Hollywood Con Queen (2024) s01e02 Episode Script

A Different Animal

The Con Queen article
had gotten a lot of attention.
But people were still
being lured to Indonesia
and more people were being impersonated.
Over the course of the investigation,
I spoke to over four-hundred people
who were victims.
So, we learned that he was
running this scam for almost ten years.
And it honestly took ten years
before anybody did anything,
so he had an MO that he was using
and it was working for him
and nobody was stopping him.
We work on a fair amount of cases
where there is an impersonation aspect
that facilitates a scam, but this really
just felt different from the beginning.
In a lot of cases, the con artist
picks a mark, targets them for money,
gets the money,
and then tosses the victim aside.
And that's not what happens here.
When I was talking to victims, I never saw
two approaches that looked the same.
And that was something
that was really unique about this
is everyone's story had a little quirk,
a new addition to, you know,
the psychological aspect of it
and what he would put people through.
The first time I heard from somebody
who had confronted him
and the conversation continued,
I was really surprised.
But then, it just kept happening.
And so, I don't know
if that was a psychological thing
to just turn the screws
one last time on people, or what,
but it didn't make logical sense
from a scam-running perspective.
The victims all,
independently of each other,
come up with the same
kind of language to describe him.
And that language is,
"psychological torture",
you know, a kind of "psychological abuse".
I definitely think he was consciously
toying with people, for sure.
They were put in a puzzle
and he would watch them squirm.
So, for instance, he did
a very bizarre thing with this victim,
he told them to watch The Truman Show.
And that really jumped out at me,
because The Truman Show
is sort of a perfect metaphor
for what he was doing to his victims.
Which was creating
an entire elaborate artifice,
and then placing his victims
inside the artifice
for the viewing pleasure of himself.
It's almost like a God who creates a world
and then allows his creations
to contemplate the possibility
of awareness of their creator.
And says, "Ha-ha,
look at what I'm doing to you.
Is this gonna be enough for you
to kind of wake up?"
I was really fascinated
with the psychology of it.
I had a pretty good sense
that he was a lone operator,
that he was the mastermind of the scam.
I had some basic biographical information.
I knew that his real name
was Hargobind Tahilramani,
that he went by, "Harvey" as a kid,
and that now that he was in London
operating an Instagram account,
he went by the name "Gavin".
I think Purebytes was, perhaps, a way out.
A way to restart his life
after he left Indonesia.
Oh, my God!
We're on top of the world. Let's explore.
Then you have to wonder,
"Well, to what end?"
Was it because he wanted to be successful
and have a legitimate
social media presence,
that would give his life
substance and meaning?
Or was it to build
the social media side up
so that he could use it
for some nefarious purpose?
I'm fascinated by the fact that I could do
anything and everything
I put my heart into.
And you can, too.
I was working at a restaurant
called Goodman, it was a steakhouse.
And I was working there
for about six years when I met Gavin.
We got to know him pretty quickly
because he was always
a little bit problematic.
We could never cook
a steak correctly for him
and he'd go as far
as putting it in his mouth,
chewing it, spitting it out,
putting it on a linen napkin
and handing it to you to say,
"This isn't correct, Julian".
The strange thing was, you didn't
have to do anything to the bill for him,
he was always happy to pay.
He made it very clear with the staff
that he was an Instagram food influencer.
And at the restaurant,
he'd photograph the food sometimes
We're here right now
at Goodman's Steakhouse.
Fabulous steak
and fabulous people. Come on.
Eventually, after getting to know him
is when he started to follow my Instagram.
So then I had resigned from the restaurant
and I get a message from him.
"Hi, Julian. I have some ideas.
I think that I could do with your services
for my Purebytes account.
Would you like to meet to discuss?"
So, I meet him in a coffee shop
and he tells me,
"Essentially, what the job will be,
is I go to lunch, I go to restaurants,
you come with me,
photograph everything
for my Instagram account.
That's going to make it look a little bit
more professional and I pay you.
I employ you.
It's a Monday to Friday gig."
And I said, "Okay, cool.
That sounds feasible.
Let's see what happens."
And he says, "Okay, film me."
But I made it clear to him that I was fine
with the photography side of things
but I was certainly not a trained
or skilled videographer,
but we can do our best. And he said,
"I don't even care. Just film me."
- Action.
- I'm right here in Chinatown
and my good friend, Sir Julian
Yes, sir. Yes, sir
Decided for me to get this specialty.
This is the special fish-shaped custard.
Around about 2 p.m., he said,
"I've really gotta make a phone call."
And I went, "Okay, cool."
And then he kind of said to me,
"No, you need to leave.
Like, go away! Disappear."
Gavin always had a little bit
of an underlying distraction going on.
He'd say, "I haven't slept."
And you know, "I've been up all night."
Between what he was doing for Purebytes
and the facilitation of the scam,
he must've been on the phone all day.
And he called people all hours of the day.
It would be four in the morning, UK time,
and he's having a conversation
with this person who's in Indonesia.
And on the same day,
he would be talking to somebody in LA,
who just bought a plane ticket.
So, he definitely had people
in different phases of the scam
at the same time.
I found out from sources
that he was calling about 50 people a day
to gauge their suitability
as possible marks.
And he would keep notes
on all of his victims
in the Gmail drafts folder.
It's a skill set, really,
to be able to keep the symphony playing
and here he was in real life
keeping track of the various stories
he would tell about himself.
He started to openly talk about being
a producer working in the film industry
and then eventually he started to mention
that he was working for Netflix.
There were references all over his page
to working for Netflix,
so he would invent
entire interactions and jobs
that he was supposedly working on.
Which speaks to a very deliberate,
well-organized plan to deceive people.
It's almost like he couldn't control it
or something.
It just kept happening again,
and again, and again.
That's it. Good.
And now, look off to the left.
That's it.
As a photographer,
I am known for taking portraits, mainly.
Often, celebrities
but also chef portraits,
so people in the food industry.
Gavin Ambani, he wrote me an email.
He said that he got in touch with me
because Itamar and Sarit,
two very well-respected chefs,
recommended me.
And he said he wanted
some portraits done for Instagram.
I replied to him and said, "It's
not really something that interests me
and you might want to try someone else."
Then he got back in touch and said
he was the son
of the Ambani family in India,
which is a big, influential family.
And he'd be willing to pay anything
I wanted for me to take the portrait.
So, pretty much straightaway
we had two shoots planned.
The first shoot we did
was with two chefs, Itamar and Sarit.
My idea then was to have
this scenario of breaking bread.
I got the sense that that was
something very special for him.
At the end of the shoot,
I talked to Itamar and Sarit.
I said, "Well, you know,
you recommended him."
And I think I thanked them for it.
And they said,
"Well, I don't really know him that well."
Itamar said, you know,
"I've only talked to him once or twice
and Sarit's never talked to him."
But to some degree,
he's done what an influencer does,
they exaggerate their position a bit.
The idea behind the second shoot
was to shoot him at a high-end tea room.
I remember on the day of that shoot
that he was stressed.
He was on his phone a lot.
I just thought, "Well,
it could be a stressful day at work."
And as soon as I asked him
to focus on the camera,
he switched and
he was exactly how I wanted him to be.
At the end,
when we were packing up, he said,
"Get the invoices through and
we'll pay you, you know, straightaway."
Gavin said he's got an auntie in Hollywood
that works for the family
as an accountant.
So, I made up the invoice to her
and sent it
and got a reply from her.
He was very insistent.
Constantly going, you know,
"You gotta make sure that you get paid.
Have you been paid yet?"
I'd go, "Well, I'll check."
And, "No, I haven't."
And he started
talking about new deadlines.
So, then it was all like, "Oh, well,
if you don't get the money by then,
I'll come and pay you in cash."
One time, he said he was gonna
turn up and give me the cash.
And I remember then
I waited for him for a while.
An hour later, I got a message,
"Oh, held up in a meeting with my auntie.
My auntie is here now."
And I thought,
"Well, okay. I'll write the auntie."
And I get a reply straightaway.
Then you kinda go,
"That is That's bull."
And I thought,
"I'm gonna contact Itamar and Sarit."
So, I said, "Look, I'm really sorry.
I haven't been paid by Gavin."
After I talked to Itamar,
I get an email from Gavin Ambani saying,
"I've just come off the phone with Itamar.
He's been shouting at me
because I haven't paid you."
"Now you've made me
want to commit suicide."
I'm going, "What is going on?"
You know? "This is incredible."
As far as I knew then was,
the only way I was gonna get money
is to go through small claims.
I know the stress of it and I know
it's not a fun process to go through.
I decided just to forget about it.
It's not worth it.
And that's the last I ever heard of him.
I am in Trafalgar Square,
and right now
this is a quintessential spot
for tourists to come and see these lions.
He would do things like accents
and it was always in jest,
it was jovial, it was him acting for me.
Well, I just came back
from the Roman Amphitheatre
and it was wonderful
and all that good stuff.
It made me realize
that he wants to show all these characters
that he kind of thinks he's made up of.
So, once he trusted me enough,
he suggested that we start
photographing things in his flat
and modeling himself off these
Bon Appétit magazine YouTube chefs.
- You got the burgers. We
- We got the answers.
Right from there, right from the pot.
Come on, Vinny,
stick your camera in there.
What he liked about them
was that they're full of life,
they're all good looking,
they're energetic,
very talented behind a kitchen counter.
Maybe he thought,
"Well, I can do all of that,
because I've got a cameraman,
I've got nice outfits,
and I have the ability
to make a cooking video."
- Hey! What's going on, Julian?
- How are you, Gavin?
Amazing, as you can see.
You know what, Julian?
Lots of people talking smack
about others, including myself.
Been there, done that.
I was one of those people, as well.
- That's not very nice.
- That's not nice, but at the same time,
if we let people get to us
and we take revenge, so to speak,
we'll never progress in life.
He was adamant
that he was gonna use it as a platform
to get back at people
that he thought had done him wrong.
When I was bullied
because I was a big kid.
Of course I'm going to talk about it.
I will!
What are you talking about, Julian?
I thought that,
"This is all a little bit strange
and not really what I signed up for."
Then eventually he started
to push the boundaries a little bit
in terms of squeezing my cheeks
or telling me I'm beautiful
or wanting to hug me.
And then one day he said to me,
"I'd like you to photograph my outfit."
And then, so,
he proceeded to undress in front of me,
and he said to me,
"Don't worry. I'm not gonna rape you."
So I'm trying to photograph it and
the one thing that I thought about was,
he told me that Harvey Weinstein
was one of these people he revered
and he said
that Harvey taught him all the ways
of how to operate as a producer.
"Harvey was a great guy
and these women are just vindictive,
and they're liars,
and the Me Too movement is a scam."
Which was a kind of scary thought
to be trapped in a flat
with someone that believed that.
I thought to myself,
"Little do you know, this is the last day
I'm putting up with this shit."
By putting out into the world
so much on his own social media,
it was clear to me that he's somebody
who's not able to exist
without sharing his vision with the world.
But it also was his own undoing.
Because it became a part
of my day-to-day life
over the course of two years,
to go on Instagram
and look at this profile,
and there were two timelines.
I'm tracking the storyline of the scam,
and I know he just went out
to eat at this restaurant
and an hour previously,
he was on the phone
with a new person in Indonesia.
He was putting more information
out there into the world.
I don't think he knew
I was paying attention or following along.
And that's just old school detective work,
but I really wanted
to gather that evidence
should it prove useful
for law enforcement in the future.
But there were definitely nights
where my husband told me,
"Turn off the computer."
It'd be, like, three in the morning
and I would be like Carrie Mathison
connecting my dots all over the place.
I definitely was obsessed
with seeing it through.
Nothing's dissuading him
from what he's doing
and so I felt like I had to be an advocate
for people, because nobody else was.
A lot of it was being done outside
of work hours, when I could get to it,
because I had my real job,
and my real cases.
One time, someone called
and I really needed to be taking notes,
so the only notebook I could find
was this one
and so this became
the case notebook for a while
where I just kept it on my desk
and scribbled in details
and hilariously,
it's now locked and I can't open it.
So the secrets of the Con Queen
live in here,
but this one, my official one,
is just silly pictures.
So, this is the life of a working mom.
You know, when these victims
would go to the FBI and get rebuffed,
very often the next person
that they would turn to would be Nicole.
She wound up talking to them,
oftentimes for hours and hours,
even after the demands of K-2's clients
had essentially been met.
This case was unique
in that we're not generally able
to talk about the work that we do,
but so many people were being affected
on an ongoing basis and being harmed,
that we made the decision
that for the public good,
we would put our contact information
out there, so that if somebody Googled
"Indonesia scam producer",
something would pop up.
Then, one day, while we're out at brunch,
my phone starts ringing.
And I look at it,
and it's a blocked number.
And when I picked up,
Gavin was on the other end.
That's what started the series
of conversations over about a week period.
He would just call
five in the morning my time,
I'd be on the subway into the office,
and you know, I had to always
pick it up whenever he would call.
He definitely used his tricks on me.
I think he definitely was trying to
psychologically profile me a little bit.
He said,
"I know you're just doing your job.
I respect working women."
He used a lot of flattery.
He referenced things
about my personal life
that I'm not sure how he cobbled together.
You know, the conversations
I kinda just let him talk.
He never once
admitted to doing any of this
and he was,
you know, trying to get rid of me.
Trying to make me go away.
And then he just said, "Miss Kotsianas,
you know lot of things.
There's penalties for people
who know too much.
You know too much."
Like, in a way, I had to disengage.
I said, "I'm not picking up
the phone anymore."
But that was the only time
that he ever did anything
that made me feel uncomfortable.
And I think it was probably
because he was aware
that the walls were closing in
and, you know,
I was partially responsible for that.
The role that Nicole played in this
was just critical.
You have to remember Harvey
had been on the FBI's radar for years
and they just hadn't ever done anything.
And she, pretty single-handedly,
helped build the case.
I think the biggest mistake he made
was thinking that, like, I would go away
as long as he stopped
impersonating this client, or this client,
and that just didn't happen.
Because by that point,
we had amassed enough evidence
in terms of the losses combined
for the victims that we knew of,
and it was well over a million dollars.
And then the FBI could do something
about it and did do something about it.
Because it got to the scale
where it was the sort of thing
they could devote resources to.
And so, that took us
two years to get to that point.
And a case was formally opened.
The FBI put out a press release
announcing the existence
of the investigation
and also soliciting victims
to input their information,
and that really enabled the investigation
to take it to the next level
and it moved us
from the central contact point,
moved it to the FBI.
So, I went back to the victims
I had already spoken to and said,
"Look, there's momentum here."
That moment was a big breakthrough for me,
because it is the sort of case
that falls between the cracks all the time
and I thought, "We're going to be able
to do something here."
When the FBI decided to officially
open an investigation,
I wrote about that.
And I had the sense
that an arrest was imminent,
but over the course
of 2019 and 2020, that didn't happen.
The challenge for the FBI was that,
first they had to identify
what the crimes actually were,
then they had to gather all the evidence
to tie those crimes directly to Harvey,
and then they had to coordinate
with foreign law enforcement agencies
to make an arrest.
I was convinced
that COVID was gonna stop him.
Nothing else was stopping him,
but I was like, "He's not gonna be
able to get people to fly."
And then, sure enough,
I get a call from somebody who says,
"I just sent five-thousand dollars
to a bank account in Indonesia
for some martial arts training
that I'm gonna do over Zoom."
He got with the times.
He adapted to what we all were doing
and how we were all living,
and tweaked his scam to fit it.
Then as time went on, people would say,
"What is taking so long?"
Of course, it was frustrating to us, too.
But the wheels of justice turn slowly.
And so, I just stayed on it.
I kept writing about it.
I would do little updates.
But I started, at that point, to think,
"Well, this is just bigger
than simply an article."
So, I had decided to write a book
about this whole saga,
because I really wanted
to explore it more.
And one of the big questions for me was,
"Was this person acting out of malevolence
or had something happened to him?
Had he been traumatized? Had he been hurt?
And if so, how?"
So, I thought, "Well, maybe there's
a chance that he would talk to me."
Because if I'm gonna
write a book about him,
I can't not hear what he has to say.
And I'd been trying for a long time,
I'd sent him WhatsApp messages,
I'd sent him emails.
I mean, I'd tried Instagram.
I'd tried to call
numbers that I had for him.
He just ignored me.
I contemplated many times
going to try to find him,
but one of the tricky things
was that he was moving constantly.
You could keep track of him on Purebytes,
but you never really knew from one day
to the next, where he actually was.
How's it going, Instagram folks?
I'm currently
at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
He was in London one day,
he was in Manchester the next.
Currently in rainy city, Manchester.
That should be the nickname of Manchester.
So he did a lot of travelling
around the UK.
I'm currently at Leeds.
I'm in the sleepy town of Gullane.
Rise and shine.
I'm currently in Edinburgh.
And so, the prospect of going to the UK
and poking around in half a dozen
different cities until I find him,
was not really an option.
And then, Harvey took Purebytes down.
He just dismantled it. He took it offline.
At which point he sort of disappeared.
And I think I'd gotten a little bit stuck.
I didn't know where to go
with the story
but everything sort of changed
in September of 2020.
A woman in Indonesia
named Haseena Bharata,
with whom I'd been in touch,
she was somebody who knew Harvey as a kid,
and Haseena had an Instagram show.
So, one day, she messaged me
and she said that she planned
to have Harvey on the show.
As Hargobind, as himself,
which had never happened before.
Hi, there. How are you?
Fabulous. How are you?
You're looking good, Gobind.
Thank you so much.
- So good to see you after ages
- Likewise.
and thank you for wanting
to share with us your experience.
I mean, he was taking
all kinds of risks by doing this video.
But I think, in his mind,
it was an attempt to establish himself
as a renewed, reinvigorated,
reborn person
living his best life in the UK.
How and what made you who you are today?
There's still a long way for me,
Haseena, to go.
I mean, it's still a long way and
You know, I had to go through so much.
I've done a lot of wrong things in my life
to get by, to survive,
because there was no way out.
You know, I was very destitute,
very troubled, in my life.
And today I'm happy, I'm enjoying my life,
I'm on my 20th floor
overlooking the beautiful city of London.
Now I had this piece of information.
Here he was, in a location.
I realized I could use the data
from that interview to try to find him.
I took a bunch of screenshots
of the interview,
because there was a window behind him
and you could see
a skyline and a cityscape.
I had a friend who grew up in the UK,
I sent a bunch of pictures to him
and I said,
"Can you identify anything
in these pictures, anything at all?"
I had one picture in which you could see,
in the background, a tower
and it said, "City Tower" on it.
And my friend and I figured out
together where we thought he was.
Where he actually was.
And where he actually was,
was not London, as he told her,
but it was Manchester.
Now this is where
Manchester is, obviously.
We zoom back in to the city
and this is the tower that you were
talking before about. City Tower, here.
But I kept coming back to this image,
this cluster of buildings here
because it just seems so familiar to me.
I realized that the photo
was gonna be mirrored
'cause he's taking it as a selfie.
But I've come across
these three buildings here,
and you can see that, you know, it matches
the red and then the yellow and the white.
I kind of looked around to see if
what I could see, and then, yeah,
lo and behold,
- it is that building there.
- Oh, my gosh. There it is.
You can see the City Tower is there,
so I think that he's taken
from one of these apartments here.
There were a couple of buildings
that were correctly positioned
such that they would give
that vantage point
that Harvey had from his window.
And one of them was called
The Light ApartHotel.
And that made perfect sense
because The Light ApartHotel
is a kind of a temporary dwelling
where you can rent
a fully furnished apartment
for a day, a week, a month.
It's perfect for somebody like Harvey
who didn't want to be settled anywhere.
And I thought,
"Well, just a couple weeks ago
he was in this Light ApartHotel
doing a video,
it's COVID,
he's probably not travelling much,
I've gotta go find him."
And so, I booked a flight
and I booked a reservation
at the Light ApartHotel.
A big part of this journey is,
my attempt to get to the bottom of this
before he becomes unavailable.
It might be a very long time,
but it might be next week,
it might be tomorrow,
and I don't wanna miss the opportunity
to at least try to find him,
try to get to him
to see where he's been holed up,
to see what his life is like.
Then I landed in the UK,
I checked in, and the rooms there are
It's just glass all around.
It felt very exposed,
and I sort of marveled at the idea
that this person who had so successfully
hidden from so many people for so long
was quite possibly
living in this fish bowl.
But it just felt like
a pretty lonely existence
living in this glass house, you know,
in the middle of this bustling city.
I'm here in the hotel.
I'm talking quietly because
I don't know how the sound carries in here
and for all I know
he could be on the same floor
or in the next room over.
Okay, that's all for now. I'm
Let's see what I can find.
So, the next day I woke up and I thought,
"I'm just gonna sit here in the lobby."
So, I just sat down, pulled down my hat,
tried to make myself inconspicuous,
and just buried myself in my phone.
So, I sat there for about an hour,
and then, all of a sudden,
I heard the elevator ding.
And I heard the voice.
And I just knew
right away that it was him.
And so I followed him.
I okay, I found him.
As soon as I made my way into the street,
there was a lot of buses,
so I was kind of trying
to keep an eye on him.
But then, to my dismay,
he was actually headed
into the entrance of the giant mall.
There were hundreds and hundreds
of people in the mall.
So, I just spent the next
two hours or so just circling.
And I couldn't find him anywhere.
Writing a book is a massive endeavor.
It's four years of your life.
You know, why this story?
There were aspects of this story
that I think spoke to some themes
that had been present
in my life ever since I was a kid.
Ideas around deception, manipulation,
those things sort of
spoke to me at a deeper level,
because of what my childhood was like.
My parents divorced when I was about six,
and I wound up
going overseas with my father.
We had already lived
in India when I was a kid,
and later we moved
to Pakistan and Yugoslavia,
and it was really exhilarating.
We were kind of off
on this big adventure.
But what I didn't know was
that my dad was a spy for the CIA.
And when you're fourteen and your dad
tells you he is basically James Bond,
it's intoxicating to be let in
on such an interesting secret.
But the reality is
a little bit more complicated,
because in the movies,
James Bond didn't have a family,
but real spies do have families.
And sometimes,
those families have to become complicit
in a certain amount of deception.
When I was a kid,
I had to help him maintain his cover.
I had to keep our story straight.
The CIA actually
commissioned a study one time,
where they tried to figure out
what job in the civilian world
corresponded most closely
to the job that my father had,
which was a case officer.
And that job was foreign correspondent,
which is what I was for many years.
And I didn't have to lie
to protect my father,
but I had to kind of
lie about him to protect myself,
because I was often working in these,
you know, dangerous places,
and war zones, and the kinds of situations
where any sort of affiliation with the CIA
would've been
very dangerous and even deadly.
So, there were aspects of the story that
resonated with my own self-conception,
this idea of the masks that we wear
and the lies that we tell.
But Harvey's lies
and his sort of forays into transformation
took on these really grotesque forms
and became altogether sadistic and warped.
And that drew me to the story, I think
in a way
that other scams might not have.
Today was a good day.
After two years
and three months I found him.
When I saw him, my heart started racing.
I had to take a bunch of deep breaths.
So I think tomorrow,
what I'm gonna do is get up early
and if I see him leaving,
I'll try to follow him again.
And then the next morning, I took up
my exact same position in the lobby.
And sure enough, he was there again.
So, I followed him
and he did the exact same thing.
And this time I was closer to him,
and I was very diligent
about not losing him.
It was strange to be doing that.
But I just wanted to find the best way
to approach him
so that he would talk to me.
He made his way to the grocery store,
and then he went back in the hotel
and back up to his room.
So, now I had a sense
of where he went every day.
Today, he was all by himself again.
But I'm a little bit nervous
about confronting him,
because I know that he can and has been
you know, very volatile, and even violent.
That's something I've been grappling with.
My dad emailed me overnight
with some suggestions
about what to say, how to say it
I've got butterflies in my stomach.
I I'm not sure how this is gonna go.
There is gonna be somebody filming me
maybe from a distance with a mic on,
so I can hopefully, pick up some audio.
There. Wait, is that him?
Right there. This one?
He's turned the corner. Here in the mall.
Looks like he's going
on the same route as yesterday.
He's in a long line.
When he comes out,
I'm going to approach him.
Sorry, excuse me.
Can I have a minute of your time?
- Yeah.
- Yeah, hey
Sorry to bother you. My name is Scott.
I'm the journalist
who's been trying to contact you.
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