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Faux Rockefeller: 'I misled people'

By Matt Bean
Court TV

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BROOKLYN, New York (Court TV) -- A high-level grifter with a pretend pedigree and a knack for duping the rich fessed up Monday to using loan and investment schemes to skim cash from his upper crust victims.

"Your honor, I made a misrepresentation to various people," admitted Christopher Rocancourt, entering into an umbrella plea bargain that covers charges brought by authorities in Suffolk County, New York; Los Angeles; and New York.

Rocancourt, who often claimed he was a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family, could spend less than five years in federal prison under the deal.

After U.S. District Judge Charles P. Sifton formally accepted the plea agreement, Rocancourt smiled and thanked his attorneys.  He still faces restitution claims of $1.5 million and fines of up to $9 million, but could plead poor if his money has been depleted.

On Monday, a sparse crowd of reporters watched the career criminal, dressed in a loose-fitting, beige uniform and sporting a closely shorn prison buzz cut, plod through the formalities of pleading guilty to three of the 11 charges he was hit with after being extradited from Canada in March.

Rocancourt's French accent twice left the court reporter befuddled, and a translator helped the con man detail his schemes for Sifton.

Two of the charges, riffs on the catch-all wire fraud charge, concerned phone calls made between January 1999 and August 2000 to secure an "advance fee" on an investment.

"I made a phone call to Geneva.  I gave orders for a transfer to be made.  Another person met me, and gave me approximately $100,000," said Rocancourt.  "It was supposed to be a loan, and that's why the phone call was made.  It was to intentionally mislead the person."

Another charge, causing interstate travel in the execution of a fraudulent scheme, had a woman jetting to New York in November 1998, where she met Rocancourt at the posh Waldorf Astoria hotel.  There, he convinced her to give him $100,000 as an "advance" for helping her secure a $4.2 million business in Los Angeles. 

"I told the woman that I had the intention to give her the money," Rocancourt explained, "but I never had the intention to do it."

The plea, which could spare him the maximum 20-year jail term, had been in the works for more than a month.  It insulates Rocancourt from charges connected to his forged passport (which listed his name as Fabian Ortuno) and his bilking of 19 separate victims, whose names were read aloud in court.

Rocancourt also agreed to forfeit his right to appeal if Judge Sifton, in a scheduled Sept. 12 penalty phase, accepts the prosecution's recommended sentence of 46 to 57 months.

While jailed in Canada, Rocancourt penned an autobiography detailing his schemes and excoriating his victims. 

"When all is said and done, they gave me over one million greenbacks in exchange for the promise of putting this money into income-bearing deals with the guarantee of the Rockefeller name and with receipts of absolutely no legal value," Rocancourt wrote in the book, according to European press accounts.

Rocancourt's attorney, Victor Sherman, showed prosecutors a copy of the book before Monday's proceedings. "I'm not in it. Maybe I should be happy about that," said the grinning litigator before tucking the paperback back in his attache.

The victims of Rocancourt's schemes will still be entitled to restitution for their losses, which assistant U.S. attorney Ron White said he would verify with receipts, wire transfer records and affidavits.

"We'll be able to do that," he said outside the courtroom.

But just how much the con man has left in his coffers remains to be seen.

"They're gone," said Sherman of Rocancourt's ill-gotten gains.  "Whatever funds there were have been used up."

Sherman added that Rocancourt would benefit from time served.  "It's as if he's been in jail since June of last year," said the affable attorney.

The plea bargain marks the end of Rocancourt's traveling life on the lam.  He jumped bail after being collared in the Hamptons, Long Island, in 2000 for running up a $19,000 bed and breakfast bill. Two years earlier, he skipped out on California charges that he forged passports.

Con game notwithstanding, Rocancourt's crumbled schemes may have left him at least one admirer.  As his hearing Monday drew to a close, a well-dressed man who later identified himself as "Michael" hissed "Chris, Chris, Chris!"

Rocancourt turned and smiled before being escorted out a side room of the courtroom.

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