Hollywood Con Queen (2024) s01e01 Episode Script

Crazy, Mad, Crazy, Genius

So it's gonna be
maybe like an hour and a half,
two hour drive?
- Yeah.
- And you have his name and everything?
Have you seen this person, ma'am?
- Does he look familiar to you?
- No.
Does he look familiar to you?
Excuse me, sir.
Do you have his address?
Mangga, Block B2, Number 10.
Excuse me, ma'am, I wanna ask
do you know where Mangga Street,
Block B2, Number 10 is?
Here is B2, Number 10.
Do you know how we should contact him?
Mr. Gandhi. He likes to visit him.
- Can you take us there?
- Sure.
Okay, so we'll follow you.
We're journalists
and we wanted to speak with you.
How did you find me?
It's a story that sounds
like a Hollywood movie.
Creative professionals
in the entertainment industry.
They had been lured to Indonesia
on the promise of work
from major Hollywood figures.
Once there, they are tricked
out of thousands of dollars.
The promised work never materializes.
At the center of this deception
is a mysterious figure
known as "the Con Queen of Hollywood."
Scott Johnson of The Hollywood Reporter
first reported on the scheme.
This is somebody who is
exceptionally skilled at voice work.
There was this desire to enter
into relationships with the victims.
And sometimes it got sexual.
So, what would drive somebody
to create these really elaborate fantasies
for other people to fall into?
Because it wasn't really about the money.
It was about something else.
People said they were convinced
that it was two people
or this woman
and that the Con Queen
had a long criminal record
as an impersonator.
I later started to realize
just how big this actually was.
There were hundreds of victims
from all around the world,
which meant
there was a clear financial toll.
But I think the more lasting damage
was psychological and emotional.
My beat at The Hollywood Reporter
was to cover crime
and the seedy underbelly of Hollywood.
We got a tip that a grift was underway.
All these working professionals,
many of whom had ties
to the entertainment industry,
had been contacted by these
prominent Hollywood executives
for work on these high profile projects.
But the projects didn't exist,
and the executives' identities
had been stolen.
The whole thing was a lie.
These women are incredibly
powerful and influential,
so placing them at the center of the scam
gave it credibility and legitimacy.
And there was a huge range of victims.
There were actors,
photographers, filmmakers,
screenwriters, make-up artists,
lliterally hundreds
and hundreds of victims.
It was a truly global crime spree.
And the victims were vulnerable
because they were freelancers.
People who went from job to job,
looking for new opportunities.
You know, they're gonna
put a photo on Instagram.
They're gonna put their work
on their website, or IMDb.
All of this information
is there for anybody.
So the scammer used that to great effect.
But I think the more impressive feat
was the impersonator's ability
to craft these manipulative
and deceitful fantasies,
whose sole purpose
was psychological devastation.
And it's what got me
really interested in the story
because I realized that the story
was not what I thought it was.
The money wasn't the primary motivation.
The primary motivation is this desire
to get inside the minds
and the dreams of people,
and to pervert them.
To twist them, and to destroy them.
Doug Liman reached out to me
on August 30th, 2020.
When I saw the email, I don't think
I had heard of Doug Liman before
but I Googled him and realized
Doug was a huge director
who had done some of my favorite movies.
Swingers and American Made.
And he said he had a movie coming up
that was gonna be filmed
in outer space with Tom Cruise.
And one of the producers
that I'd worked with
had recommended me
and said I was a good actor.
Because they were looking for
sort of an undiscovered talent for a role.
Doug said,
"I'd love to get you on the phone
with the chairman of Universal,
Donna Langley."
When Donna called me, she said,
"This is gonna involve a table read
and I'm gonna be there, and Tom Cruise
himself is gonna be there as well.
You're kind of a nobody
but I think you can get there,
and this is gonna be your big shot."
And I thought the whole thing was
surreal and exciting and weird.
Henry and I got an email
from Wendi Murdoch to work on a project.
And I was familiar
with the name, Wendi Murdoch.
That she was an ex-wife to Rupert Murdoch.
She was involved in the art world.
She had spoken to
the head person of Condé Nast,
and they had recommended us.
And we had just finished
working with them on a project.
This is how the industry works.
Like, people give you recommendations and
sometimes that's how you get your break.
So we scheduled a call with the assistant,
we get in touch with him first,
then Wendi picks up, she said
the work would end up being displayed
during the Winter Olympics.
She needed some photographers
to help her document
the spread of Chinese communities
outside of China,
specifically, in Southeast Asia.
And as photographers,
we travel all over the world.
So the puzzle pieces kind of fit together.
In 2017, I got an email
from Amy Pascal.
And I remember thinking to myself,
"That name sounds familiar."
"Hello Will, I have your details
from Joe Kudla at Vuori Clothing
and was intrigued by some of your work
that he showed me a while back."
And at that point,
I did look up the name,
saw who it was,
and I'm here wondering
why I'm getting an email
from this Hollywood producer.
Amy, one more time!
But I've worked as a freelance
photographer and filmmaker
for the majority
of my professional career.
Sometimes I would have a job
come out of nowhere.
And then I get a phone call from her,
and she starts explaining the concept
for this TV show
that she wants to pitch to Netflix,
based off a children's storybook called
Sidewalk Flowers.
It's basically this little girl
in this mundane, black and white city,
and she finds these little flowers
in the cracks of the sidewalk,
and that brings color to the world.
She wants to create a show
about traveling through the world,
finding these little instances,
kind of in the cracks
of culture that are meaningful
and have this beautiful weight to them.
She said she wanted to send me
on a week-long trial trip
to Indonesia to find these
storylines that will accumulate
into me presenting
essentially a storyboard
for the pilot of this TV show.
I remember after that phone call,
I definitely had thoughts of, "Why me?"
But also, "You have to take risks."
And this was such
an incredible opportunity
for where I was at that point in my life.
I spoke to a couple
of the producers in Hollywood
who were sort of baffled
about why their names
were being used in connection
with these fictitious projects.
And we found out that one of the producers
who'd been impersonated,
Amy Pascal, had hired a detective
agency called K-2 Intelligence.
As private investigators,
we do investigations
tailored to high-net-worth individuals.
And I got a call from a lawyer who said,
"One of our clients is being impersonated.
Someone's calling around town
and having really
strange conversations with people.
Not really sure what it's about.
Can you look into it?"
And it became this thing
where people in Hollywood
would talk to each other.
We learned about other people
that were being impersonated.
And within Hollywood,
it probably was 50 different individuals
who found themselves
impersonated along the way.
My first impression was
that this was potentially a prank.
There wasn't an obvious
financial component initially,
so it was really hard to understand
what we were dealing with
and what the motivations were.
I think that's, in a way,
what makes it such a good scam.
Is that the scamminess of it
isn't immediately evident,
because you just don't think anybody
who would go to this much effort
could possibly be scamming you.
And I think that the key
is that once the impersonator
succeeded in selling the story,
it was almost like the hooks were in,
and the victim became, like a toy,
a plaything for the scammer.
I was by far the least
well-known person in contention,
which is why Doug needed to spend
so much time grooming me.
And that's when he started laying out
in more detail what the plan was.
He sent me a schedule, and then he said,
"You'll be doing physical therapy
on these days, and martial arts,
and we're gonna take care of all that
except for the martial arts.
And I've got these experts
in the Philippines.
They're gonna make some videos for you
and I want you to pay them.
These guys are the number one guys
in the world for this."
I hadn't heard of this type
of martial arts.
So I researched it.
That first payment
was only 800 dollars or so,
which didn't seem like a huge deal.
I'd been paying money
for acting classes on my own,
and paying a few thousand dollars
to get martial arts training
seemed like something I was happy to do,
even if I didn't get the role.
Doug sent me an invoice
that looked legitimate.
I went over to Western Union,
went ahead and sent money.
And then they had some
celebrity trainer in New York,
and I got an email from them.
Had a questionnaire with, like,
50 questions on it.
Kind of related to, like,
physical fitness.
And then a lot of questions
that were just really bizarre.
But the bizarreness of the questions
almost made it more realistic.
"Oh, this is what celebrities do."
Like, a new age workout program.
Also, it was a weird time in the world,
because 2020 was in the middle of Covid.
I was bored and this was
such a weird, exciting thing
that was going on in my life.
This just served
as a really welcome distraction.
So after that very first email from Amy,
six days later,
I'm on a flight to Jakarta.
She sent me the day rate
that she was gonna pay me,
which at that time, was much more
than I was making on other jobs.
And then Amy told me that I would
have to pay for the transportation,
for travel cost, for interpreters,
and had to get receipts
so I could get reimbursed.
I do projects all the time
that I'm reimbursed for travel expenses.
It happens on every other production.
I don't know really why I recorded
these phone calls with Amy,
but I remember starting to feel
a little bit overwhelmed.
It felt like she was giving me
so much information
and I need to start documenting this.
So I get to Jakarta, I walked outside
and there was my driver holding
a sign saying, "Mister Strathmann."
And so I get to this hotel
and I give the driver the first fee.
The day we were supposed to leave,
Aaron reached out and he just
threw this, kind of, last minute thing
that we will have to pay a fee
upon arrival
to the local logistics company.
"It's gonna be about 1,200 dollars,
is that okay?"
He was like,
"Don't worry, we're gonna reimburse you."
So, we're like, "Okay, that sounds fair."
We got into this rhythm where Doug was
asking me the same stuff over and over.
"Do you really feel like
you're ready for the role?
I'm personally invested in you.
Do you have what it takes?"
"Yes, Doug, I want this role.
And I'll do whatever you want."
There were times when I was talking
to Doug five times a day.
It was like, every few hours.
Then he would give me these assignments.
He said, "I'm gonna
send you tons of movies,
and I want you to send me a character
analysis essay after each movie."
And I was watching, like
three or four or five movies a day,
which I've never done before.
Like, waking up at 7:00 a.m.
and watching movies all day.
He'd call me and say,
"Well, are you done yet or what?"
And I'm like,
"Doug, it's been three hours.
You want me to fast forward
the movie or what?"
But at the same time, it felt like
I was already getting a lot of value,
because Doug himself was getting
me ready for this huge opportunity.
Each day I would wake up
at five or six in the morning.
Going down, meeting my driver.
And Jakarta has some of the worst traffic
in the entire world.
I was sitting in a car in traffic
for literally four to eight hours a day.
Going to these locations,
shooting these photos for this storyboard.
Driving back, trying to catch dinner,
and then having these phone calls
with Amy till two in the morning.
I kind of had to be at the whim
of her schedule.
She would just keep calling
until I picked up.
It really felt like she was pushing me
to do my best work.
And it was exhausting.
We flew over to Jakarta, and the driver,
he handed us the invoice,
and we gave him the money.
He drove straight to a gas station.
He talked to a guy.
And it seemed like he handed him
the envelope where we put the money.
I just thought, "This is strange."
We arrived at the hotel.
And there was a reservation,
it was paid for.
And we took a picture
of the license plate.
And then, Henry said,
"I'm gonna take a picture of the driver."
The driver, like, "Yeah, of course."
And on the schedule, it was
a really intense three back-to-back days.
So, we went straight to bed.
The next morning, we got a call
from Aaron, the assistant, and Wendi.
They said that there was a big problem.
The driver had complained
we were taking pictures of him
and that was somehow racist.
We said,
"This is obviously a miscommunication."
So she said, "Just apologize to him
and be really nice to him.
Oh, by the way, the second payment,
you're gonna have to pay that today."
When he came to pick us up
he didn't seem upset at all.
But we apologized,
gave him another, like, thousand dollars.
Then he dropped us off in Chinatown.
We thought if they're asking for fees,
there will be someone walking
around with us, talking to locals,
making sure that we have permission.
But he drove off.
And we were like,
"Okay, this is just weird, you know?"
Like, it just all didn't make any sense.
At that point, we had the suspicion
that there is more
to this whole situation.
I kept asking Henry,
"What do you think this could be?"
And then we just couldn't really
come up with a plausible answer.
Doug was saying stuff like,
"Oh, I'm just fighting for you.
I believe in you, but you're making it
pretty tough with Donna.
She's just really thinking that another
actor is gonna be better than you.
But I'm doing everything I can
to keep you in her mind."
And maybe once every few days,
Donna would call me directly.
She definitely commented
on my willingness to train.
Like, "Based on your pictures,
you seem skinny."
And she noticed my posture was bad,
so I needed to send more money
to add posture exercises to the video.
So I get back to Denver,
I sent in my invoices.
She sent me bank letterhead
that are signed off
and stamped by her banks,
with the amounts for my invoices.
The money's out there, it's in the works.
So then two days after I've gotten back,
I'm just getting over the jet lag,
and I get an email from Amy
saying that she needs me
to go back to Jakarta immediately,
potentially, the next day.
I kind of almost convinced myself, like,
"Of course, it makes sense.
How could it not? That's just what it is."
And so I go back.
So, on this trip,
she upped my day rate
'cause now like double what I was
supposed to get for the first time.
In my head, I'm making good money.
And so, the point of that trip was
to go to this region called Yogyakarta.
And she's also telling me
that we may have this opportunity
to go to these two locations in Bali
that one of the other producers thinks
is really important for this storyboard.
But there's a volcano in Bali.
Now to that volcano eruption in Bali.
One hundred thousand people there
have been told to leave.
And so, don't get to go to Bali.
But I fly to LA,
where I'm gonna meet with Amy.
And we're gonna work
on the storyboard together,
and then go to Netflix
and present it to them directly.
Because we were already pretty
suspicious that something is off,
and we said,
"Oh, maybe we should, like,
do a recording just to have
this person's voice."
He called us back.
He started shouting
and just going ballistic.
And he accused us of recording him.
Which really blew our mind,
because there was only
a couple options here.
Hidden camera in the room,
or some kind of like recording device.
And so we were like,
"Okay, this is a scam."
I started feeling like a knot
in my stomach.
When we're out shooting,
they have access to our room,
maybe they're putting drugs
in our suitcases.
So we left for the airport.
And we thought,
"Everyone here is in on it."
We didn't know who to trust.
And the whole way there
I was just paranoid.
We were relieved
when we passed the customs.
But only around 2,200 dollars
went to the scammer.
Everything else went
to the airline companies.
And that's exactly why
throughout the whole scam,
we were just wondering
what's the endgame,
because 2,200 dollars did not seem
you know, didn't match the effort.
Why go after us, you know?
What's the real reward here?
Doug called me and Doug was like,
"I tapped my network.
I found a great gym for you.
This gym is on the property
of Barbara Ellison,
who used to be married to Larry Ellison."
And of course I Googled that
and that checked out.
Doug's like, "She has property with
an amazing gym. You're gonna love it.
I just need to make sure
that you're gonna follow the protocols.
Chris Pratt actually works out at the gym.
I need you to not interact
with Chris Pratt.
I need you to go in,
work out, and get out."
And he said, "Barbara Ellison
is gonna call you later tonight,
because as far as she's concerned,
you're a total stranger."
At midnight, she called
and she started off sounding like
a nice grandmother type of person,
and kind of saying,
"I would be excited to offer you my gym
if you're a nice person.
Are you a nice person?"
"Yes, yes, Barbara, I'm a nice person."
Then she's like, "Could you
Could you give
a little kiss or something?"
And I was like,
"Yeah, you know. It's great to meet you."
And she's like,
"No, no, no. I need a real kiss."
I was almost playing along ironically,
like, I wasn't getting into it.
I was just in literally,
the most matter of fact way possible,
sort of humoring her, and she's like,
"Oh, come on.
You can do better than that.
Can you lick me?"
And she treated
the whole thing like phone sex
and basically had an orgasm
on the phone,
which I had the unfortunate experience
of having to listen to.
The whole call was probably 40 seconds,
but was probably
the most disturbing phone call
I've ever gotten in my life.
And you hear about all the bad things
that have gone on with powerful people
in Hollywood, you know,
sexual attacks and obviously,
it's not okay, but you think,
"Some of these people, I guess,
in this industry are like that."
And then Doug called me
in the morning and said,
"Unfortunately, the gym isn't gonna work.
Chris Pratt, he's been extra sensitive
with all the people
being in his workout space, recently,
and he's not okay with this arrangement."
After that second trip to Indonesia,
I got into LA to meet up
with Amy Pascal in person.
I'm staying in my hotel there,
and I get this call from Amy.
She tells me that we can't meet up.
And at this point,
it was a couple weeks
after the first stories
of Harvey Weinstein broke.
She says that she had just
spoken with her lawyer
and the optics
of this senior level producer
meeting with this young photographer,
one on one,
at a hotel in LA doesn't quite feel right.
And it doesn't. Like, that's true.
Then she relayed in that conversation
how good of a job I've done
up to that point.
But the producers and Netflix
still want these two locations in Bali
to kinda capstone the storyboard
in this project.
And I'm, like,
"What are you talking about?
There's a volcano erupting."
And she's like,
"No, it's out of my control.
You need to do this
or this opportunity is gonna go away."
And so, I'm on another flight
back to Jakarta for the third time.
The whole time I was just waiting
for my phone to ring
to do whatever I needed.
And then, Doug said, "Donna's gonna
call you later tonight, you know,
she just wants to make sure
that you can act out a scene."
She obviously
is a huge player in Hollywood.
So I was a little bit nervous.
And this call was different.
It was a Skype call
and she did not have her camera on,
but wanted me to have my camera on.
And she was like,
"I want you to pretend like
you see a beautiful girl at a ball
and tell her that she's beautiful
and then, you kiss her."
And something like that is
incredibly awkward to act out alone,
but I did my best
and I have my camera going
and walked up to it and pretend
to whisper,
"You're beautiful and I'd love
to go upstairs with you,"
and pretend to kiss the camera,
kind of thing.
She was kinda saying,
"This is so awkward.
I don't think you believe it,"
or whatever.
And she was right, I mean,
it was incredibly awkward,
and I didn't believe it,
and it was uncomfortable,
and I didn't wanna do it.
And she wanted me
to do the same scene,
but mentioned I should take my shirt off
to get more comfortable
and not be so uptight.
Whatever, I took my shirt off
and reenacted the scene.
And she's like, "Ah, this is so crazy,"
and, "You're so awkward."
And I was like,
"Yeah, I mean, this is really awkward."
She was like, "I think
you should go meditate for an hour
and then we're gonna try again."
And so I did that.
Then she asked me to take my pants off.
And I think I did it
because I was like,
"Well, first of all,
I'm wearing underwear.
And second of all,
the thing's kinda cropped.
You can't really see, like,
below my waist anyway,
so what difference does it make?"
And then she was like,
"Touch yourself."
And then I snapped.
I was like, "No. This is ridiculous.
This is not okay, what you're doing."
That's probably the strongest combination
of anger and feeling upset
that I've ever felt,
and to the point
where I was literally shaking.
All of a sudden, it felt more like
I was really being used
and kinda taken for granted
and just completely disrespected.
She was backpedaling and telling me
to put my clothes on,
and to calm down,
and I think I was kinda yelling,
"No, I'm not gonna calm down.
This is not acceptable.
I don't know what you're doing to me,
but it's not okay
and it's completely manipulative."
And then Doug called saying, like,
"This is horrible, like,
this should never have happened.
You're a good guy.
You're like a son to me."
And he's like, "Going forward,
you never have to talk to Donna again."
He seemed very genuine.
And Doug hadn't done
any of the sexual stuff, right?
So he had sort of maintained
being the nice person,
at least between him
and Donna and Barbara.
And so, I sort of, accepted his apology.
And then he gave me a movie to watch.
I was like, "That's fine."
And then he called me
at the end of the movie, and he was like,
"I just need one thing.
I need you to run
to Western Union real quick.
We need 700 bucks
for the martial arts guys."
And just the fact that he had asked that,
after what I'd been through,
that was the end.
At that point, I think I was
80 percent sure that it was a scam,
but I wasn't sure if, like,
the Barbara part was a scam
or Donna was a scam, or Doug.
It took a while to totally figure out
that the whole thing was a fabrication
across three characters.
I just thought
this is a really horrible person
who uses people for sport.
And I felt really embarrassed
about losing 5,000 dollars.
But had they not tried
the sexual stuff
and taken me down that route at the end,
they probably could have gotten
more money from me.
When I started talking to the victims,
the story just took on a different shape.
There was some kind
of more sadistic design in mind.
You know, obviously, consenting adults
do all kinds of things,
for money or not for money.
The difference here
is that these people
believed that this was part
of the professional arrangement.
There was a power imbalance.
The Con Queen began impersonating
all these powerful female
Hollywood executives
right around the same time
that the Harvey Weinstein scandal
was erupting in the press.
Now to the latest on Harvey Weinstein.
Allegations by numerous women
who say the Hollywood mogul
And I started to wonder whether
there was some sort of connection,
because they were sort of
mirror images of each other.
The Con Queen's scam
was impersonated powerful women,
abusing and manipulating
unsuspecting young men.
It seemed like the scammer
was kind of recreating it
as a new version of a story of abuse.
I think in the psychology of this person,
is this desire
to enter into relationships of a sort,
with other people,
and then to proceed on a path
of destruction sort of from the inside.
So, the money
is like an added benefit.
Because the satisfaction was had,
I think, in their suffering.
This is now technically six times
going back and forth
between a 12-hour time difference
in two and half weeks.
Like, I am tiptoeing around everything.
I'm trying to do my best job
not to fuck up,
because this is still
a job interview for me.
I was so exhausted and so
just driven to finish this.
And at that point, it's also
the money's becoming an issue.
There's been issues
with the bank transfers.
And Amy kept telling me like,
"Oh, they're coming.
It's the transfer that takes
several business days.
And sometimes it gets hung up."
Me being on a 12-hour time difference
and also just being so busy
during these days,
I couldn't get in touch with my bank
to figure out what was going on.
And throughout the project, the money,
it really ran away from me.
Because, early on,
what I was paying on the ground
seemed pretty reasonable,
but as the time went on,
those fees got raised.
I had exhausted all of my savings.
My bank account was literally dry.
I got a call from Amy.
I pick up the phone and she's yelling,
saying all these things, like,
"What are you doing?
You need to get the money
and get on a flight tomorrow to Bali.
You fucking this up
is ruining the entire project.
It's making me look bad."
And I thought that's so extreme,
but she has all of the control,
all the power.
I can't call the shots here.
And I was borrowing money from my parents.
I'd have a phone call
with my dad and be like,
"Hey, can you put 2,000 dollars
in my bank account?"
I finally get a flight to go to Bali.
And at that point,
I was just so frustrated,
because the money situation.
I was spent.
And then around two in the morning,
I wake up to my phone buzzing.
I don't even look at it.
I just hit it, turn it off,
go back to sleep.
Five minutes later,
it starts buzzing again.
I hit it again, turn it off.
Like, even if it's Amy,
I'm like, "Whatever."
Third time it keeps buzzing,
I'm like, "Something's up.
I gotta answer it.
It's gonna be Amy."
I answer the phone and it's my dad.
"Will, are you okay? Where are you?"
In this tone that is just
I've never heard him say it
in a tone like that before.
I'm, like, "I'm in
I'm in my hotel room."
Like, "Yeah, I'm safe."
Like, "What's wrong?"
And he basically tells me, he's like,
"The woman you've been talking to
isn't Amy Pascal.
There's this crazy scam going on.
Somebody's catfished her,
you're not talking to Amy."
And my mind immediately goes to
"No, what are you talking about?
That can't be true."
Like, I didn't believe
my own dad in that moment.
And I thought that he was lying to me.
I was like, "What's wrong?
Why are you trying
to get me to come home?"
And I almost started getting defensive,
'cause I was like,
"You're trying to take this
I'm so close.
Like, it is Amy.
Like, just tell me
what the actual reason why
you're trying to get me out of there."
And he just keeps saying it,
and keeps saying it,
and then, something in me switches,
and like, all of these things
start coming together.
"This didn't make that much sense."
"Oh, that's why the money"
"Oh, this is why this, this, and this."
That's literally my reality
being torn apart.
Amy! Amy, one more time!
It was terrifying.
And also, the
Just hearing the sense of fright
and terror in my dad's voice
at the same time was scary.
And I was like,
"All right, well then, like, who do I
How do I get out of here?
Who do I trust?"
About three weeks into the investigation,
I got a call from a man
who had found his way to us
through our client's law firm, and said,
"I think my son's being scammed.
He's currently in Indonesia.
He thinks he's working on this project.
And something doesn't seem right."
So I had to tell them that,
"Yes, in fact, they were talking
to an impersonator."
But for me, it was
the first big break in the case.
And suddenly, we're in Indonesia.
We don't know what this is about,
or why they had been lured there.
Is this a trafficking situation?
If it is, this is way bigger
than what we thought.
And so, I called the victim, and I said,
"Right now, law enforcement
probably wouldn't do anything.
So you need to get yourself on a plane
and get out of there as soon as possible."
After that phone call with Nicole,
I got the first flight out of Jakarta
back to the States.
I'm not gonna tell the hotel.
I'm not gonna call anybody,
because my driver's supposed to show up
in three hours.
How do I know that they're not in on it?
If somebody's so crazy to come up
with this entire scheme,
like, who's to say they're
not just gonna kidnap me
and make me disappear?
And eventually we settle on, I'm gonna
pack up and I'm gonna get an Uber.
It's a third party, and she said,
"If you don't like the looks of the Uber,
just cancel, get another one."
So I get in this Uber,
I get another call from Nicole,
and I'm telling her I'm on the way
to the airport,
but my flight doesn't leave
for two to three hours.
And then I'm like, "How do I know
that Nicole isn't in on this?"
I'm now telling, potentially,
these same people my entire plan.
And I remember,
like, asking Nicole, I was like,
"Like, can you give me a reassurance
or like, who are you?"
And she did.
She, like, sent me her website.
Because at that point,
I'm still like questioning everything.
I get to the airport, so on edge
that every single movement
or somebody behind me, you know,
I was waiting for somebody to grab me.
And it's 6:30 in the morning,
my phone started buzzing.
And it was Amy.
And then I get an email from her.
"I've called you six times."
And I'm like, panicking,
because she has to, like,
be able to figure out there's only
so many flights that go out that morning.
I was in shock.
Like, fight or flight
just to get the fuck out of Jakarta.
And I didn't feel physically safe
until I was literally sitting on the plane
and had taken off and was in the air.
I get to Denver.
And it took me four days
after those three weeks
to finally sleep for, like,
six hours again.
I could fall asleep for 20 minutes
or 30 minutes and wake up.
I was so on edge.
Once I got home, I remember asking Nicole,
I was, like, "How evil is this person?
How do I know that I'm safe?"
And I remember Nicole
very calmly just telling me that like,
"I can't guarantee anything,
but I think you're okay.
And the reason why is because
whoever this is
has already moved on."
So it wasn't 24 hours after I had left,
and they were already on
to the next person.
Could you talk a little bit, just briefly
about how much of the money
went to costs like airlines?
38,039 dollars was for the vendor fees
that I paid in cash,
and then 16,413 dollars
was for flights and reimbursements.
Our work for the first client
was done within a couple of months.
We helped shut down
the impersonation of her,
but I knew it wasn't gonna be over,
because I kept hearing from victims.
You hear those stories and we said,
"Well, we have to help these people."
For the majority of the case,
we didn't have a paying client here.
The firm made the decision
that we can spend time on this,
and we can put resources to this.
You know, it's the right thing to do.
For months, we called everyone
in law enforcement
that we had a contact with.
I had people at the FBI telling me,
"It's not clear whose jurisdiction this is
and it's not big enough.
I'm just managing your expectation.
This will never end up with the FBI,
they will never make an arrest.
This is not what we do."
So, that's why we made a decision
that we were gonna figure out
who was doing this,
but also, talk to as many victims
as possible all over the world,
so that it was something that
law enforcement couldn't brush off.
The scam was affecting the entertainment
industry from the top down,
so it was a perfect story
for The Hollywood Reporter.
We were approached
by The Hollywood Reporter
because they already had been
hearing about this
through their channels as well.
And so the decision was made
to help get the story out there further,
so that it was immediately apparent
to anyone who would read it,
that was going through this,
that they're dealing with the same thing.
And we decided that we were gonna
put it on the cover.
And the headline was,
"Hunting the Con Queen of Hollywood."
When that article hit online,
you know, it went a little bit viral.
It was being shared all over Twitter.
And we managed to obtain recordings.
We put them both in the story.
I initially thought it might be
a criminal enterprise,
just because it was so much work,
in the form of drafting NDAs and contracts
and then sending multiple people
into Indonesia at the same time,
all while trying to set up new victims.
I mean, all of that required
a real logistical mastery.
And then, after the article was published,
people immediately starting getting
in touch with all kinds of theories,
and you know, purported evidence
of that they knew who the scammer was.
And in some cases, people would realize
that they themselves had been scammed.
And then turned to Nicole,
because I quoted Nicole
as the chief investigator.
So they knew that she had
an open investigation.
The flood gates opened
and there were a hundred people
who had been to Indonesia in the past
five years, who found that article.
Immediately, we went from very little
to a whole lot of information
to sift through.
I welcomed the calls, and for a lot
of people who had called law enforcement
or had called the US embassy
when they were in Indonesia,
and just been rebuffed,
you know, I was the only person
who was taking their calls.
And from an evidence perspective,
it also was helpful.
Somebody stayed at this hotel.
Somebody had this driver.
And they would say, "This was
the email I was interacting with."
There would be a new domain
that would pop up every couple of weeks.
And so, what we were doing
was a little bit
like a game of Whac-A-Mole.
We would get one shut down
and then the next week,
there'd be another one.
And they would just tweak it a little bit.
They would change "pictures" to "films."
So, they were acutely aware
that somebody was
behind the scenes doing all of that.
But we did know very quickly
that the person was in the UK.
And we knew that from IP addresses,
and the US cellphone numbers
that people were corresponding with,
were routing to a UK number.
But we didn't know
who actually was behind
these domains and phone numbers
that were being used.
And so it was obvious that if we were
going to actually
get any information here,
it would probably make sense
to file a civil lawsuit
to be able to see behind the scenes.
And so we did that.
And then, we got back
the name of the person
who had registered one of the domains
and set up one of the phone numbers
with a real name,
with a real address and real phone number.
And so now we had real leads,
and we had people to start talking to.
"Dear Mister Yim."
"My firm serves
an outside counsel for Amy Pascal.
We recently learned
that you have been involved
in a campaign to impersonate Ms. Pascal.
Your conduct undoubtedly violates
federal and state law."
I was quite concerned
when I first received the email.
I just gave them all the information.
I said, "I have nothing to hide.
I can tell you everything you want."
They said, "My friend Gavin
had asked me to do this."
And that was the first time
I heard the name Gavin.
Gavin seemed to panic
when I first mentioned it.
Like he was, like,
"What? Why they doing this?"
And then said, "Oh, no worries,
it's just a miscommunication,"
and he'll handle it.
And I was just like, "This is nothing
to do with me, so go sort it out."
What happened was he asked me
to renew a domain for him.
And he just needed a card
to make the payments,
cause he said he doesn't usually
like to use credit cards,
because for him it'd be easier to just
deposit cash into a cash machine,
and then put my account number,
which was super easy to do,
and much more convenient,
so I was happy to do it for him.
And at no point I thought there was
something shady going on at all.
I just thought I was helping him,
but I guess I was also very naive,
and quite young at that time, where
I couldn't put the puzzle pieces together.
We had found more than one individual
who had been directed
to sign up for the domains.
I saw connections in their Instagrams,
talking to each other
and tagging each other,
related to this guy
Gavin's Instagram account,
which was called "purebytes."
It was a public Instagram
that was posting every single day.
And he had 52,000 followers.
I couldn't believe that the person who's
potentially running this scam
is also trying to make it
as an influencer.
Morning, Instagram folks.
Bright and early,
because when you don't procrastinate,
when you don't make excuses,
you go ahead and you power up.
Level up! Don't ever give in.
Your body should be your temple.
The current snapshots that we were seeing
were of his life in London.
And it was very polished
and it had beautiful photography.
It looked like he had
a very cosmopolitan, great, life.
He volunteered a lot of information.
He put out a lot of information
about himself,
and he eventually revealed,
you know, he's from Indonesia.
And the more plausible the theory became
that he was involved.
Some of the creative ideas
that he was presenting in his real life
were merging with the scam.
So, at that point,
I was convinced that it was him.
But all I had was the name Gavin,
which is really common,
and you know, Googling,
"Gavin in London but from Indonesia"
isn't gonna get you very far.
Eventually, by scrubbing his Instagram
and really going through
every single comment
other names emerged.
So somebody had written, "Gavin Lal."
Somebody else called him Hargo.
Someone else referred to him
as Gobind Tahil.
And then, I came to understand
that he grew up
in the Indian community in Jakarta.
And many of their last names
ended in "ramani" or "ani."
So I had all these roots and suffixes.
I was trying them all
in different combinations.
And then one day,
I hit "Hargobind Tahilramani."
And it was about six months between
Gavin turning into Hargobind Tahilramani.
After I published the article,
I got an email from someone in Indonesia
who said, "I know who
the scammer is, let's talk."
The seeds of the Hollywood scam
were planted in Indonesia.
In 2010, there had been
a weird thing going on.
Someone is messing around
with the film industry in Indonesia.
I was fairly sure it was the same person.
After I connected with Scott Johnson,
I told him everything about what I knew
about Hargobind Punjabi Tahilramani.
He sent me a picture that was taken
from a newspaper article
that had appeared in Indonesia.
And he says,
"That man right there is the scammer."
And I cross-referenced the image
with this Instagram account.
It was the same person.
Nicole and I were talking
to different people
and putting different pieces
of the puzzle together,
but in the end, we wound up
coming to the same conclusion
within a few weeks of each other.
And so the article was about Hargobind
and how he served time in Jakarta
for embezzlement.
And then while he was in prison,
he made some bomb threats
against the US Embassy.
For that, he was sentenced
to more time in prison
on terrorism-related charges.
It mentioned accents and impersonations.
I learned that he was
also arrested for theft.
And he had a warrant in the United States
for another bomb threat.
He'd been on the FBI's radar
for ten years, and yet, they'd never
they'd never found him.
I mean, they'd never arrested him,
and this is just prepost
I thought it was preposterous.
How is this possible?
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