The world's coolest conman: Christophe Rocancourt
Words by Peter Iantorno
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The gentleman thief who married a Playboy model and tricked his way to an estimated $40 million with the most brazen of scams.
At the start of the new millennium, a young, suave-looking gentleman wearing a sharp, black tuxedo is holding court with New York's glitterati in the private dining room of an exclusive Hamptons bar. Sitting at the head of the table, he and his stunning model girlfriend are in fine form, ordering bottle after bottle of champagne for the group, and working their way through a never-ending supply of highly prized caviar.
When the bill arrives, the young man immediately picks it up, glances down at the $80,000 subtotal and signs for it without a second thought, handing it over to the waiter complete with a healthy cash tip for his trouble.
"Who on earth is this guy?" An attractive young lady wearing a tight dress, who benefitted from his extraordinary act of generosity, asks. "Rockerfeller," he replies in a thick French accent, after overhearing, "but please call me Christopher."
One would imagine that with such a glamorous lifestyle (and such an illustrious second name), Christopher Rockerfeller had spent his whole life up to that point ensconced in the opulent arms of a wealthy Los Angeles family upbringing. However, in actual fact, the man who now dazzled Hollywood's A-list was born in the small city of Honfleur in France to a poor family, and spent most of his early life in an orphanage.
Born in 1967, Christophe Rocancourt, as he was then known, had a difficult and tumultuous upbringing. His family life broke down when he was just five years old after his father walked out and his mother turned to a life of prostitution, leaving Christophe and his sister in the care of an orphanage, where he lived until he was adopted at the age of 12.
After several failed attempts to escape his severely disciplinarian adoptive father, Rocancourt eventually managed to flee to Paris at the age of 18, where, homeless and penniless, he began to forge a life for himself out of nothing but his imagination, ingenuity and a relentlessly devious streak.
His first cons came under the pseudonym of Prince de Galitzine, a wealthy Russian nobleman dreamed-up in the mind of Rocancourt to serve his purpose as someone who'd be embroiled in kind of big-money exchanges he was planning to take advantage of. After a few minor scams involving forgery and petty theft, Rocancourt hit the big time when, under the Russian alias, he managed to forge the deeds for a building in the centre of Paris, and sell it for $1.4 million.
He pocketed the cash and took off to Switzerland (where he was accused of a jewellery heist, but never charged), and then, in 1991, he made his way to America. All of a sudden, this small-time crook who had always talked himself up as a millionaire actually was one, and in the salubrious city of Los Angeles, where young men with deep pockets were commonplace, there was no reason for anybody to disbelieve him.
On his arrival in LA, Rocancourt invented various aliases for himself, including movie producer, boxing promoter, venture capitalist, the rich nephew of Oscar de la Renta and even Sophia Loren's son! He quickly started mixing it with the high-rollers of the city, hanging out at all the Hollywood celebrities' favourite haunts, flashing his cash strategically so important people could witness his wealth and telling tales of his ambitious investment plans to anyone who'd listen.
With a natural charm that could win round even the most cynical of doubters, he soon had the Hollywood elite eating out of his hand. He threw lavish parties, impressing guests so much with stories of how he made his money - and how was on the cusp of making much more - that they were throwing money at him, begging him to invest their cash for them. He duly accepted the money, promising handsome returns which, of course, never materialised.
As the cash rolled in, high-profile friends and relationships came with it. He befriended Jean-Claude Van Damme, convincing him to agree to work on a film with him (obviously it was never made), he also lived with Mickey Rourke for a while, before striking up a relationship with Playboy model Pia Reyes. The pair even got married and had a child named Zeus, all the while Rocancourt was having an affair with another Playboy model, Rhonda Rydell, telling her he was the son of a rich French countess.
He stayed in the presidential suites of all the top hotels, running up huge bills, but always squirmed out of paying, claiming there'd been a problem with his card or a mix-up with the bank. The lies were so audacious that nobody dared question him. And anyway, if he ever got pinned down by the authorities and made to pay for something, he actually did have the money, as he was getting so much in from people asking him to invest it for them.
Life was good for Rocancourt. Now a multimillionaire with a stunning wife and and equally stunning mistress, he was living out his Hollywood dream. However, the foundations for his riches were far from secure, and when the unpaid hotel bills mounted up and the long-term lenders and investors started to ask for their money back, his finances came under scrutiny.
By 1997, after a number of complaints of unpaid bills and unreturned investments, the police raided Rocancourt's hotel suite. They found a gold Rolex, an unregistered .38 caliber pistol, a diary with the initials "CR", an autographed picture of Michael Jackson, a bogus lease for a private jet, and a genuine US passport bearing Rocancourt's name (which it turns out he'd bribed the passport office to get).
Of course, Rocancourt was aware that he was being investigated, and just before the raid had taken off on a lavish tour of Asia with a friend he'd met in LA by the name of Charles Glenn. The pair took in all the best hotels and restaurants in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Shanghai, flying first-class and being transported from venue to venue in private limousines.With millions of his profits still remaining, Rocancourt could easily have lived out the rest of his days in comfort and luxury in the Far East, but a confidence man doesn't simply settle for a comfortable life - he wanted more.
So amazingly, Rocancourt decided to move back to Los Angeles, even calling the detective in charge of his case to let him know he was coming back, and telling him, "If you do arrest me I'll just bail out and flee the country anyway". And sure enough, that's what happened, as he was picked up for illegal firearms possession, posted his $45,000 bail and disappeared.
For most people this would be the wake-up call to drop a life of crime and stay invisible for the rest of their days, but Rocancourt is not most people, and, unable to resist the bright lights of America, he next showed up in 2000, in New York.
Now using the alias, Christopher Rockerfeller (yes, as in a member of the fictional French branch of the rich American family...), Rocancourt was renting a hotel suite in the exclusive Hamptons area of Long Island for $15,000 a week. Following his Los Angeles model, the conman would hold lavish dinner parties at which he'd convincingly tell people of grand plans to transform their 50- or 100,000-dollar investments into millions.The scam that worked so well before was working again, and Rocancourt was soon earning millions from hopeful investors looking to make a quick buck. However, perhaps the people of New York were slightly shrewder than those in LA, or perhaps Rocancourt was just getting sloppy, but after only a few months on the game, he was arrested in the Hamptons for another unpaid hotel bill.
Luckily for Rocancourt, police didn't run his fingerprints on a nationwide search, so non the wiser about his criminal past in LA, they set his bail again at $45,000, which Rocancourt duly paid and fled the country.
After numerous brushes with the law, Rocancourt really should have quit while he was ahead, but his insatiable appetite for the con ultimately led to his downfall, as in 2001, he and wife Reyes were arrested in Victoria, Canada, after being charged with defrauding an elderly couple out of $100,000 in a real-estate scam.
Rocancourt pleaded guilty to defrauding the couple, to the LA charges of illegal firearms possession and bribing passport officials, and to the fraud charges in New York. At his 2002 sentencing, he was ordered to serve five years in prison and repay $1.2 million in damages to his victims. Reyes denied all knowledge of the scams and escaped without punishment.
Although he'd been caught, prison didn't stop Rocancourt from making money, as he wrote a bestselling autobiography, I, Christopher Rocancourt, Orphan, Playboy, Prisoner, where he claimed he'd made more than $40 million as a result of his various scams over the years.
After being released in 2007, he started dating former Miss France, Sonia Rolland, who he had a daughter with, and he was also spotted on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival with Naomi Campbell (above). It seemed his infamy as a conman had only served to help him.
In October 2014, Rocancourt was again caught up in a crime, as he was arrested along with his lawyer, 23-year-old girlfriend, and a member of the French police who he's alleged to have bribed in order to get genuine passports and visas for people, who he charged a fee to.
The case is still ongoing, but if his history is anything to go by, we expect to see Christophe Rocancourt at the head of an exclusive private dining table sipping champagne sooner rather than later.
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