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Early in the morning on Nov. 26, police in the northern English city of Manchester arrested a man U.S. officials believe to be the so-called Con Queen of Hollywood. Hargobind Tahilramani, a 41-year-old Indonesian man and convicted felon, was arrested near downtown Manchester, ending a years-long investigation by agents from the FBI and private investigators from K2 Integrity (formerly K2 Intelligence), a New York-based corporate security firm.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation confirmed the arrest but declined to discuss the matter publicly.
Law enforcement officials believe Tahilramani, who was going by the name of Gobind Tahil at the time of the arrest, impersonated powerful female figures, including several Hollywood notables like Amy Pascal and Kathleen Kennedy, and then used these personas to convince people building their careers in the creative arts to travel to Indonesia on the promise of work. Once there, the marks paid cash for logistical services such as driving and fixing, with the promise of reimbursement on the backend. The projects never materialized and the money vanished.
Police seized Tahilramani during an early-morning raid. The arrest was the culmination of an extended, multi-jurisdictional investigation lasting more than a year. Tahilramani appeared before a magistrate in Manchester late last week accompanied by a defense attorney provided by the government. He is being held pending a decision on extradition to the United States. U.S. officials hope to charge him for crimes related to the scam.
The FBI did not comment. K2 Integrity declined to comment on the arrest but did provide a statement:
“K2 Integrity commends the collaborative efforts of the United States, British, and Indonesian law enforcement agencies for their work in bringing the individual known as the ‘Con Queen of Hollywood’ to justice,” said K2’s executive chair, Jules Kroll, in the statement.
Beginning as early as 2015 and continuing largely unimpeded for the next five years, Tahilramani allegedly lured scores of victims into a series of impersonation scams. Over time, he adapted the con to suit his needs as he expanded and diversified his roster of potential victims.
At the most basic level, the scams were sophisticated catfishing operations. Highly skilled with accents and voices, Tahilramani allegedly passed himself off as several powerful female executives. By 2017, he was impersonating former Sony chair Amy Pascal, Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy and former Paramount boss Sherry Lansing.
In addition to Hollywood notables, Tahilramani also sought out highly visible people in other areas, including media, politics and international business. He duped his marks into believing he was Wendi Murdoch, the wife of Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch, and Christine Hearst Schwarzman, the intellectual property lawyer and wife of billionaire Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman (he also briefly ran President Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum). By late last year, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down global travel, he was still luring people to Indonesia by successfully impersonating the prominent Singapore business magnate and so-called “Boss of Bond Street,” Christina Ong.
As recently as last month, Tahilramani was continuing to convince people to send him money.
Time and again, however, Tahilramani turned his attention to Hollywood, repeatedly demonstrating a keen knowledge of how the industry works and perhaps betraying a sense of his own stifled ambitions to be a player in the world of entertainment. Within the last year, he had impersonated at least two dozen Hollywood names, both men and women, who have worked as producers, directors, casting directors and managers, among them several figures who worked on tentpole Marvel productions.
In the guise of these well-known people, Tahilramani allegedly targeted dozens of ordinary working people including makeup artists, photographers, actors and stunt performers. Using the bona fides of the people whose identities he impersonated, he convinced many of the marks to travel to Indonesia on lavish promises of work and huge budgets.
Once there, they were asked to pay for expensive car services, and many of them forked over substantial sums of cash — sometimes well into the thousands and in some cases the tens of thousands of dollars — to pay for these elite driving services, airfare and other fees, with the promise of reimbursement on the backend. But the promised reimbursements never materialized, according to victims who traveled to Indonesia for the fictitious projects.
Using a network of unwitting proxies on the ground who helped carry out his instructions, Tahilramani pocketed much, if not all of, the money, officials believe. U.S. law enforcement agencies involved have yet to reveal the financial scope of the scam.
The child of immigrants from Pakistan and Hong Kong, Tahilramani was raised in an affluent neighborhood of Jakarta. Around the age of 18, he came to the United States, where he attended college for two years. He studied briefly at the community college level in California, participating in the competitive speech and debate circuit, before continuing for another year at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.
While still a student, he also got into legal trouble. According to public court records, Tahilramani was named in a lawsuit in which he and several other defendants were accused of misappropriation of school funds. He was also booked on charges of falsifying checks in Las Vegas in 2001.
Back in Indonesia, in 2006, police arrested Tahilramani on charges of embezzlement, and he was sentenced to several months in Cipinang Penitentiary, a notorious complex that has housed political prisoners for decades and earned a rebuke from Amnesty International in the 1990s after reports surfaced of inmates being tortured. While in prison, he got hold of a cellphone and made a menacing call to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, which earned him additional time behind bars.
After his release from prison, Tahilramani embarked on the earliest versions of what would become the Con Queen scam. By 2015, Tahilramani had begun impersonating figures from the then-nascent China Film Group, a mainland China outfit that was responsible for several large productions.
One victim from this period was Gregory Mandarano, an aspiring screenwriter based in Long Island, New York. Over a period of months beginning in the summer of 2015, Mandarano and his then-writing partner traveled to Indonesia six times to pursue a project they believed had been endorsed — and would soon be financed — by executives from CFG with whom they had been in touch.
Mandarano is one of the few American victims to have seen Tahilramani in person. During his trips to Indonesia, Mandarano met repeatedly with the man, who at the time was representing himself as a China Film Group producer named Anand Sippy.
According to Mandarano, even as he and his writing partner were traveling around Indonesia, ostensibly gathering material for the script, he was simultaneously speaking to several different executives, male and female, with whom he had been put in touch. All of these characters may, in fact, have been Tahilramani.
Mandarano and his family lost roughly $70,000 to the scam in the form of driving arrangements, translators and fixers.
In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter covered one incarnation of that early scam, which centered on several, mostly British, female makeup artists who were lured to Indonesia by a producer purporting to be associated with The Master, which was filming in Hong Kong at the time. Like later victims, the makeup artists handed over money for driving services and were never reimbursed.
By 2016, Tahilramani had set up shop in the United Kingdom, where he attempted to reinvent himself. That year, as he was continuing to impersonate people as part of the Indonesia travel scheme, he began a secondary pursuit as an Instagram influencer specializing in London food culture.
Tahilramani was the host of “Purebytes,” an Instagram account which boasted over 50,000 followers by January 2019. On Purebytes, which had as its tagline “Every Meal Has a Story,” Tahilramani presented himself as a footloose foodie writer and adventurer who had spent his childhood between Indonesia and the United States.
The posts, mostly pictures but also some videos, were typical of the Instagram food world — luxuriously photographed images of meals at some of the toniest restaurants in the United Kingdom. In his posts, he shared snippets of the high-end foodie life, peppered with anecdotes about his love life, his relationship with his parents and his travels across London’s culinary scene.
On Purebytes, Tahilramani never identified himself by name, and adopted a distinct and very convincing American accent. He promoted restaurants, joked about his sexual escapades with attractive men, and confided with fans about his purported difficulties with life-threatening illnesses, including pancreatic cancer. He also occasionally engaged in public feuds with public relations firms, other influencers, and the occasional restaurant or chef.
Wrote Nicoletta Kotsianas, the K2 investigator who worked most closely on the case: “Two years ago, we identified our subject and began building a meticulous case against one individual. Now, we have reached one incredible outcome: justice for the victims.”
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