Money & Power

7 of the Most Notorious Fakers, Forgers, and Grifters

Seven notorious con men (and women) who were caught in the act.
IMAGE ANDREW HENDERSON/NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX; GETTY IMAGES / JOE KLAMAR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES; GETTY IMAGES / MATTEO PRANDONI/BFA/SHUTTERSTOCK
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Christian Gerharts­reiter


Scion: Posing as Clark Rocke­feller, a member of the oil family, serial impostor Christian Gerharts­reiter moved to Massachusetts in 1995 and married a high-placed McKinsey executive, with whom he had a daughter. In 2008, she divorced him; he was convicted of abducting his daughter and in 2013 of having murdered a California man in 1985.

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The Grift: Lived lavishly on wife’s earnings; joined and became a director of Boston’s Algonquin Club.

The Tell: Made his wife claim she was single on her tax return.

Lee Israel


Literary Expert: After her career as a journalist stalled, the late Lee Israel began forging and selling letters by famous writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Noël Coward. In 1993 she was sentenced to five years probation. A movie of her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, starring Melissa McCarthy, will be released this month.

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The Grift: Had a storage locker full of vintage typewriters that matched those owned by authors. Scrupulously researched writers’ styles.

The Tell: Sold originals of documents she had stolen from library collections and replaced with forgeries.

Bill G.B. ­Pallot


Antiques Authenticator: In 2016, Bill G.B. ­Pallot, a French antiques historian, author, and Sorbonne professor, pleaded guilty to being part of a ring that commissioned and sold counterfeit Louis Delanois chairs to Versailles.

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The Grift: Considered one of Europe’s top experts in 18th-century French ­furniture—he was the person major institutions, including Versailles, often hired for authentication.

The Tell: Liquid licorice. Furniture forgers rub it on wood to make it look old. A former student of Pallot’s, Charles Hooreman, became suspicious of one of his chairs and licked it.

Anna Delvey


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Curator: In 2017, 27-year-old Anna Delvey, née Anna Sorokin, posed as a Russian-German heiress who had moved to New York to start a private arts club. She lived in downtown hotels and convinced a string of people she met at parties—among them a CEO of tech startup and a Vanity Fair photo editor—to lend her money, provide her places to stay, and pay her bills. In June, with Delvey on trial for grand larceny, Shonda Rhimes announced a Netflix series about Delvey’s life.

The Grift: Generous at the beginning of the relationship; a little short later on.

The Tell: Credit cards mysteriously declined.

Mark Landis


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Museum Donor: Posing alternately as a reclusive collector, the son of a museum founder, and a Jesuit priest, Mark Landis painted hundreds of forgeries of noted artists and donated them to 60 museums over a period of 20 years. He was discovered in 2007, but since he received no fees and claimed no tax exemptions for his gifts, he was never charged with a crime.

The Grift: Museum staffers said he came off as eccentric, domineering, and self-obsessed—a typical benefactor.

The Tell: Donated numerous copies of the same work.

Mark Hofmann


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Mormon Scholar: In the 1980s, Salt Lake City resident Mark Hofmann expanded his coin and rare document forgery racket by fabricating “discoveries” of previously unknown documents relating to the Mormon church. In 1985, hoping to direct attention away from his crimes, he set off pipe bombs that killed two people.

The Grift: Along with his forgeries, Hofmann ran a Ponzi scheme in which he persuaded collectors to invest in rare documents that didn’t actually exist.

The Tell: Police connected him to a third explosion. He is serving a life sentence without parole in a federal prison.

Han van Meegeren


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Art Dealer: Before and during World War II, Dutch painter Han van Meegeren created and sold intricately forged Dutch Masters to collectors, among them leading Nazi Hermann Göring, who hung a fake Vermeer in his living room and counted it among his prized possessions. After the war, on trial for selling national treasures to the enemy (a capital offense), van Meegeren confessed to all of his forgeries.

The Grift: Spent six years perfecting his technique, including learning to make period-specific paint and brushes, before selling his first fake.

The Tell: None. His forgeries still fool experts.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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