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Entries in Catarina Pietra Toumei (2)

Thursday
Feb032011

Alleged Grifter Using Guggenheim Family Name Surrenders

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- A woman who prosecutors say was a grifter impersonating a European countess working on behalf of the wealthy Guggenheim family to sell $1 billion worth of diamonds has turned herself in to federal authorities in California after her accused accomplices were arraigned in New York.

Catarina Pietra Toumei, who had been on the lam since Monday, is accused of trying to defraud investors.  She and her two accomplices, who pretended to be heirs to the Guggenheim fortune, tried -- and failed -- to lure potential investors to buy diamonds from the "private collection of the Guggenheim family," invest in a "Guggenheim Vodka" venture, and invest in a $4 billion deal involving the sale of oil to a Chinese refinery, according to court documents.

Toumei claimed to be a European aristocrat married to John Ratzenberger, the actor who played the beer-swilling mailman Cliff Clavin on Cheers, according to prosecutors.

She turned herself in to the federal court in San Diego Wednesday evening.  Bond was set at $200,000, according to ABC News affiliate KGTV in San Diego.  Because of the late hour and because Toumei turned herself in, the judge released her provided she come back Thursday to pay the bond, KGTV reported.

The FBI arrested the men, David Birnbaum and Vladimir Zuravel, in New York Monday, and the three suspects will be tried in New York.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb022011

Three Accused in Alleged Guggenheim Scam

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Two men accused of impersonating members of the wealthy Guggenheim family were arraigned in federal court Monday, charged with trying to deceive investors into buying a billion dollars worth of diamonds.  Their accomplice, who pretended to be a countess, remains at large.

The FBI arrested the men, David Birnbaum and Vladimir Zuravel, in New York Monday but agents and California police are on the hunt there for Catarina Pietra Toumei.

Part of Toumei's alleged scam was to tell potential targets she was a "countess" and married to John Ratzenberger, the actor who played the beer-tippling mailman on the 1980s sitcom Cheers, according to federal prosecutors.

The three are accused of running a scam in which they tried -- and failed -- to lure potential investors into deals selling $1 billion worth of diamonds from the "private collection of the Guggenheim family," launching a venture to sell "Guggenheim Vodka," and a $4 billion transaction involving the sale of oil to a Chinese refinery, according to court documents.

After their arraignment and release on bail, Zuravel, 45, insisted that Birnbaum was a legitimate billionaire and scion of the Guggenheims, a U.S. family whose fortune dates from 19th century mining concerns and who have become synonymous with arts, philanthropy and building museums worldwide.

Zuravel, a former cab driver from Russia, told reporters that Birnbaum, 67, allowed him to use the Guggenheim name for business.

The three "used the Guggenheim surname and falsely claimed membership in the famous philanthropic family to gain access to highly regarded and/or wealthy individuals," according to the complaint.  "In reality, however, the defendants are not known descendants of, or have any relationship to, the famous Guggenheim family."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio