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Early on Nov. 26, police in northern England arrested a man U.S. officials believe to be the so-called “Con Queen of Hollywood,” a scammer who became infamous within the industry after he was the subject of a July 2018 Hollywood Reporter investigation.
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.
After THR broke the arrest news Dec. 2, victims of the scam reacted with relief. “Undoubtedly, every one of his victims are happy to have him facing justice, and I am glad to have played my part,” says Gregory Mandarano, an aspiring screenwriter from New York whose family lost upward of $70,000 to the scam in late 2015. “No one will fall victim to his cons anymore, and the popularity of his crimes will serve as a valuable warning to others who might potentially fall victim to similar scams.”
Law enforcement officials allege that Tahilramani, who was going by the name Gobind Tahil at the time of his arrest, impersonated powerful female figures, including such Hollywood notables as producer Amy Pascal, Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy and former Paramount boss Sherry Lansing, 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 such logistical services as arranging for drivers, hotels, translators, currency exchange and meals with the promise of reimbursement on the backend. The projects never materialized, and the money vanished.
The arrest was the culmination of an extended, multi-jurisdictional investigation that lasted more than a year. Tahilramani allegedly also duped his marks into believing he was Wendi Murdoch, the former wife of Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch, and Christine Hearst Schwarzman, the intellectual property lawyer and wife of billionaire Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman.
Ever since he arrived in the U.K. in 2016, Tahilramani had been traveling around the area as the creator and host of a popular foodie Instagram account called Purebytes, which showcased restaurants and chefs.
“I was relieved to hear that this person who had plagued so many people for so many years had been arrested,” says Heather Pitchford, a makeup artist based in London who traveled to Indonesia in 2015 as part of the scam. “I just feel pure relief and gratitude knowing that he won’t be able to ruin any more people’s hopes and dreams.” Tahilramani was being held while authorities in the U.K. processed a extradition request made by the U.S., where federal authorities hope to bring a case against the Indonesian national.
The FBI released a seven-page grand jury indictment Dec. 3 outlining eight charges against Tahilramani, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. “Tahilramani and his co-conspirators would falsely claim that they wanted to hire the entertainment industry professionals to work on films and other projects purportedly based in Indonesia, when in fact, no such films or other projects existed,” the indictment reads.
Says one photographer who headed off to Indonesia in 2017 thinking that he was working for former Sony Pictures chair Pascal — and then lost close to $30,000: “It has taken me two years to recover what was taken from me psychologically and financially. For those who have been manipulated and lost so much, I hope this recent news brings some semblance of healing and closure.”
This story first appeared in the Dec. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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