Cons, Frauds, and Schemers

Oct 14, 2009 - by Lona Manning - 0 Comments

January 1, 2007

Interstate 40 and the Arkansas River May 26, 2002
Interstate 40 and the Arkansas River May 26, 2002

They can look you in the eye, win your trust and melt your heart. They can lie about the past, the present, and the future. They are chameleons, changing names and identities as easily as we change our outfits.

by Lona Manning

They are conmen and women. They are sociopaths.

Some of the names of the victims in this article have been changed or withheld to protect their privacy.

James Rubin Rowe

It didn't matter to Marina Howard that her wedding rehearsal dinner was being held on Friday the 13th. She was still the luckiest girl in the world. Only eight weeks ago, she had applied for work as a hostess at a steakhouse restaurant and been swept off her feet by the owner, Mike Grogan. Mike was husky, tall and broad shouldered with dark hair, with piercing eyes and an easy laugh.

Mike had led a fascinating life. An ex-Navy Seal, he'd played pro football (and had a Super Bowl ring to prove it). He was fun-loving and free-spending. Years ago, he'd invested in a little company known as Microsoft and that was why, at age 39, he was a millionaire. He was incredibly smart about business and investing. He offered to buy cars in her name so she'd be able to build up her credit rating. Other friends of Mike's – people he'd met since moving to San Diego six months before – were investing all their money in a computer software company he was starting up.

And so, Marina knew her future was bright. As the time approached for their friends to start arriving at the restaurant, Marina sat writing thank-you notes to her bridesmaids. Mike was in the kitchen, talking to the chef about the dinner, when two U.S. Marshals burst through the kitchen door and placed him under arrest. Marina's groom-to-be was marched out in handcuffs.

Marina had to come to grips with the fact that her fiancé Mike Grogan wasn't Mike Grogan. "I was in love with a guy who does not exist," she told a reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune a few days later. Grogan's real name was James Rubin Rowe. He had never been a Navy Seal. He had never played pro football. He had been married at least two times before and in fact he was still married to a woman in Seattle. And he was not a millionaire, although over the years he had conned people out of millions of dollars.

Rowe's wife in Seattle also didn't know her husband's real name was James Rowe. She thought she was married to Steve Heitman, owner of a chain of successful ski equipment shops. James Rowe had started up his business by winning the trust of two Microsoft executives. They bankrolled the stores, but Rowe drained all the company's cash to fund his lavish lifestyle. He scooted out of Seattle just before his financial house of cards came crashing down on him, leaving his investors with the debts. The real Steve Heitman had gone to high school with Rowe but had tragically died when he was 20. Rowe had stolen his identity.

And before he was Steve Heitman, Rowe used other aliases. With his commanding presence, people skills, and self-confidence, he could get hired for jobs that he knew nothing about, like precision engineering or drilling wells. He'd hang around long enough to embezzle from his boss and skip town. In most of his incarnations, he claimed to have a military background and often showed up in uniform, shoulders back, with a chest full of ribbons. He was a genius at getting people to trust him. "If you and I sat down in a restaurant," Rowe told Keith Morrison of Dateline after his arrest, "I would be able to ascertain what you wanted, and who you were and what I needed to do to get inside your head, probably within 45 minutes. Within two weeks, we would be best friends, and you would be investing money."

Rowe had been caught before and had done time in federal prisons but resumed his conman career as soon as he was released. This time around, he said he was filled with remorse for the pain he had caused Marina. Denny Behrend of the U.S. Marshal's Seattle office doubts Rowe's sincerity. Rowe, Behrend figures, uses women for "their good name and their good credit. Being married also lends an air of respectability to him."

How did the Marshals swoop down on Rowe just before his bigamous marriage to Marina? Only because Rowe had bilked so many people over the years that he accidentally bumped into an old victim. Rowe was looking at automobiles at a luxury car lot when another customer recognized him and confronted him. Rowe denied everything, of course, but the angry victim alerted the San Diego Violent Crimes Task Force, who coordinated the arrest with the U.S. Marshals.

When he was arrested in San Diego on Oct. 13, 2000, Rowe claimed innocence, but pled guilty to 12 counts of fraud in Seattle. Rowe is currently in federal prison in Pennsylvania and is due for release in 2015.

Interstate 40 and the Arkansas River May 26, 2002


Billy Clark

James Rowe says he can't resist conning people because he can't resist stealing money. Another conman, Billy Clark, couldn't resist the opportunity to play the hero.

Early on Sunday morning, May 26, 2002, a barge smashed into the Interstate 40 bridge at the Arkansas River near the small town of Webbers Falls, Okla. The impact caused a 500-foot section of the bridge to collapse into the murky water, taking almost a dozen cars and trucks with it. Fourteen people died in the catastrophe. As news of the accident spread, scores of volunteers, law enforcement officials and rescue personnel rushed to the scene. Among those was a burly, sandy-haired officer dressed in army fatigues. He said he was Captain William Clark, just back from Afghanistan, and he was in charge of the recovery operations.

Clark, 29, commandeered a new Ford truck and reserved eight hotel rooms for himself and his team who would be arriving shortly. In addition to issuing orders and giving interviews, Clark hinted that one of the victims had sensitive information in his laptop, which would have to be recovered from the river. The bridge disaster was not only an economic catastrophe and a personal tragedy, it was also a national security issue of some kind.

Locals had their hands full responding to the disaster and didn't have time to think about, let alone check, Clark's bona fides for several days. "He walked the walk and talked the talk," the mayor explained. But Clark's insistence that he was in charge of operations finally irritated the mayor, who pointed out that unless the governor declared a state of emergency, the local authorities were still in charge. "One of our men from the medical examiner's office called the military to check him out. There is no record of him ever being in the army," the mayor later told the National Post.

Clark abruptly fled town and the FBI was notified. Clark next surfaced in Canada, in Tobermory, a small town north of Toronto. Once again, he presented himself as a Special Forces officer from Afghanistan. His bragging about his exploits and his aggressive overtures to young women made him conspicuous in the little town. The local harbormaster saw a newspaper article about the Oklahoma bridge conman and realized who their visitor was. Provincial police arrested Clark.

Back in Tallapousa, Mo, Clark's hometown, the sheriff explained that Clark routinely impersonated police officers or firemen and passed bad checks. "It's just the way he makes his living: I don't think he's worked in a day in his life."

Yet, even after his arrest, Clark continued to insist that he was an army officer, serving in a top-secret "black ops" unit. He was sent for an extensive psychiatric examination and was initially ruled unfit to stand trial, having convinced authorities, for a time at least, that he was not deliberately conning people, but was delusional. His own cousin isn't even sure if Clark knows what the truth is: "He tells so many lies he believes it. I've argued with him lots of times about him being in the military. He says he is."

Clark is currently serving time in a federal prison in California and is scheduled for release in 2007.


Dr. Barian Baluchi

Any judge who wants a psychiatric evaluation of a conman should consider the cautionary tale of Dr. Barian Baluchi, the conman asked to give a psychiatric evaluation for a conman.

Professor Barian Samuel Baluchi MB, ChB, MSc, PhD, was a respected Harley Street psychiatrist in England. Baluchi's success in his field was evident in his shiny Mercedes Benz and his $1.3 million home. He had trained in England and Spain, as well as Harvard. He was an expert on stress and mental trauma. The British government consulted him frequently on the mental-health problems experienced by immigrants. He authored a book on the subject and ran a resource center for immigrants, for which he received $2.5 two million in grant monies. He developed his own therapeutic methods, which he called "holistic interactive trauma therapy."

In addition to his regular counseling practice, Baluchi made a handsome income as an expert witness in court cases. His specialty was testifying on behalf of asylum-seekers fighting deportation. (He had himself successfully sought asylum in Britain as an immigrant from Iran in 1978. He married an Englishwoman, but divorced her once he obtained permanent residency status.) Over 1,500 asylum seekers won the right to stay in Britain, partly on the strength of Baluchi's professional opinion that they would suffer too much trauma if deported.

In a bizarre twist, the fake psychiatrist testified on behalf of a fake doctor. A Kurdish refugee named Iskender Dilek was convicted of raping immigrant women while posing as a gynecologist. Baluchi gave his expert opinion that Dilek was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In this instance, however, Baluchi didn't sway the judge, who sentenced Dilek to 10 and a half years.

In fact, Baluchi produced so many reports on behalf of immigrants that he aroused the suspicions of an immigration official. A government investigation revealed that although the walls of Baluchi's office were covered with certificates, attesting to his certification in psychiatry and plastic surgery, the astounding truth was that Baluchi had no medical qualifications whatsoever. He had gotten himself registered as a doctor in Britain with stolen credentials from a Spanish physician.

Baluchi was actually a former taxicab driver.

"He took in people from all walks of life," prosecutor Louise Kamill charged, "from the newly arrived asylum seeker to senior officials at the Department of Health, local authorities and established charities, from people practiced in detecting dishonesty such as the judges sitting at the Old Bailey, the immigration appeals tribunal, criminal solicitors, to his own personal acquaintances, including his English first wife. Each one believed him to be a qualified doctor and trusted him."

Baluchi was sentenced to 10 years in prison in January 2005.


Vicky Allan

Baluchi was able to convince even his colleagues that he was a Harvard-educated psychiatrist. But for sheer audacity, few can match Vicky Allan of British Columbia, Canada. When the single mother met Gary Mayhew, a flooring installer, she spun a tale he couldn't resist. Allan posed as a widow who could only inherit her late husband's millions if she got remarried. Her father-in-law had recently died, she explained, and left her the family fortune, but only on the condition that she remarries so that her daughter, his grandchild, could have a father. The 40-year-old single mother promised Mayhew she would split the fortune with him if would he would marry her. Mayhew readily agreed, but as soon as Vicky became his wife in December of 2000, her promises of riches turned into demands for all his savings. She spun a web of deceit and paranoia, telling him that other relatives of her late husband were out to kill them so they wouldn't inherit the money. She said they had kidnapped her brother and she needed ransom money. By the time Mayhew realized he'd been conned and left his wife after five months of marriage, she had drained his life's savings of $170,000.

Mayhew got a restraining order from Vicky, but he was to learn the truth of the adage that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

In early March of 2002, Mayhew's divorce from Vicky was finalized. That same month, he got a call to meet a potential flooring customer at a local motel. When Mayhew showed up at the appointed room, three muscular men jumped on him and roughed him up. As he struggled and tried to scream for help, they yelled that he was getting what he deserved. "How do you think Tracey felt?" one asked. They blindfolded him and strapped him to a chair with duct tape. His heart pounding, Mayhew heard his ex-wife saying, "Well, let's go for a coffee. Part of the movie scene is for him to be left there for awhile." His three assailants left the room with his wife.

Mayhew dreaded what would happen when Vicky returned. He managed to free himself and ran from the room, calling for help. But Vicky heard him and sent her three goons to catch him. He was dragged across the parking lot into the motel room again. He continued to struggle against the three men, who were all stronger than he was. He began to fear for his life. Fortunately, his three assailants, surprised at the struggle he put up, decided to abandon the fight and run away. Mayhew escaped a second time and ran for help.

When the police arrived, they found Mayhew taking refuge in the motel lobby and three very confused bodybuilders.

The police untangled an incredible tale: Vicky Allan had approached three young men at a local bodybuilder's gym and told them she was a casting agent for an upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. She was holding auditions at a local motel and if they could convincingly act the part of three men giving vigilante justice to an abusive husband, she'd hire them for the movie. She would provide the actor they were to terrorize.

At first, the young men believed Allan's story, but, as the judge who heard the case put it, "They were surprised at the vehemence with which Mr. Mayhew resisted them, thinking that it was probably even excessive for the scenario. Eventually they were persuaded that there was something wrong with the situation they found themselves in and they fled."

At first, Vicky told police her husband had set her up, but she couldn't lie her way out of this one – the evidence of the bodybuilders and the motel clerks was overwhelming. When her first story didn't work, she pled guilty but tried to spin a tearful tale of spousal abuse, charging that Mayhew had beaten and terrorized her when they were married. She simply wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Mayhew vehemently denied her accusations, telling reporter Marshall Jones, "I believed her lies and she forged numerous checks. Twenty-two years of my life savings, she wiped out. I used to have a perfect credit rating and now I can't get a credit card."

At her sentencing hearing, Judge B.J. Grannary noted that Vicky accused her ex-husband of beating her in the motel room before the police arrived, giving her a concussion, when in fact Mayhew had escaped to the lobby after the bodybuilders fled. Making false accusations was as natural as breathing, to her.

Over the previous 20 years, Allan had been convicted of theft and fraud in six different cities. When Mayhew met her, she hadn't just become a grieving widow, she was just out of prison. As part of their investigation, police learned that Vicky Allan had paid for the motel room with – what else? – a stolen credit card.

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Grannary called Vicky vindictive and malicious, adding, "She ambushed [Mayhew]. She trapped him. She set him up. She planned it. She deliberated over it. She calculated over it. She arranged for these three men to come and beat him up and tie him up. She had the tape. She had the blindfold. She had the location. She had other people call her husband to ensnare him in the trap…." Grannary charged that Allan "intoxicated" the three bodybuilders "with expectations of riches and fame."

Allan, Grannary concluded, "feeds on a diet of the gullible and she has no difficulty in finding gullibility in her life."

On Aug.15, 2002, Vicky Allan was sentenced to two years less a day for terrorizing her ex-husband. As Judge Grannary pronounced sentence, she tried to interrupt, but he cut her off. "Tell it to somebody who is going to listen to you," he said.

If she is out of prison again, someone, somewhere, probably is.


Protect yourself – learn how to spot a conman

"Sooner or later, you will have a run-in with a sociopath," warns Donna Anderson of Anderson was the victim of a con artist who lied his way into marriage and left her in debt. Anderson's website gives tips on how to spot a con artist.

Conmen often claim to have served in the military, usually in Special Forces on secret missions. This website exposes military frauds.

The story of the whiz-kid con man, Barry Minkow, who got caught, got religion and now educates others about fraud.



James Rubin Rowe:

"The perfect stranger: His web of deceit snared love, friendship and wealth -- until he tried one con too many," by Jennifer Hanrahan, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 29,2000

"Profile: Jim Rowe changes identity and cons many," Dateline NBC transcript, July 5,2002

"Conman tells of misdeeds, denies lacking a conscience," by Jennifer Hanrahan, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 21, 2000

William Clark

"Fainting spell led to barge crash, bridge collapse, NTSB concludes," By Steve Tetreault, Arkansas News Bureau, Sep 1, 2004

"Disasters are a gift to imposters," by Jessica Leeder, National Post (Canada), July 13, 2002.

"Oklahoma barge crash - U.S. fugitive was hitting on local women," by Jessica Leeder and Odile Nelson, National Post (Canada) June 11, 2002

"Impostor at bridge collapse has history of false identities, authorities say," Associated Press, June 12, 2002

Barian Baluchi

"Bogus Doctor `Frittered Away' £1m," by Melvyn Howe, Press Association Newswire, October 12, 2006

"Jail For Fake Doctor Who Helped Convict Sex Pest," by John Carvel, Birmingham Post, January 27, 2005

"How doctors and lawyers all fell for King Con," By Lech Mintowt-Czyz; Ben Leapman; Bo Wilson, The Evening Standard (London), January 21, 2005,

"Bogus Doctor Conned Charities, Patients And Government," by Melvin Howe, Press Association Newswire, January 17, 2005

"Refugee Rapist Picked On Fellow Turks," by Shenai Raif, Press Association Newswire, January 9, 2004

Vicky Maureen Allan

Regina v. M****, Oral Reasons on Sentence by the Honorable Judge B.J. Grannary, Provincial Court of British Columbia, 2002 BCPC 0671, File No: 30910-2H

"Ex-husband speaks out after woman's guilty plea, by Marshall Jones, Kelowna Capital News, July 5, 2002

"Female con artist given two years," Kelowna Daily Courier, August 16, 2002

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