Is The Sopranos Imitating Real Life?
NY POST - November 20, 2000

A "SOPRANOS" actor may have aided an international con man accused of stealing $1 million from wealthy victims in the Hamptons by passing himself off as a Rockefeller last summer, The Post has learned. It's just one strand of a network of bizarre connections between the Emmy-winning HBO series and the criminal underworld.

John Cenatiempo, 39, a bit actor, stuntman and technical adviser on "The Sopranos," "Fifteen Minutes," "True Romance," "Carlito's Way" and other movie and TV dramas, is a friend of the man arrested under the name Christopher Rocancourt, a smooth-talking grifter who allegedly posed as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller clan.

Rocancourt allegedly went on the lam in August after posting $45,000 bail. He is now being sought by the NYPD, LAPD, Suffolk County authorities, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI.

Law-enforcement sources told The Post that Cenatiempo played what may have been a decisive role in springing Rocancourt from custody. They also believe he may have had contact with the fugitive since he's been on the run.

The French-born con suspect was arrested by East Hampton police Aug. 2 and charged with skipping out on hotel bills at the Pink House in Amagansett and the Mill Garth Inn.

The tangled saga of his alleged grifting activities was still unfolding, and detectives still had only a vague idea of his true identity when he made bail and was freed.

He had been using the names Christopher Rockefeller, Rocancourt, Lanancourt and other identities. Cenatiempo, acting on his friend's instructions, fetched from the alleged con man's TriBeCa loft a passport with what was then purported to be the suspect's true identity: Fabien Ortuno.

It was under that name that he was released on $45,000 bail after the passport had been surrendered to East Hampton police. But Ortuno was just another false identity - another con. The suspect has not been seen since.

"The passport was the key. It made everyone feel a little more confident that we had his real identity and that he was less likely to flee," a source in the Suffolk County District Attorney's office told The Post. "Without the passport, he would probably not have made bail."

CENATIEMPO is also a friend of mob attorney Bruce Cutler, who happens to be Rocancourt's lawyer and has represented John

"I know Johnny in another context altogether from my representation of Mr. Ortuno. I know him from my appearance on 'Fifteen Minutes,'" said Cutler, who has a cameo in the upcoming Robert De Niro movie.

"He is a great guy. A wonderful guy. He's a good friend. John is a very talented actor, writer, technical adviser. He has been in a lot of movies. He does everything," Cutler said.

Asked how Cenatiempo could have fetched a passport for his friend without realizing it was in a false name, Cutler said: "Well, the authorities say his name isn't Ortuno. That's what they say. I don't know."

The con man and Cenatiempo are believed to have met in Los Angeles when Rocancourt was working scams in Hollywood.

In February, Rocancourt hosted a party for Cenatiempo at the Duane Street restaurant City Hall. Several members of the "Sopranos" cast and crew attended.

Rocancourt allegedly skipped on the bill for the party, which totaled tens of thousands of dollars.

Over the summer, Rocancourt is alleged to have stolen $900,000 in a series of scams aimed at wealthy Hamptons summer residents, including several stock schemes and real-estate cons.

In his entourage was his exotic Filipina wife, Pia Reyes, a former Playboy centerfold, their 3-year-old son, Zeus, an attractive blond companion named Laurent and a personal assistant, Dante Daniello. Pia and Laurent left for France with the child after Rocancourt's arrest. Daniello was arrested and is awaiting trial for grand larceny and other alleged crimes.

"We know that Mr. Cenatiempo knows Mr. Rocancourt and visited him in the Hamptons during the period he was victimizing people," said a source familiar with the investigation. "But we have no evidence that he is involved in any criminal activity."

The same source told The Post they suspect Cenatiempo was involved in setting up two contacts with the fugitive for reporters from The New York Times.

One was a short message, published in a Times story, claiming he's in Venezuela. The other was a lengthy telephone interview in which he claimed to be in another English-speaking country.

Cenatiempo has been involved in numerous movies, several with a mob theme. He has played wiseguys in "The Sopranos," NBC's "Witness to the Mob" and in the movies "The Last Boy Scout" and "Enemy of the State."

It's a world he's likely intimately familiar with.

His brother, Chris Cenatiempo, is regarded by federal investigators as an associate of members of the Genovese crime family. In particular, he's an associate of Joseph G. Denti Jr., a soldier in the clan and son of one of the family's most colorful figures.

JOE DENTI SR. was a Bronx loan shark in the '70s who befriended a number of struggling actors, including Joe Pesci, with whom he forged a close friendship.

In the early '90s, Denti moved to Beverly Hills, rented a $9,000-a-month mansion from Charo and financed a movie-production company.

He made murky business arrangements with United Artists that netted $17.5 million, and produced a movie, "Opposite Corners," that sank faster than a chocolate soufflé.

When Denti died of a heart attack in 1996, Pesci, Cher, De Niro and Cathy Moriarty were among the Hollywood figures at his Bronx funeral.

Neither John nor Chris Cenatiempo responded to repeated calls for comment.

Cenatiempo is not the only "Sopranos" actor to come to the attention of authorities over real-life crime links.

Mob busters have a 1990 surveillance photo of David Proval, who plays Richie Aprile on the HBO hit, with reputed Gambino soldier Vinnie Artuso on Arthur Avenue in The Bronx.

Tony Sirico, who plays Paulie Walnuts, has admitted having a rap sheet.

And last April 12, Thomas Bifalco, who has played small roles on the show, was sentenced to up to six years behind bars for ripping off investors for $300,000 in a stock scam.

An HBO spokeswoman insists the show's gritty realism comes only from the imagination of creator David Chase. But mob insiders say some of the characters and incidents seem taken straight from little-known mob lore.

A one-armed wiseguy from Queens who was mentioned in one episode apparently was a reference to Queens-based Gambino soldier Ronald "Ronnie One Arm" Trucchio. Paulie Walnuts suns himself outside a social club right on the sidewalk, as does Gotti's brother Richard.

And Junior Soprano, played by Dominic Chianese, meets with underlings at his doctor's office.

Insiders say that's a reference to John Gotti's son, John A. "Junior" Gotti, now serving five years for racketeering.