $6m, the first third of the $20m – and it would be kept in a reputable Swiss bank’s secure vault.”This sounded all above board to us and we proceeded with the deal,” said Tarling.The couple made several trips to Switzerland which cost them an additional R200 000 in hotel and travel bills.”In our telephone conversations with Luciano, he repeatedly assured us that our cash will not be in any danger as they will only take it from us once their money had been swifted into our account and had been cleared,” said Tarling.On June 1, Marzotto asked if a representative of his could check their money and this was done in their hotel with Marcussen and two security guards, hired by the Tarlings, monitoring the interchange.The bundles of cash were then rewrapped and transfer-red by Tarling and Marcussen to a branch of UBS Swiss bank, where they deposited it in a security box in a vault.The Tarlings became suspicious when the investors start-ed shunning them.On June 8 their fears were realised when Marcussen was sent to visit the bank vault. He discovered that the cash was in fact worthless paper. The money had somehow been switched during the meeting in the hotel room.”We were absolutely devastated, shattered. A couple of people had said to us ‘Be careful – it might be a scam,” said Tarling. “But we always thought that if we didn’t give them any money, then there was no way they could scam us.”It was a brilliant sleight of hand, right under our noses and there were three of us. He must have been bloody good at what he did.”After all the precautions we took, how careful we were, they still ended up one up on us. It’s like something out of a movie,” said Tarling.

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~ by Michael Sellers on September 7, 2007.

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