Filed under: fraud

Fugitive Fund Manager A-hole Surrenders

(Note: During my sort-of hiatus I realized one BIG reason why I was just about sick of doing this crime-blogging thing: I have been editing myself way too closely. I don’t mean correcting typos, bad grammar, whatever — I mean not saying what I think. Being blunt, if called for. Letting my quirks show, as I often do here. Well, I’m trying to change that. Some long-time readers may not like the result, and I apologize to you/them in advance. But in order to keep crime-blogging, and in order to enjoy it, I have to quit worrying so much about how I express myself. This isn’t me trying to do anything but say what I’m thinking; what’s really going on in my head in response to some of the stories covered in this blog. So there you go. You’ve been warned.)

The hedge fund manager dickhead who tried to fake his suicide in order to run off and spend his ill-gotten gains in peace has been arrested in Massachusetts. Samuel Israel III was on the phone with his mommy when he sauntered into a police station in Southwick, Mass and surrendered to the authorities.

Israel disappeared on June 9. He was on his way to begin serving a 20 year sentence, and it wasn’t like the guy was headed to some anal-rape fest inside some brutal Fed lockup; he was headed to a Federal Medical Center. Israel has some vicious issues with back pain and has been addicted to painkillers; he was slated to receive another in a series of operations intended to alleviate that pain when he vanished.

On the 9th, authorities found Israel’s abandoned car on a bridge over the Hudson River. Someone had written “suicide is painless” in the dust on the hood and some of Israel’s personal effects were inside the vehicle.

Israel’s bloated remains didn’t show up down the Hudson anywhere, so investigators realized he must be off somewhere thumbing his nose at them and, for all they knew, watching M*A*S*H marathons at his leisure.

Prior to Israel’s arrest on Wednesday, the investigation into his disappearance turned up evidence that his girlfriend, Debra Ryan, had helped him go on the run. Ryan was arrested two weeks ago. She has been charged with aiding and abetting.

It probably was no surprise to anyone investigating the case that Israel disappeared. In late August, 2005, feds showed up at the offices of Israel’s company, Bayou Securities LLC, only to find out that he and others they sought were in the wind. In one sense, you couldn’t blame the guy for trying to rabbit back then — there’s no succinct way to explain how $500,000,000 of your investors’ funds just went poof.

There was some precedent for Israel’s faked suicide, too. In 2005 the real suicide of Bayou’s CFO, Daniel Marino, was accompanied by a note stating that Israel and his partner had “defrauded all these investors” since at least 1998. Samuel Israel III — likely the classic corporate psychopath — simply cobbled together a story from his own history to try and get away.

There is no blood in a story like this, but it has its own kind of horror. And it would be one thing if Israel were the only one of his kind, but as so many stories of massive fraud from the last 15 years or so demonstrate, he is not.

At least he’s back where he belongs. Sam Israel has 20 years to stew on that and try and figure out where it all went wrong. But he won’t.

The Fall of Carmine Baffa *UPDATED*

SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ENTRY.

Carmine Edmund Baffa, 52, ran seminars across the country, stalking through starry-eyed crowds hanging on his every word, wearing a headset mic as he instructed others on how they could achieve “life improvement.” Baffa was all about “Human Performance Engineering.” He tacked Ph.D. at the end of his name, and apparently, plenty of people bought into what Baffa was selling.

Baffa, a resident of Lawrenceville, GA, was arrested April 9 and is in the Gwinnett County Jail, charged with raping two teen girls, aged 13 and 19. While local Atlanta media has referenced “two separate incidents,” Baffa’s charge sheet, available online as of April 17, shows multiple charges. They include aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation, and rape.

While Baffa traveled nationwide for seminars, his alleged crimes occurred in a private setting at his Georgia residence. The victims told police that they were raped during therapy sessions. Though Baffa was supposedly a hypnotist, his alleged victims were not under any kind of hypnotic spell. Police believe Baffa committed rape as part of furthering the patients’ “treatment.”

Gwinnett County Police Department spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman told local reporters that adults being treated by Baffa “[S]aid they knew what was going on, but were convinced that it would help their treatment.”

Spellman also said that legitimate therapists referred patients to Baffa, who presented himself as a psychotherapist. In reality, Carmine Baffa was “not a licensed therapist” in any way, according to Cpl. Spellman.

For his “Mindsight” seminars, Baffa traveled to Chicago and Los Angeles in addition to holding seminars in the Atlanta area.

Baffa’s website, Carmine.net, appeared to be “under construction,” but at one time it contained a great deal of writing by Baffa, some of it quite creepy in light of the recent charges against him. He’d posted many of the articles as responses to various discussions in Usenet groups, message boards that have been online in one form or another since the 1980s. Some were still online as of April 17, 2008, but it looked as though any links to the writing from the main page of Baffa’s website had been severed.

One “Internet Response From Carmine Baffa, Creator of Human Performance Engineering,” was titled, “NLP and Sex.” NLP referred to “neuro-linguistic programming.” Wikipedia described NLP as “an interpersonal communication model and an alternative approach to psychotherapy” that was “based on the subjective study of language, communication and personal change.”

In “NLP and Sex,” Baffa wrote the following:

This, by far, is one of my favorite subjects. At least that’s the way I feel today. I often wonder about how so many people could experience anything other than wanton desire that moves toward passionate sexual arousal. My question has been the opposite. How do I turn it off?

Of course, the results of having internalized the skills of NLP has only added to my misery. Now, not only do I live in a state of heightened sexual arousal, it has become very contagious. Or is that contiguous, as the feelings have connected to everything else. I can’t go anywhere without profoundly eliciting in those I come into contact with deeply felt arousal and attraction…

Baffa paused the slithery digression into his “heightened sexual arousal” to explain some things:

Putting the fun aside for a moment, let me seriously answer your question. First, you learn, in so far, the entire skill set called NLP, then you elicit anything you want, period…

Later, Baffa expanded on what NLP had done for him when it came to getting “anything” he wanted:

For me, the process of learning NLP/DHE(TM) has been an adventure. One that has enhanced every single area of my entire world. Life for me is fantastic! I continue having the ongoing experience of being able to do what ever I want to do. I only work an average of three hours a day while making as much money as I want to. I am involved in the most enjoyable, caring, fun, loving, dynamic, pleasurable, intimate relationship imaginable. I do what I want, learn what I want, go where I want, get what I want, experience what I want to experience – always! In fact, my life while awake is far better than any dream I have ever had. And since I only need about three hours of sleep in every twenty-four hour period, I have plenty of time to enjoy it all.

Why stop at just sexual arousal and attraction when you could live all of your dreams? Every single one of them!

Carmine Baffa’s words described an ideal existence for a predatory, antisocial personality — little to no work and constant self-satisfaction. In light of the charges against him, his words about neuro-linguistic programming and sex induce some queasiness. The message — for it was originally posted in a newsgroup that by and large loathed him — seemed to hint that he’d been doing what he wanted for some time.

A similar “Internet Response” from Baffa addressed “Kids Learning NLP.” Baffa wrote:

Pretty much as a rule, when people have attended one of my trainings their children were always invited for free. I have had children ages seven to over sixty attend trainings.

As I think about it, when there were children in the trainings, they always wound up becoming my assistants. It was as if they were learning the information by osmosis…

Baffa is now charged with multiple counts of child molestation, so there was no small amount of irony in a later part of the same “Response”:

Some of the side effects, if you will, that have materialized through the children who have attended these trainings are: 1. the automatic ability to effectively calibrate how far a particular person can be trusted, 2. accelerated learning abilities – where actual study time was cut to a fraction while comprehension increased (not only that, but how they were able to usefully utilize what they were comprehending was uncanny), 3. the automatic ability to make better decisions about the choices that were offered to them in all contexts…

If the charges against Baffa are true, those children who learned how to “calibrate” a level of trust for another through NLP should have run screaming from the seminar leader himself.

Because Baffa traveled a great deal and had other potentially vulnerable patients, anyone with more information about the phony therapist and alleged rapist should Gwinnett County investigator Diane King at 770-513-5356.

I’ve started a thread about this case here.

Additional links:

Carmine Baffa was also a freelance videographer with a full set of camera equipment.

One of Baffa’s confirmed e-mail addresses led to this private MySpace:

http://www.myspace.com/100740839

Note the age given on the profile. Baffa is 52. Public records indicated a marriage in Texas to a woman in her thirties in 2001, but she would be approaching 40 now.

Other blogs: The Dreamin’ Demon has a post up about Baffa.

UPDATE, 6:18 p.m. ET

Carmine Baffa’s birth date, according to the list of inmates currently in the Gwinnett County Detention Center (he was first on the list as of 4/17), is 02/15/1956.

In Broward County, Florida court records, partially available online, there was a felony case involving a defendant named Carmine Baffa from October, 1985. That Carmine Baffa’s birthdate was 02/15/1955. The charge was for “dealing in stolen property.” The case’s status read “disposition entered.” Here’s how the Broward County Courts website explains that status:

Case and count status of “disposition entered” signifies that although either a Court ruled on or disposed of the underlying case or count, or it was otherwise disposed of by operation of law, it nonetheless allows for the possibility that there may still be other actions or matters pending or due on or related to that case or count, including but not limited to, fine, fee or cost payments due; probation, restitution or special conditions pending; attorney’s fees motions pending; defendant declared unable to stand trial and committed to a hospital; appeals pending; and others…

This post may be updated and revised.

(The video below was another promotional video Baffa posted on his website. He titled it “Changing Personal History.” Something he’d probably like to do right now.)

Seattle John Doe: Who the Hell is this Guy?

UPDATE, 3/24/08:

John Doe has been identified. He is Scott Andrew Shain, age 53. According to Seattle TV station KING 5, Shain was identified by his parents after they saw his photo on the FBI’s website. Thanks to commenter “WOW” for the update and the link. Further updates may follow.

ORIGINAL ENTRY:

The balding, blue-eyed man is medium height, weighs about 170. His age is a mystery. He could be 40, he could be in his early 50s. In every photo he wears the same expression, and it’s hard to dismiss the impression that he’s smirking. He is holding onto a secret, something he’ll never willingly tell another. He currently sits inside the SeaTac Detention Center in Seattle, Washington, facing a number of charges — charges that include aggravated identity theft.

No one knows who he is. To that end, he’s even tried to obliterate his own fingerprints.

The FBI started looking into John Doe more than 5 months ago. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police contacted the FBI, curious about Seattle resident Dwayne Spill. Spill had tried to get birth certificates from British Columbia and from Saskatchewan.

The Feds first talked to the man in late 2007. He called himself Robert Lowe, but the nameplate on his residence read “D. A. Spill.”

The investigation revealed more names. Photographs from Washington State driver’s licenses tied the names together. All the licenses bore photos of the same ageless, smirking man. In some he wore wigs, others he wore glasses. But his face was unmistakable. Beside that face were names like:

  • William Gregg;
  • a variation on Robert Lowe, spelling the last name “Loew”;
  • William Everett Gee;
  • Blake Matthew Desmond;
  • Bernard O’Daly;

Federal agents believe John Doe has used at least 32 identities over the years.

An investigator with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, Joseph Velling, spoke to the Seattle Times about Doe. The Feds may know who the man is now, but they aren’t sure. “He is a little bit of a savant, to tell you the truth,” said Velling. He continued, “It’s hard to remember anything quite like this.”

Doe was clever. In Massachusetts he was Bernard O’Daly (only one man with this name from Massachusetts shows up on the Social Security Death Index — he died in April, 1979). When he moved west, he had that name legally changed to Blake Matthew Desmond.

Special Agent Velling told the Times that Doe has lived in Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho. Doe has a criminal record as well — under some of his aliases.

His most recent arrest wasn’t Doe’s first encounter with Federal agents. Doe was interviewed 15 years ago by the Secret Service after he allegedly threatened Bill Clinton. They confiscated a homemade flamethrower from the man at the time.

Velling also indicated that Doe may have had some involvement in what he called a “sort of eBay or Craigslist for criminals.”

Though Doe is facing charges of mail fraud and identity theft, investigators haven’t found much evidence of the mystery man using his various identities to commit any other crimes. He may be hiding from something, he may simply be paranoid.

Doe hasn’t helped anyone. He simply sits in jail, no doubt with the same mysterious half-smile on his face much of the time, waiting for his next court date.

Sources:

Faux Memoirist Margaret "Peggy" Seltzer: So I turned over some rocks…

I’ve been fascinated for a few days now with the story of author Margaret “Peggy” Seltzer and her fake memoir, Love and Consequences.

Seltzer wanted others to believe that she was Margaret B. Jones, AKA “Bree,” a half-white, half Native American woman who spent her youth as a foster child in South Central Los Angeles. Her book received cushy coverage from the New York Times after the its release, and that was Seltzer’s undoing. Her own sister called the Times to let them know the memoir was fiction. Truth was, Peggy Seltzer was a thoroughly white Valley Girl who attended the same private school made famous a few years after her graduation by students like the Olsen Twins.

Seltzer came clean and the book was pulled off the shelves. Naturally, everyone in the print media started going at the story hammer and tongs.

There may not be any major crime to write about here, but a literary fraud is still a fraud.

So I dug up some interesting stuff on Peggy Seltzer and the results have been published by Radar:

Seltzer Honed Homegirl Hosejob on AOL.”

Do me a favor if you like the story and recommend it — because dammit, I scooped everyone on this score. I scooped the Times, which has covered this story closely since Seltzer confessed her deception. I scooped Gawker.com, the infamous gossip blog, and they’ve been all over this story.

I guess I took it as a personal challenge when FishbowlLA wrote, “Motoko Rich owns the Peggy Seltzer story, and don’t even think of nabbing a tiny bit of it.” Sorry, FishbowlLA — that was just like waving a red flag in front of me. Motoko Rich at the Times really does own the majority of the story, but I took a big juicy bite, couldn’t help it.

I would also appreciate comments on the story at its location — Radar requires a very brief registration, but it’s worth your time if you want to leave comments on other stories later.

I wasn’t able to include everything I found related to Seltzer’s online life in the Radar piece. I’m still working those angles, because they are truly weird and fascinating. If I can’t come up with something solid enough for the paying gig, you may hear more about it in this space.

I have to admit — something about this story pissed me off, personally. How many times have people with real stories been bypassed by the publishing industry in favor of fabulists like Seltzer and James Frey? And what is it with these writers from privileged backgrounds creating narratives about hardships they never experienced? There’s just something galling as hell about literary liars like Margaret Seltzer. I think Seltzer may have had an altruistic desire to give a voice to people like the characters she created, but what she really did was expose an incredibly condescending, peculiarly American viewpoint held by many from privileged circumstances.

Much of the commentary I’ve read about Love and Consequences has focused on asking why Seltzer’s editor and publishers didn’t fact-check her. While that’s a perfectly valid question, the most important question to me is this — who the hell did she think she was? Folks should be asking, “how dare she?”

OK — proto-rant over. Go read what I wrote and follow the links to get a fuller understanding of the story, and why it pissed me off.

NOTES:

FishbowlLA gives a nod to the scoopage described above — thanks, Kate.

Kevin Allman also takes note and follows up on an angle I couldn’t fit into the Radar piece — potentially a very interesting, strange angle at that. Go for it, Kevin.

Young Manhattanite acknowledges the find and spanks those crazy kids at Gawker a bit in the process.

The Great Hatto/Barrington-Coupe Caper

(This blog entry was first posted in a slightly different form at my personal weblog.)

Joyce Hatto ceased her public performing career in the 1970s when she was diagnosed with cancer.

The British pianist was never a brilliant star fixed in the firmament of concert performers. Hatto was apparently, at best, a solid performer.

Joyce Hatto cut her teeth practicing scales even while WW II raged around her, the daughter of a man who loved the music of Rachmaninov. Joyce Hatto toured a bit in Europe in the 50s. In 1956 she married a man named William Barrington Coupe. Together with a producer named Joe Meek, William Barrington-Coupe ran some sort of record company from about 1960 onwards.

After Joyce Hatto ceased public performances, so the story goes, she set about recording a remarkable body of work. Mr. Barrington-Coupe apparently had a recording studio set up in the couples’ home, and with this luxury available, Ms. Hatto could record at her leisure.

About two years ago, Ms. Hatto’s recordings began to receive remarkable notice. In August of 2005, Richard Dyer wrote a piece about Ms. Hatto for The Boston Globe. Dyer was apparently in error where Ms. Hatto’s recording career was concerned:

She made her London debut in the early 1950s; she played extensively throughout Britain and made three tours of Poland. In the mid-1950s, she played all nine Beethoven Symphonies in Liszt’s transcriptions in London. (“When I was done with them, I felt as if I were a better person than I was when I started,” she says.) In 1972 she embarked on an ambitious project to play the complete works of Liszt in London; by 1976, when she became ill, she had played eight all-Liszt recital programs in Wigmore Hall (“Rather like a morgue, or a Chapel of Rest, don’t you think?” she remarks of the atmosphere in London’s most famous recital venue). She played in America only once, and she says, good-naturedly, that “no one came, but it was nice to see my records at Sam Goody’s.”

Those would have been her first LP recordings, made for Saga – music of Bax, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff, as well as Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and an album of piano music from the movies, including “Jealous Lover” and “Intermezzo From the ‘Spellbound’ Concerto.” Perhaps records like this, and her interest in Liszt, who was very out of fashion in the ’70s, account for her neglect in the British musical press…

The emphasis was mine.

Newspaper accounts from various American papers in the late 50s and early 60s seem to indicate Ms. Hatto made recordings with a body called the Hamburg Pro Musica. The following was published by United Press International in September, 1959. The article was titled, “Gershwin is given full LP treatment”:

Rhapsody In Blue—An American In Paris by Joyce Hatto with Hamburg Pro Musica (Forum F-70008). Two giant Gershwin compositions are interpreted in classical style. Miss Hatto is facile at the keyboard and is especially sensitive on An American In Paris…

What’s the hoopla about Joyce Hatto? Why is the possible variance between the UPI article from 48 years ago and statements by and about Joyce Hatto made in 2005 interesting now?

Because of this: “iTunes fingers musical fraud.” From the New Scientist Technology Blog:

[A] critic at the Gramophone magazine got [a] surprise when he put a Hatto recording of Lizt’s 12 Transcendental Studies into his computer. The iTunes player identified the disc as being recorded by another pianist, Lászlo Simon. He dug out the Simon album and found it sounded exactly the same as the Hatto one.

iTunes had stumbled on a hoax. To identify albums it calculates a ‘discid’ from the duration of the tracks and then connects to the Compact Disc Database online. The Gramophone critic tried another disc – Hatto playing Rachmaninov – and again iTunes identified it as belonging to someone else. Again, the named recording – by Yefim Bronfman – sounded no different…

The blog then linked this site, where the fraud is being explained and demonstrated in precise detail.

The story was so cinematic, no wonder people loved the idea; that an aging and cancer-ridden concert pianist was making gold with the ivories in lone recording sessions over the years, as her health permitted.

But if you have the patience to pick through the sites above, it becomes obvious that Ms. Hatto’s recordings are well-proven to be forgeries.

This made me wonder about the story as a whole. In his article in the Globe, Richard Dyer wrote about Hatto’s “neglect in the British musical press.” I found that striking, too. Another passage in the same article was eerie:

After his wife has left the room, Barrington-Coupe says, “She doesn’t want to play in public because she never knows when the pain will start, or when it will stop, and she refuses to take drugs. Nothing has stopped her, and I believe the illness has added a third dimension to her playing; she gets at what is inside the music, what lies behind it.”

Earlier in the piece the writer had referred to the aging cancer-ridden woman’s “girlish” voice.

If Dyer conducted his interviews by phone, could it be that he never even spoke to Joyce Hatto?

Where is the proof she died in 2006?

In obituary listings for Norfolk in 2004, I found one entry for a Joyce Ethel Hatto, who was approximately 78 when she died. As rare as the last name Hatto appears to be, it still doesn’t stretch credulity to think there were two women with the same name and near the same age. Besides, at least one obituary for the pianist Joyce Hatto gave her middle name as Hilda.

What if there were not two Joyce Hattos, though?

Then the hoax, which might properly be called the “Barrington-Coupe Caper,” becomes much more strange and intriguing than it even was before.

For further interest you may want to click this link: “William Barrington-Coupe.” The link takes you to a search of Google Groups. Discussions of Hatto and Mr. Barrington-Coupe go back to at least 2004.

I don’t know that I’ve done any new sleuthing on this one, nor that I needed to. I learned that Barrington-Coupe may have been in the news in England a couple of decades ago for fraud, thus setting a precedent, and that the conductor listed on some Hatto recordings, Rene Kohler, may not exist. I also couldn’t help but note that the only “Barrington-Coupe” to turn up in any search engine was the man mentioned in this article. That made me wonder if the name was made up, as well. The con could have been going on for many decades. Joyce Hatto might have just been the newest wrinkle.

To the supremely arrogant world of classical music, this whole thing is quite a blow. Part of the deception where Joyce Hatto was concerned was facilitated by glowing reviews of the first discs that came out a few years ago. Classical music critics listened with no real discernment, it seems. They fell in love with the peculiar romance inherent in the story, and if one of them thought, “gee, that sounds a lot like Ashkenazy,” well, that was easy to dismiss — Andrea Bocelli can sound like Pavarotti if the recording is playing in another room on a bad pair of speakers. (I’m not a fan of Bocelli at all, by the way, and I’m a tremendous fan of Pavarotti’s, where pure vocalism is concerned. Bocelli is fool’s gold, Pavarotti in his prime was 24k.)

A crime? Yes, I think so. But Barrington-Coupe is an old man, and Joyce Hatto is no longer around to defend herself, at all. So this crime will stand as a lesson, I think, to many who love classical music and pride themselves on being able to discern what is and is not a quality performance. Usually, anything that seems too good to be true probably is.

Unfortunately it is also a lesson to future audio forgers — iTunes is not your friend.

UPDATE

I’ve seen the question asked several times online: Was there even a Joyce Hatto, at all?

Definitely, I believe there was. If the UPI article cited in the original blog entry wasn’t enough, this Google Groups search should be some proof: “Joyce Hatto, Usenet mentions prior to 2005.” She appears to have begun recording with legitimate labels and orchestral groups in the mid-1950s. The discs that have been sold since about 2004 by William Barrington-Coupe are the ones that appear to have been made by plagiarizing (for lack of a better word) recordings of great, established artists.

UPDATE, CORRECTION

This obituary in the Telegraph states that Richard Dyer did travel from Boston to the UK to interview Joyce Hatto. I wondered aloud in the original entry about this. So it would appear that Dyer was speaking to the real deal in 2005. Or, at least, Dyer spoke with a woman who said she was Joyce Hatto.

Sadly, if Dyer was speaking to Hatto, then to me it seems like she may have been complicit in her husband’s alleged deceptions after all.

UPDATE, 2/27/2007

William Barrington-Coupe confessed. He did it, he says, to make his wife feel good about what she was doing as she neared the end of her life.

This man did time in the UK in the ’60s for tax evasion, so I’m inclined to view his reasons for what he did with some skepticism, but he says he’s made no money off the scam. So far, it appears that some of the producers whose work was ripped off by Barrington-Coupe are taking what seems a peculiarly British view of the situation; since Barrington-Coupe is likely “ruined, one way or another,” he may not even be taken to court.

Hmmm…..