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Man masquerading as fashion model bilks wealthy men

The police sought a person who claimed to be Bree Condon and who had bilked thousands out of men in an online scam. They were surprised to meet Justin Brown.

January 19, 2010|By Harriet Ryan

For would-be sugar daddies perusing SeekingMillionaire .com -- "the meeting place for wealthy and beautiful singles" -- there was much to like about profile #160127. "Bree" identified herself as a 23-year-old model from Newport Beach, and the accompanying photos showed an emerald-eyed beauty with a mane of silky brown hair and a wraparound smile that seemed both sexy and sweet.

"Just looking for Mr. Right," her brief self-description read. If the pictures -- one in a backless dress at a party, another in a clingy halter top -- seemed somehow familiar, a quick Internet search offered an explanation: Bree Condon, 23, of Newport Beach was a successful model and aspiring actress who'd done a Guess jeans campaign and posed for Maxim magazine's swimsuit issue.

The profile beckoned on the site for nearly two years, and some who responded soon believed they had embarked on a romantic relationship with Condon. There were no face-to-face dates, but there were intimate phone conversations, nude photos and the enticing possibility of a future with a gorgeous cover girl.

None of it was true, a fact that came to light last month when police officers, prodded by a private investigator hired by the real Condon, knocked on the door of a budget motel room in Austin, Texas. Inside, according to police, they found an iPhone that had been a gift from one suitor, a small dog paid for by another and a 24-year-old man with a very high-pitched voice.

Authorities say the man, Justin Brown, had been impersonating Condon online and on the telephone for years. A grand jury indicted him last week on a felony theft charge. He's accused of duping a wealthy Miami Beach doctor out of about $15,000 the doctor believed he was sending to Condon. Los Angeles police also are investigating.

Condon's experience highlights a particular hazard of the Internet Age for those who enjoy minor celebrity. The demi-fame allowed by the limitless expanse of cyberspace appears to have made Condon the perfect target.

Men could verify that she was a working model and keep track of her photo shoots and acting gigs online, but she wasn't so famous that tabloids might write about who she was actually dating.

The Internet also enabled Brown to gather enough biographical information about Condon to pass as her, those involved in the case said.

"We think there are a lot of other [duped] guys out there. How many, I don't know," Austin police Det. Carl Satterlee said.

"He [Brown] had this whole persona created," said John Carbona, a private investor and inventor from Fort Myers, Fla., who encountered Brown posing as Condon on another social media site. Carbona said Brown used real details about Condon's family -- including her parents' occupations and the number of siblings she has -- in an attempt to shake him down for money. "You have to hand it to this kid. He stayed in character for two years."

Condon did not return messages left with her agent, but her private investigator said in a statement that she was working with authorities.

She "pursued this with law enforcement because she was very concerned about other people being conned by this impersonator, especially since he was apparently taking money from people and engaging in behavior that Bree would never participate in," her investigator, Jon Perkins, said.

According to the arrest warrant, Condon believed Brown -- a man she told police she'd never met or spoken to -- Photoshopped her face onto nude photos of other women and then sent them to suitors.

Postings over the last two years on the website Who's Dated Who hint at the number of men who may have been scammed. After the site authors listed both actor Colin Farrell and professional basketball player Marko Jaric as dating Condon, a visitor calling himself Michael Curry wrote, "love the gossip but bree and i have been dating for months." Others replied with warnings.

"She is bad news," read one typical posting.

Interestingly, another user disparaging Condon identified himself as Justin Brown.

"I dated her too. Really sweet at first then it's $5,000 a month just to be one of her boyfriends," the posting read.

Brown remains in jail, and his court-appointed lawyer did not return calls seeking comment. Satterlee, the detective investigating the Austin case, described him as "cooperative" in an interview with police.

"He made statements that substantiated the information," Satterlee said.

Jason Boone, a researcher at the National White Collar Crime Center who has studied Internet scams, said Condon's case stood out as an unusual "true case of identity theft" among the more common schemes targeting bank accounts or credit card information.

"Here you are actually stealing someone's name and likeness," he said. As a criminal operation, it is rarer than viruses or e-mail con letters that aim to steal financial information, likely because those require less work, he said.

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