A scammer posed as a Hollywood exec to trick victims out of $1 million by offering non-existent movie business jobs, a court has heard.
Hargobind Tahilramani, 42 – an Indonesian food blogger nicknamed “Con Queen of Hollywood” allegedly ran a long-running, sophisticated scam in which he posed as top film executives, including producers working for The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan worked.
Tahilramani was arrested on November 25, 2020 at a £60-a-night aparthotel in Manchester, where he allegedly claimed to be a “writer for Netflix”, following an FBI investigation.
Speaking for the US, Joel Smith said Wednesday in Westminster Magistrates Court that Tahilramani was the “mastermind” of a conspiracy to scam more than 300 victims out of more than $1 million between 2013 and August 2020.
“The defendants pretend to be well-known entertainment industry executives or their representatives and promise the victims non-existent work in the film industry in Indonesia,” he said.
“Victims from the US were persuaded to travel to Indonesia at their own expense, and there they were persuaded to pay a number of fees or expenses, again out of pocket.”
Mr Smith said victims would be asked to pay for driver expenses, photo fees or “permits” and said they would be reimbursed on return to the US.
He continued to contact them by phone and text messages while his co-conspirators posed as drivers, tour operators and debt collectors, he explained.
“The funds spent by the victim were received by the defendant himself and were never returned,” he said.
“At its core, it’s an old-fashioned fee-forward scam.”
Tahilramani, long thought to be a woman, was known for using foreign accents and altered voices to impersonate both male and female film executives from the United States, Britain, and China.
He is currently fighting extradition to the US, where he faces eight counts, including conspiracy to wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud – each carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison – and five counts of aggravated identity theft, each carrying a maximum penalty of two years.
When asked if he understood, Tahilramani, who has lived in the UK since 2016, replied: “Yes, the scam,” the court heard.
New York-based screenwriter Greg Mandarano is said to have been left $80,000 out of pocket, while Casey Grey, who worked in the security industry, was allegedly duped by Tahilramani posing as Hollywood producer Gigi Pritzker.
The court heard he was offered a non-existent $5,000-a-day job surveying film sets in Indonesia.
Mr Smith said: “The defendant, who was pretending to be Ms Pritzker, offered Mr Gray sexual favors and attempted to get him to send footage of himself.”
Freelance photographer Will Strathman received an email from Tahilramani, who was pretending to be Hollywood executive Ms Pascal, and was persuaded to travel to Indonesia to direct a Netflix travel series, the court heard.
He reportedly paid almost £40,000 in notional expenses for three trips between October and November 2017.
Los Angeles-based Dan Considine received a text message in May 2020 allegedly from Thomas Hayslip — a producer working with Nolan, known for movies like Inception and Tenet.
The court heard he spoke to Tahilramani, posing as another producer, “Dana Walden,” who persuaded Mr. Considine to send audition tapes and pay around $7,000 for martial arts training videos in order to get a role in a Nolan to get movie.
Mr Smith told the court: “Mr Considine was never given video and the audition was a sham.”
Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring will hear evidence over the next two weeks before deciding on his extradition on November 7 after final legal arguments.
The private investigative firm K2 Integrity, which has been working with law enforcement during the investigation, has previously called Tahilramani, who is represented by Ben Cooper KC, the “con-queen queen of Hollywood.”
The hearing continues.
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