By Jennifer Glickel
MANHATTAN — Three alleged con artists posing as members of the Guggenheim family were charged with wire fraud after using the famous family name to attempt to solicit money from investors, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office said Monday.
A woman calling herself "Lady" Catarina Pietra Toumei claimed to be a Countess and told would-be investors she was offering investment opportunities on behalf the historic family’s "Guggenheim Fund" and "Guggenheim Bank," neither of which exists, according to fraud charges filed in Manhattan Federal Court.
Pretending to be "David B. Guggenheim" and "Vladimir Guggenheim," David Birnbaum, 67, of Brooklyn, and Vladimir Zuravel, 45, of Queens, worked with Toumei to meet with potential investors to discuss investment opportunities purportedly involving products such as crude oil, bank guarantees, diamonds, and gold, the complaint alleged.
"The defendants allegedly impersonated one of America's most famous families to fleece potential victims by pitching bogus investments," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
The scammers tried to broker phony deals with an associate of Presidents George W. and George H.W. Bush as well as Coca-Cola executives.
The alleged offenders tried to organize bogus investment deals for the sale of $1 billion in diamonds from the supposed "private collection of the Guggenheim family," the creation of "Guggenheim Vodka" in collaboration with the Coca-Cola Company, and a $4 billion transaction involving the purchase of crude oil from the Iraqi Ministry of Oil for a refinery that was supposedly owned by the Guggenheim family, according to the U.S. Attorney.
The actual Guggenheims were also suing the phony Guggenheims in civil court for defrauding potential investors using the family name and for using the Guggenheim trademarks illegally, the U.S. Attorney's office said.
Authorities arrested Birnbaum and Zuravel on Monday morning, while Toumei remained at large, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.