'French hustler' jailed for swindling rich
'Talented and brazen liar' had expensive tastes
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Around Whistler he was known as a man with lavish tastes for fine wines and cigars. He introduced himself as Michael VanHoven but his real name was Christopher Rocancourt.
But when police unravelled the activities of the son of a French house painter and prostitute mother, they found the French con man was involved in much more than indulging in expensive habits in British Columbia. They arrested the man in the Victoria area in April 2001.
He pleaded guilty last year to defrauding B.C. businessman Robert Baldock and Baldock's wife of more than $150,000.
Rocancourt, who was described by provincial court Judge Conni Bagnall as a "talented and brazen liar," wound up spending 14 months in jail for the crime.
After being introduced to the Baldocks by a mutual acquaintance in February 2001, Rocancourt conned the couple by convincing them he was a multimillionaire and would invest $5 million in Baldock's business, Heartlink Canada Inc., which is developing a tool to diagnose mental illness by monitoring heart rates. The mutual acquaintance claimed she was a victim herself and complained to police that she gave Rocancourt $5,000 to invest then never saw him again.
While the deal was being hatched, the Baldocks took a trip to Whistler with Rocancourt and spent a considerable amount of money on their Visa card during their stay in the resort.
Both there and in Vancouver, the couple paid many of Rocancourt's expenses, including travel, rental cars and an apartment on West Hastings.
For example, Baldock agreed to buy Rocancourt a $26,000 Rolex watch because Rocancourt's "father" collected them.
For his part, Rocancourt made a big impression on the couple by convincing them he was a Formula One race car driver for Ferrari, that he had more than $250 million in assets and that his European father was rich. The Crown prosecutor in the case alleged that all of this was a prop to ensure the Baldocks they were dealing with a man of substance.
At one point, Rocancourt said he had a $28-million contract with Ferrari, which he told them was "one of the best for an up-and-coming driver."
Robert Baldock made two trips to Switzerland to try to secure the money from Rocancourt's father, but came back empty-handed.
The Baldocks suffered serious financial loss and several employees lost their jobs as well.
Rocancourt was also accused of swindling two young foreign travellers in Whistler out of the only money they had.
Katie Olver, 24, said she and her boyfriend became friends with Rocancourt and his wife Maria Pia Reyes in February 2001 when they were staying at the Westin Resort and Spa in Whistler, where Olver worked.
Olver said Rocancourt immediately made a big impression on the hotel staff, telling them he was a rich race car driver.
"He was tipping enormous amounts of money to everybody," Olver said. He gave her a $100 tip one day.
Rocancourt treated the young couple to fancy dinners and all-night parties and even let them stay in his $1,500-a-night hotel suite when he was away.
But Olver said Rocancourt conned them out of more than $6,500 he promised to repay and racked up about $22,000 in expenses on her boyfriend Jon Reader's credit card.
One night, Olver and her boyfriend complained to Rocancourt that they wanted to work in the U.S., but getting a work visa was too difficult. Rocancourt told her he had a friend in the U.S. department of immigration and that he could secure work visas but that they would have to pay him $475 each to set up a file. The two handed over the money and never got the visas.
Rocancourt also asked the young couple if they could give him a few thousand British pounds sterling for a business trip to the United Kingdom, promising to wire $10,000 US into their account in exchange. The money was never wired.
In April 2001, Rocancourt was accused of beating, sexually assaulting and threatening a 24-year-old Duncan woman while they stayed at the Oak Bay Beach hotel near Victoria.
He was also charged with violating the Immigration Act, impersonation, obtaining a credit card by fraud, misuse of a credit card and theft. It is not known how these charges were resolved.
© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun