By RICHARD JOHNSON with Paula Froelich and Chris Wilson

April 12, 2002 -- Suave swindler: I'm no thief

CON artist Christopher Rocancourt, who posed as a Rockefeller, scorns the gullible victims he swindled on both coasts and insists he never really stole their money, he just borrowed it.

Steve Kroft, in a jailhouse interview with Rocancourt this Sunday on "60 Minutes," says:

"Even if there were such a thing as a French Rockefeller, you'd think he'd speak good enough English so as not to require subtitles. And Rocancourt quickly agreed, expressing disdain for anyone stupid enough to fall for his fables."

In his thick French accent, the Gallic grifter replies: "Right now I say to you, 'My name is Christopher Rockefeller.' You will believe it? No. You will not. You will laugh."

That was just one of many names Rocancourt used while he posed as an Italian mobster, a race-car driver, a producer, a vineyard owner and the nephew of Sophia Loren.

Kroft reports Rocancourt, 34, ingratiated himself "with the likes of Mickey Rourke and Jean-Claude Van Damme. He then leveraged their limited starpower with the habitues, hangers-on and paparazzi of the L.A. club scene, becoming sort of a demi-celebrity of the totally clueless."

He drove Ferraris and a Humvee once owned by Dodi Fayed. He was married to a Playboy Playmate, Pia Reyes, and lived on a floor of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, which is still owed $60,000.

Rocancourt ripped off one woman who was looking for a $4.2 million loan to buy a movie-prop rental company. "Rocancourt said he would be happy to loan her the money in exchange for 20 percent of the company and $100,000 up front," Kroft reports.

Rocancourt promised other dupes astounding returns on their "investments." But he fled right before the police arrived at the hotel, leaving behind a gold Rolex, an unregistered .38-caliber pistol and an autographed photo of Michael Jackson.

Soon he was in the Hamptons, ripping off a masseuse and a real estate agent for $85,000, and skipping out on two more hotel bills before some savvy New Yorkers set a trap and alerted police, who unfortunately couldn't hold him. Rocancourt jumped bail and fled to British Columbia, where he was arrested and now awaits trial.

"I never stole. Never," Rocancourt claims. "It's like I say to you, 'Let me borrow your tie right now.' Well, you say, 'OK, that is my tie. I'll let you borrow it.' But today I don't give you back your tie. I did broke a promise, yeah? That make me a thief?"

Kroft: "Yeah, you stole my tie."

Rocancourt: "No. I ask you. I did borrow it. But that doesn't mean I'm a thief. I didn't grab it. I didn't take it. I didn't steal it."