“For nearly the last twenty years, Young has wined and dined his way through the Bay Area by posing as a variety of musical celebrities and convincing the starstruck to pick up the tab for lavish meals, designer clothing, luxury cars, booze, limousine rides, and stays in elite hotels. According to police and court records stretching back eighteen years, before he engineered last winter’s pass through the Bay Area as Cornelius Grant, Young had also passed himself off as one-time Temptations lead singer Ali “Ollie” Woodson, jazz bassist Marcus Miller, and vocalist James Alexander of funk group the Bar-Kays. Even under his own name, Young has played the celebrity con game claiming — sometimes simultaneously — to be the son of jazz drummer Lester Young, a musical affiliate and close friend of R&B crooner Luther Vandross, an arranger for jazz singer Nancy Wilson, an associate of Miles Davis, and the head of a fictitious production company that always seemed to be on the verge of cutting a deal with someone willing to give Young the star treatment.” […]
“He generally approaches his marks in a bar, or else drops in on them in the office and gets himself invited for drinks. He’s also often in the company of an attractive, although not flashy, young woman. This woman is usually someone he’d recently picked up by impressing her with his star status. She’d unknowingly act as Young’s foil, vouching for his identity and assuaging the victim’s suspicions. She would often become the victim herself, with Young hitting her up for cash and hotel rooms, promising to reimburse her.
Young would essentially play one victim off another, getting socially prominent businesspeople to trust him simply because others were doing likewise. He’d often target people who worked within the same industry — architects or accountants, for example — and as he moved from one mark to another, he’d amass insider terminology, a list of names to drop, even business cards, which he would allegedly take from one person’s office to pass out at the next. Since part of the classic Alan Young scam often included making hollow bids on million-dollar homes, luxury cars, and boats, he’d also gain credibility because he’d constantly be getting the five-star treatment from salespeople eager to make commission. His best trick, says Hare, was getting all of these people to vie for his attention by creating an “auction atmosphere.” They’d set aside their inhibitions in order to ensure that they got involved in Young’s deal before he left town. And Young’s private plane was always about to spirit him away.
Scams of this type generally work for two reasons: embarrassed victims don’t always report their losses, and police officers don’t always identify such complaints as crimes, because they usually appear to be a simple business deals gone awry, according to Sgt. Peter Lau, an expert on identity fraud for the Oakland Police Department.” […]
“While Young’s scams certainly have gained finesse over the years, police and court records show they almost always adhere to the same template. Young blows into town posing as the musical celebrity du jour, impresses his marks with name-dropping and insider knowledge, then wows them with promises of hefty investments or donations. Young invariably discovers that his briefcase, along with his wallet, credit cards, and identification, is missing. He usually claims they have been accidentally shipped down to Los Angeles with his band’s equipment. Young then throws himself on the good graces of his host, promising to reimburse him promptly. The host generally pulls out all the stops to offer his newfound friend Hollywood-style hospitality. Some of Young’s marks have paid off hookers, monstrous bar tabs, or bills for unauthorized limousine rides, according to police records. As soon as the victim catches on, Young simply slips away. Within a few days, Young has usually locked onto a new target, and the whole charade repeats itself.” […]
“SFPD Inspector Wismer was the man who put the case together after realizing that Young’s most recent victims had all been pulled in by a “Temptations” hook. According to Wismer, Young’s latest pass through the Bay Area began last July when, under the guise of Temptation Ali “Ollie” Woodson, he convinced a San Francisco art dealer he planned to invest $160,000 in sculptures. By the time the dealer figured out something was amiss, a week had gone by and he was out $4,000 in hotel bills and clothing. Officers picked up Young on a parole violation the following week, and he went to San Quentin for that offense. But by November he was out again, and he managed to squeeze $1,300 in hotel bills out of an attorney by pretending he had $15 million to invest in real estate.
Wismer believes that Young’s December scam, during which he switched over to the pseudonym Cornelius Grant, actually started in Hayward, where he pledged a $2.5 million donation to the choir at the Glad Tidings Church and convinced a choir member to foot his hotel bill. Then he apparently moved on to Stein. According to an incident report filed with the San Francisco police, within a few days of the Stein swindle Young had convinced a San Francisco accountant to put him up at the Argent Hotel, where he ran up an extraordinary $13,000 bill. He later got an Oakland woman to foot a $1,200 bill at the Holiday Inn on Van Ness. She called the police when he refused to reimburse her as promised. A prostitute police found in Young’s room — along with Young himself — admitted that not only had she agreed to pretend to be Cornelius Grant’s daughter in exchange for a promised Cadillac SUV, but that Young had finagled $80 out of her.” […]
“If the mechanics of how Young’s con works can be elucidated through his police records, it’s harder to explain why it works. People who have not been subject to Young’s charms often wonder why anyone falls for his extravagant claims. There are probably as many answers as there are victims, but perhaps part of the answer is that he has expertly played on the spend-money-to-make-money business culture, whose members consider buying big lunches and drinks part of the cost of doing business. Or perhaps he owes part of his success, particularly in more recent years, to the gullibility of upper-class whites embarrassed by the idea that they haven’t recognized a African-American musical legend. The East Bay is in fact a touring destination for many of the celebrities Young impersonated — the Temptations, Nancy Wilson, and Marcus Miller have all performed here within the last four months. […]
Simply put, people want to go along with the crowd, especially one following a charismatic superstar with money to burn. “When people start to get suspicious, some of their suspicions are allayed by his obvious success with astute businessmen, luxury car dealerships, yacht dealerships, real-estate people,” says Tony Hare. “They see him being wined and dined by players at least as big or bigger than they are, with all of the trappings of wealth. That’s tough to argue with. They see that A) they’re not alone and B) they don’t want to embarrass themselves by being the cheap, penurious little fish who’s swimming with the sharks.”
And when logical questions arise, people who want to play enough will invent their own answers. “He gives you enough information to allow you to fill in the gaps,” says Oakland attorney Harvey Stein. “It doesn’t all add up, but enough of it adds up that you’re ready to say, ‘Okay, how did he get on the plane?’ Or you go to Yoshi’s and he gets comped and everybody falls all over him, you say ‘Okay, how do I know they don’t know who he is?’ And of course when he shows up at the restaurant with a beautiful woman who’s a foot taller than he is and gorgeous and fifteen years younger, you think, how does an ugly short guy like this have a beautiful woman like that? So you fill in that kind of stuff.””
Here’s the link. Here are 4 more stories about imposters – I’ve read The Chameleon and An IM Infatuation Turned to Romance. Then the Truth Came Out. Both are insane stories, but the latter… I believe one commenter expressed it like this: ‘my brain just vomited’ – my reaction was similar.
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