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A Master Swindler Takes His Turn as Victim

Scams: The fraud industry has its own ways of exacting justice, Rory Cypers learns.

April 20, 1999|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The three robbers had rifled through Rory Cypers' bedroom to no avail. They tore through his personal papers. They lifted his mattress. And then one of them brandished a knife and explained to Cypers the price of silence.

"I was told that my fingers were going to be chopped off one by one if I didn't start telling . . . where all the money was," Cypers would later recall.

A rising star in white-collar crime at 26, Cypers had successfully dodged a federal effort to collect restitution from him. But now he was about to have a brush with fraud industry self-regulation.

He knew what the shakedown meant. Someone intended to relieve him of the money he'd swindled. The question was who.

One of the robbers said Cypers had "screwed somebody out of money," the convicted con man recalled. "They were there to collect it."

Reluctant to lose a digit over his finances, he put pen to checkbook and offered the title to his BMW sedan and his Corvette.

The robbers then drove him to a local bank. One took Cypers inside, where he withdrew $5,000 in cash and purchased cashier's checks totaling $23,500 for the robbers. The men later dropped Cypers, described by authorities as a 275-pound college dropout who had been on Prozac since he was 19, near a freeway exit ramp.

After the men left, Cypers called the bank and put stop-payment orders on the checks.

Ventura County detectives have arrested one of the three robbers, who admitted his role in the April 1997 heist. And investigators have a theory about who wanted to exact revenge on Cypers.

An inmate at Safford Federal Prison in Arizona told detectives that an associate of Cypers had asked five or six prisoners there to invest in commodities, according to internal sheriff's documents. The prisoners had ponied up more than $100,000 to invest in Cypers' precious metals. Along with other investors, they lost their money.

Unlike federal regulators using legal tools to collect, the informant said, one of the inmates had devised a more personal approach: Hire some thugs on the outside to wipe out Cypers' assets.

Cypers said that six weeks before the robbery, the inmate, Thomas Casias, asked for a refund of the $17,500 that Casias and his mother had invested in the commodities venture, records show.

Cypers explained he wouldn't return money he wasn't responsible for losing. Casias then threatened to "do it my way," Cypers told authorities.

Casias, who is serving seven years on drug charges, declined comment. His lawyer, Michael Pancer, said, "I am confident there is no truth to any allegations [Casias] is involved in any way."

Cypers had also pocketed about $329,000 in profit from an earlier telemarketing scam operating under the name American Fortune 900, according to records from a receiver appointed when the Federal Trade Commission shut it down.

An estimated $292,000 in profit from that operation also went to telemarketer Jon A. Gentile, who had an earlier settlement with the FTC, according to the receiver's report. Gentile's lawyer declined to comment.

Cypers paid the heftiest share of his profits--$453,000--to Magical Promotions, a firm that purportedly sold content for 900-number lines, including recordings of LaToya Jackson telling her "family secrets." Magical Promotions, according to the receiver's report, was owned by Gentile's uncle, John Ciarcia.

But asked in an FTC deposition to list his responsibilities as Magical Promotions' president, Ciarcia said, "I have no idea." He added that he didn't remember whether Gentile worked for him.

Records show Ciarcia, who has played bit parts as a Mafia henchman in such films as "Goodfellas" and "Hoffa," also owns a restaurant on New York's famed Mulberry Street. He declined comment.

For his part, Cypers' future remains uncertain. He has since been convicted of fraud and contempt of court and was sentenced Feb. 22 to serve five years in prison.

Just before the judge handed down the sentence, Cypers made one more promise to his investors.

"I intend to pay the investors back," he said. "They need to be made whole. I will make them whole."

He didn't say where he would find the money.

* NO RECOURSE? Victims of convicted scam artists are often left holding the bag. A1

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