‘Con Queen of Hollywood’ can be extradited to US over film fraud, judge rules

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  • June 6, 2023
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man dubbed the “con queen of Hollywood” after allegedly impersonating movie executives in a million-dollar fraud can be extradited to the US, a British judge has ruled.

Hargobind Tahilramani is said to have mimicked the voices of well-known figures, including producers working for The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, to offer non-existent work in the film business.

The 43-year-old is accused of conning more than 300 victims, including actors, screenwriters and photographers, out of more than one million dollars during a seven-year scam.

Tahilramani would allegedly convince entertainment industry professionals to travel to Indonesia at their own expense for non-existent projects before they were charged exorbitant expenses which were never repaid.

He allegedly posed as American film producer Megan Ellison, her mother Barbara Boothe, and Hollywood executive Amy Pascal in phone calls, emails and text messages.

While impersonating billionaire Jean Pritzker, Tahilramani even offered “sexual favours” to one victim, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard.

Indonesian national Tahilramani was arrested following an FBI investigation on November 25 2020, in a £60-a-night Aparthotel in Manchester, where he had allegedly claimed to be a “writer for Netflix”.

Asked if he understood, Tahilramani, who has been based in the UK since 2016, replied “Yeah, the scam”, the court heard.

He is wanted in the US to face eight charges, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud – which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment – and five counts of aggravated identity theft, carrying a maximum penalty of two years each.

During extradition proceedings last year, Tahilramani said he had lived a sham life because he is gay, and claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by US prosecutors.

“I’m an interesting person,” he said. “They want to make films out of me, they want to make television.”

He claimed he should not be extradited to the US because a substantial amount of the alleged conduct took place while he was in the UK and would not be in the interests of justice by reason of “forum”.

Tahilramani’s lawyers also argued that US prison conditions would breach his human rights and he would face oppression due to ill health because of the likelihood of being held in circumstances akin to solitary confinement.

But, in a judgment on Tuesday, Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring approved Tahilramani’s extradition and sent the case to Home Secretary Suella Braverman for a decision.

“Having found the forum challenge falls in favour of extradition and therefore trial in the USA, that the requested person is not at real risk of being detained in contravention of Article 3 European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) or in contravention of Article 14 ECHR and that it would not be oppressive due to ill health, I formally send the case to the Secretary of State,” he said.

Last year Joel Smith, representing the US, said Tahilramani was the “mastermind” of a conspiracy to defraud more than 300 people out of more than one million US dollars between 2013 and August 2020.

He said that, once victims arrived in Indonesia, they would be asked to pay for the cost of the driver, photography fees or “permits” and told they would be reimbursed upon return to the US.

Tahilramani continued to contact them by phone and text message, while his co-conspirators posed as drivers, tour operators and money collectors, Mr Smith said.

“The monies spent by the victim were received by the defendant himself and never paid back,” he said.

“At its heart, this is an old-fashioned advanced fees fraud.”

New York-based screenwriter Greg Mandarano is said to have been left 80,000 US dollars out of pocket, while Casey Grey, who worked in the security industry, was allegedly duped by Tahilramani posing as film producer Ms Pritzker.

The court heard he was offered a non-existent 5,000 US dollar-a-day job surveying film sets in Indonesia.

“The defendant, whilst pretending to be Ms Pritzker, offered sexual favours to Mr Grey, and tried to get him to send recordings of himself,” said Mr Smith.

Freelance photographer Will Strathman was emailed by Tahilramani pretending to be Hollywood executive Amy Pascal, and was persuaded to travel to Indonesia to direct a Netflix travel series, the court heard.

He allegedly paid nearly £40,000 in fictional expenses over three trips between October and November 2017.

Mr Smith said the scam was adapted when travel restrictions were introduced because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with actors falsely promised film roles, which would require an advance.

Dan Considine, based in Los Angeles, received a text message in May 2020 purportedly from Thomas Hayslip – a producer working with Christopher Nolan, who is known for films including Inception and Tenet.

The court heard that he spoke to Tahilramani, who was posing as another producer, “Dana Walden”, who persuaded Mr Considine to send audition tapes and pay around 7,000 US dollars for martial arts training videos, in a bid to land a role in a Nolan movie.

“Mr Considine never received any videos and the audition was a sham,” said Mr Smith.

“There are a large number of victims not currently subject to the US indictment, including some UK-based victims but they are not currently the subject of any US prosecution.”

Tahilramani was previously described as the “con queen of Hollywood” by private investigation firm K2 Integrity, which worked with law enforcement agencies during the investigation.

Giving evidence, he said he was born in Jakarta, the son of “one of the most renowned producers in Indonesia”, grew up in the US and has spent time in Singapore.

The court heard that, while he was in LA in the early 2000s, he used cheques he knew would bounce to pay his rent, was thrown off a business course for plagiarism, and blew 100,000 dollars in a spending spree on his father’s credit card.

Tahilramani said that, after returning to Indonesia in “disgrace”, he was “forcibly put into an institution” by his family to “treat my homosexuality” before getting a PR job with UK record label EMI.

But the court heard he was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for embezzlement and while in jail received further time for smuggling contraband into prison and making a bomb hoax after mentioning the September 11 attack while having phone sex with a marine guard at the US embassy.

On his release in 2011, Tahilramani said he took jobs working for a Chinese furniture firm, organising teenage beauty pageants, acting as a tour guide, and finding clients for spiritual retreats in the Maldives, Bali and Sri Lanka, as well as becoming a food blogger.

Tahilramani said he started using the name Gobind Lal Tahil after his family declared him legally dead and told the court his upbringing in a “narrow-minded” society in Indonesia where “homosexuality was not seen favourably” may have helped shaped his actions and feelings in adult life.