A byproduct of getting robbed is the horrible, intrusive knowledge that a complete stranger existed in your personal space, staring at your photos and pawing through your private possessions. Identify theft may be more impersonal, but the violation remains, especially when the con artist is flaunting your name, personal passwords, or account numbers. Imagine the horror, then, of someone not just impersonating you, but capturing the nuances of your accent while possessing an intimate knowledge of your day-to-day life. Such is the nightmare for a number of Hollywood’s most successful women, several of whom are at the center of what’s becoming a massive and unwieldy scam.
The Hollywood Reporter just published a huge story chronicling the con, in which a woman takes on the vocal disguise of entertainment leaders like Amy Pascal, Kathleen Kennedy, Stacey Snider, and many, many more, then tricks susceptible insider artists and freelancers into taking on assignments that task them with putting up thousands of their own money on the promise of reimbursement. That reimbursement, of course, never comes, but what truly distinguishes the scam is both its intricacies and, as multiple marks reveal, its cruelty. Several of the plays took on a freaky sexual component, and played out long after all the money had been procured.
One photographer profiled in the story “struggles to wrap his head around the fact that she toyed with him so aggressively long after his funds were depleted, after she had gotten everything she would ever get, when it was simply a game she appeared to enjoy.” He says, “At what point does a crazy evil genius say, ‘I’ve got enough out of this person, let’s move on to someone else?’”
“Evil genius” might sound like hyperbole, but multiple experts believe the scam, which is spread across multiple continents and jurisdictions, is being spearheaded by a single woman, one “whose sophisticated research, skill with accents and deft psychological and emotional manipulation have earned her the begrudging respect of her victims and trackers.”
Snezana Gebauer, the head of investigations and disputes practices at K2 Intelligence, who is trying to peel away the scam’s mask, says, “There is an important element of social engineering going on with these victims. They know everything about their victims’ personal lives and use the necessary pressure points, and they use publicly available information about the executives they are impersonating.” The piece adds that, while some of the information flexed by the imposter can be found online, a lot of it is most certainly not, leading some to believe she has her own ties to Hollywood.
One particularly disturbing examples finds the con artist taking on the identity of Christine Hearst Schwarzman, a lawyer married to private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group. The story involves not just a promise of paid work, but also the exploitation of a number of disturbing power dynamics, both professional and sexual.
As the article outlines:
Last March, a former U.S. Marine who participated in the U.S. invasion of Iraq and was living in Bangkok, working as a private security contractor, received a call from a man who said his name was Jason Cohen. (The Marine has requested that his identity remain anonymous for security reasons.) Cohen explained that he worked for Christine Hearst Schwarzman, an intellectual property lawyer from Long Island married to private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group. Cohen told the Marine that Schwarzman was “building a security team to escort her around Southeast Asia as she builds her directing career.” Before long, the Marine was on the phone with Schwarzman herself, who “had a very thick Long Island accent.” The con woman promised the Marine a job as director of her security team and hinted at lots of high-paying work down the road.
In her first phone calls with the Marine, the con woman showed a penchant for role-playing. In one exchange, she told him she wanted him to fire Cohen. Confused, the Marine asked for clarification, and she told him she wanted him to show her that he could be strong, to see what kind of man he was. On a subsequent call, during which both she and Cohen were on the line, the Marine did as she had asked. “I got aggressive. I fired the guy,” says the Marine. “She’s some kind of freak.”
Not long afterward, she asked him to turn on his Skype camera so she could see him. She said she couldn’t turn her own camera on because of security issues. (The imposter has never been seen in person or on video.) He told her he was only wearing a tank top — she said that was OK. She asked to see his tattoos and he pulled up his shirt. “Mmm,” she said. “Gimme kisses, gimme kisses.” It could have gone further, but he stopped it.
One thing is abundantly clear: This is about a lot more than just money. Read the whole piece here.