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Swindler Gets 'Deal' in Court

Frenchman, convicted of fraud in New York and Canada, pleads guilty in L.A. His attorney lauds sentence.

March 30, 2004|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Christopher Rocancourt seemed to know all the tricks. The handsome Frenchman wore Italian suits, drove a Ferrari and promised wealthy investors incredible returns on cash investments.

While posing at various times as a member of the Rockefeller family, a race car driver and a wealthy entertainment executive, the international con artist swindled more than a million dollars out of the rich and famous from California to New York to Canada, authorities said.

But on Monday, the well-pressed suits and charming repartee were absent as Rocancourt, 36, pleaded guilty to passport fraud conspiracy in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Rocancourt wore a blue jail uniform during his brief appearance before Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell and spoke only in response to her questions.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, he will be deported to France when released from prison. He is already serving sentences for two New York convictions. He will serve his time on all three cases concurrently at a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., and is expected to get out in October 2005.

"Good riddance," Deputy Dist. Atty. Hector Guzman said after Monday's hearing. "The French can have him back."

But Rocancourt might be back in the public eye sooner than prosecutors expect.

He plans to go into the movie business after his release, said his attorney, Victor Sherman. He has already appeared on television to talk about his swindles. And Sherman said Rocancourt was in negotiations to produce a movie about his life.

Rocancourt has also written a book about his experiences, "I, Christophe Rocancourt, Orphan, Playboy and Convict," which has been released in France. He must pay 75% of his earnings to his victims.

"This guy is an amazing con man," Sherman said. "One of my great feats as an attorney is that I actually got money out of him."

Using different identities and aliases, Rocancourt persuaded more than a dozen people to hand over cash by promising them mouth-watering profits, authorities said. Then he simply didn't pay them back or follow through on his end of the deal. Authorities alleged that he had lived a life of luxury -- limousines, first-class trips, penthouse suites -- on other people's money.

Born on the Normandy coast, Rocancourt lived in an orphanage as a child. He was committing crimes by the 1980s. He served time in France before moving to California in 1995.

While in Los Angeles, he paid a $2,000 bribe to two passport employees, who issued him an American passport. The district attorney's office filed a charge of conspiracy to use false documents against him and the two passport employees in 1998. The federal employees pleaded guilty, but Rocancourt fled.

He traveled to New York, where he claimed to be Christopher Rockefeller, despite a thick French accent. With his false identity and an air of credibility, he ingratiated himself in the well-off community of the Hamptons and stole nearly $200,000 from residents, authorities said.

He defrauded several other "investors" in New York and Los Angeles of $1.2 million. Among his victims, authorities said, were a movie stand-in, an owner of upscale clothing boutiques and a French pop singer. Police arrested him in the Hamptons in 2000.

He fled again, this time to Canada, where he was convicted of defrauding a businessman of more than $100,000. He served time there before being extradited to face charges in the U.S.

He agreed in January 2003 to a settlement in the New York and Los Angeles cases. In August, Rocancourt pleaded guilty to grand larceny in Suffolk County Court in New York and received a sentence of up to four years in prison. Two months later, he pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges on Long Island and was sentenced to three years and 10 months. Rocancourt apologized to the judge, saying, "I take responsibility for my actions."

Guzman said he had been waiting for years to bring Rocancourt before a judge in connection with the passport case. During this time, Rocancourt continued to live his life as a smooth-talking swindler on the lam.

"He appeared to be doing business the whole time," Guzman said. "And I don't mean legal business either."

His attorney, however, said Rocancourt agreed to the plea because the terms were favorable to him.

"He got a great deal," Sherman said. "What was the point in fighting?"

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