He was a freelance documentary photographer, 27 and eager, but not inexperienced. He'd worked in conflict zones for several prestige newspapers and magazines and shot ad campaigns for corporate clients. One day in late 2017, he opened his email to find an unusual message. The first thing he noticed was the sender's name: Amy Pascal, the former co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment. That kind of thing didn't happen every day. Pascal wanted to know if he would be interested in traveling to Indonesia to pursue an exciting project. They got on the phone the next day to discuss it further. His previous assignments had often taken him overseas. He'd explored 16 countries during the past year, including Indonesia. He knew the terrain and could hit the ground running.
He was a freelance documentary photographer, 27 and eager, but not inexperienced. He'd worked in conflict zones for several prestige newspapers and magazines and shot ad campaigns for corporate clients. One day in late 2017, he opened his email to find an unusual message. The first thing he noticed was the sender's name: Amy Pascal, the former co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment. That kind of thing didn't happen every day.
Pascal wanted to know if he would be interested in traveling to Indonesia to pursue an exciting project. They got on the phone the next day to discuss it further. His previous assignments had often taken him overseas. He'd explored 16 countries during the past year, including Indonesia. He knew the terrain and could hit the ground running.
After the call, he looked at the email again and noticed the URL: pascalfilms.com. Online, it didn't exist. Pascal, now a producer (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Post), did have an outfit called Pascal Pictures, but the company didn't seem to have a website. He chalked this up to the fact that Pascal had been very publicly embarrassed in the 2015 Sony hack, resulting in the disclosure of her private emails. The lack of an online presence for her new company made sense.
When they spoke again on the phone, Pascal flattered him. She enthused about his still photography, which she knew intimately. She also was familiar with details of his corporate clients, specific personality quirks of people with whom he'd worked closely. "You wouldn't know these things unless you dealt with these people in very specific ways," he says now. "This gave her immediate credibility."
Over the course of several conversations, Pascal explained that she was reinventing herself after the Sony hack. "She said the news media had made the hack into more of a terrible event than it was," he says. "She said she was still very close with everyone, working actively with them." She had a new production company, a new staff, a slate of fresh projects. As part of this reinvention, she wanted to develop a pair of short documentary films. She was looking for a talented photographer with just the right aesthetic, someone who might even be interested in directing one day. She wanted to collaborate, to build something really special from the ground up.
She explained he would stay in Indonesia for about a week shooting images of landscapes, temples and iconic scenery for a storyboard that would bolster his bona fides with potential buyers. Together they would edit the results into a pitch they could present to financiers in L.A. She would arrange for hotels. He would pay in advance for the airfare and front the costs for drivers, translators, food and other sundries. She would reimburse him for all of these expenses. These kinds of financial arrangements aren't unusual for freelancers in creative industries. He reviewed the contract she sent. It was all pretty standard, a mundane but necessary routine in the life of a photographer. Nothing stood out, except that it was exceptionally professional.
Before long, he was on a plane to Jakarta.
Six months and $65,000 later, the photographer, who has requested anonymity out of concern for his safety, has come to understand that he was duped by one of the most elaborate scams to ever hit Hollywood. The woman he'd spoken to several times a day for weeks on end wasn't Pascal, but a sophisticated imposter who took him for a colossal financial and emotional ride.
For the past two and a half years, hundreds of unwitting victims around the world have been ensnared by a small but cunning criminal organization whose contours are only beginning to be understood. Three of the producers impersonated have retained the services of a high-end corporate investigations firm, K2 Intelligence, run by Jeremy M. Kroll (brother of the comedian Nick Kroll; their father, Jules, founded Kroll, considered a foundational benchmark in the world of corporate risk management). K2 Intelligence won't reveal specific clients, but sources confirm that one of them is Pascal (she declined to comment for this story). Hollywood companies also are getting involved. Earlier this year, when Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy learned that she had been impersonated, she informed Disney's internal security. A spokesperson for Kennedy says she refers all cases of fraud to law enforcement.
Victims of the elaborate ruse are led to believe they are speaking to powerful female entertainment executives, including billionaire producer and philanthropist Gigi Pritzker; former Paramount head Sherry Lansing; 20th Century Fox CEO Stacey Snider; and Lesli Linka Glatter, a director and executive producer on shows including Homeland, The Walking Dead and Mad Men. "This is such a terrible thing — I was shocked," says Lansing, who left the industry a decade ago to focus on her philanthropic work.
"The people being impersonated are a who's who of Hollywood, as well as high-net-worth individuals in New York," says Nicoletta Kotsianas, a K2 Intelligence investigator who has been tracking the scammers for months. "It's horribly upsetting that someone is making promises and behaving badly in your name," adds Linka Glatter, who was impersonated at least a dozen times between the spring of 2017 and today. "It would go quiet, and I would think it was over, and then suddenly it would start all over again."
The imposter works by using a combination of deceit, charm and intimidation to manipulate her marks. The victims travel to Indonesia on a promise of work and, once there, are asked to hand over relatively modest amounts of money at a time, up to $3,000 in some cases, to help cover expenses for things like car travel, translation, tour guides and fixers. A designated Indonesian "moneyman" arrives on a moped to collect the funds. Needless to say, the promised reimbursements never arrive. Over time, these small sums add up. All told, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been collectively stolen this way. "Even if they're bringing in $300,000 a year, that's a huge amount of money in Indonesia," says Kotsianas, who believes the same group is behind all of the cases.
At the center of the organization is the impersonator — a woman whose sophisticated research, skill with accents and deft psychological and emotional manipulation have earned her the begrudging respect of her victims and trackers. K2 investigators believe the woman is the "talent" of an operation that, while relatively small, may have legs on at least three continents, including the U.S., Asia and Europe. The victims come from all over — the U.K., Europe and the U.S. primarily — and represent a wide swath of creative industries: hairstylists, stuntmen, military advisers, photographers and cinematographers.
The Hollywood Reporter has obtained two separate audio recordings of the woman's voice, which has never been publicly disclosed. Both of the tapes date from an earlier incarnation of the scam, when the imposter was targeting makeup artists in the U.K. at the end of 2015 and early 2016. In one, she speaks in a distinct American twang, a flat, almost nasal intonation, berating her interlocutor (in this case, a victim's agent) about a missed flight. "To be very blunt with you, when I travel internationally, I use this number," she says, exasperated. "This number can be reached, it was registered 10 years ago. OK?"
In the second, she adopts a convincing British accent. These tapes predate the imposter's incursion into Hollywood proper, but the methods on display remain the same, according to victims.
The woman comes across as intense, intelligent and authoritative. Her rapid-fire speech is delivered smoothly and without any hint of deception. "This woman learns everything there is to know about her targets," says Kotsianas. "She tweaks her voice and accent and sounds like who she is impersonating. That's why she's been able to fool as many people as she has." The photographer eventually compared her voice to publicly available recordings of the real Pascal. He found them to be eerily similar — a blend of New York and Midwestern accents. The only thing missing was the slight lisp of the real Pascal.
Linka Glatter first learned that she was being impersonated from friends and colleagues. "I started getting calls from my agents and managers, friends, and friends of friends — they were all hearing from a fake Lesli Linka Glatter," she says, "And they would want to know: Am I doing this project? What's the deal? It was horrifying."
For a long time, Linka Glatter thought she was alone in being faked. She tried to contact the police and the FBI, but neither showed interest. The amount of money involved was too small, they told her. She hired a private investigator, who discovered that the scammers were using burner phones to cover their tracks and GoDaddy accounts for fake email addresses. She contacted corporate security at a major Hollywood studio, but that didn't help either. The calls kept coming. One day, a well-known political consultant in Washington got in touch.
"The fake Lesli had contacted him to collaborate on a project, but then she started sounding weirder and weirder and the political consultant called my agents to find out if she was real," says Linka Glatter. The impersonator had also apparently targeted several technical and military advisers who worked with Linka Glatter on shows like Homeland and The Walking Dead. "People believed there was a real job at the end of this," she says. "There is a whole group of military people that were targeted."
One such ex-military target was Rudy Reyes, an actor (HBO's Generation Kill) and former U.S. Marine who received a call from a man purporting to be producer Beau Flynn (San Andreas, Rampage), who said he was calling on behalf of Lucasfilm's Kennedy. When Reyes and his manager, Adam Handelsman, eventually spoke to the woman — who said she was Kennedy — she said she was interested in casting the ex-Marine as a supporting actor in Indiana Jones 5. The trio spoke for about 10 minutes. Then the woman said she was having trouble hearing and requested to speak to Reyes alone.
In an email, Handelsman summarizes the call between the con woman and his client:
"The first 30 minutes of the conversation was extremely professional. Then it started to get extremely sexual. She discussed how her husband Frank Marshall was never around, and that Rudy could stay in her Los Feliz home. She told Rudy that the role was his but asked over and over 'what was he going to do for her?' She was explicit in her request. Rudy repeatedly said no. She said she made Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise and will make him a star. This was against his morals, his warrior ethos — all he wanted to do was work. He fully rebuffed all of her sexual advances. She hung up."
A couple of days later, the man claiming to be Beau Flynn called Handelsman back. He alleged, without evidence, that Reyes had propositioned Kennedy during their one-on-one call. He said the call had been taped and threatened to expose Reyes. When Handelsman responded that California requires two-party consent to tape calls and accused the man of committing a felony, the man grew flustered and hung up.
While Reyes escaped, many other veterans weren't as fortunate. Last March, a former U.S. Marine who participated in the U.S. invasion of Iraq and was living in Bangkok, working as a private security contractor, received a call from a man who said his name was Jason Cohen. (The Marine has requested that his identity remain anonymous for security reasons.) Cohen explained that he worked for Christine Hearst Schwarzman, an intellectual property lawyer from Long Island married to private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group. Cohen told the Marine that Schwarzman was "building a security team to escort her around Southeast Asia as she builds her directing career." Before long, the Marine was on the phone with Schwarzman herself, who "had a very thick Long Island accent." The con woman promised the Marine a job as director of her security team and hinted at lots of high-paying work down the road.
"There is an important element of social engineering going on with these victims," says Snezana Gebauer, K2's head of investigations and disputes practices, who has worked on the case with Kotsianas. "They know everything about their victims' personal lives and use the necessary pressure points, and they use publicly available information about the executives they are impersonating." Investigators and victims seem to agree that while some of the information about the targets is publicly available (especially online and via social networks), much is not, and it remains unclear how the scammers have developed such extensive inside knowledge about the lives of their marks.
In her first phone calls with the Marine, the con woman showed a penchant for role-playing. In one exchange, she told him she wanted him to fire Cohen. Confused, the Marine asked for clarification, and she told him she wanted him to show her that he could be strong, to see what kind of man he was. On a subsequent call, during which both she and Cohen were on the line, the Marine did as she had asked. "I got aggressive. I fired the guy," says the Marine. "She's some kind of freak."
Not long afterward, she asked him to turn on his Skype camera so she could see him. She said she couldn't turn her own camera on because of security issues. (The imposter has never been seen in person or on video.) He told her he was only wearing a tank top — she said that was OK. She asked to see his tattoos and he pulled up his shirt. "Mmm," she said. "Gimme kisses, gimme kisses." It could have gone further, but he stopped it.
The woman told the Marine she wanted to expand her security team with his colleagues, so that it was more "like a family." The Marine would eventually refer his friends, including snipers, Special Forces operators and Green Berets. Each of them reported back the same experience: They had to "fire" Cohen; the woman asked for "kisses." With some of these other military operators, the Marine says, she convinced them to engage in graphic virtual sex with her via Skype.
A couple of weeks later, the Marine traveled to Indonesia at the woman's behest, forking over some $2,800 from his own pocket for expenses, with the expectation that he'd soon be paid nearly $10,000 in additional fees for his security analysis of various hotels and locations.
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Source : https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/hunting-con-queen-hollywood-1125932