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Off the Record
May 9 2001 12:00AM  By Sue Frause 
There was nothing particularly noteworthy or unusual about the guy hunched over at the bar in Whistler, B.C. He was chatting with a fellow standing next to him as my husband and I sat down for a late night dinner. The main restaurant was full, so we opted to sit at the bar.

He was a small fellow...probably in his 30s, dressed casually in a sweatshirt and jeans and sporting an overgrown brush cut. We ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and I could sense him looking our way. He seemed somewhat of a lost sheep, wanting to engage in conversation. The three of us were soon making small talk, and I immediately noticed the Euro-accent...most likely French.

For the next several hours, we talked with the fellow who introduced himself as Michael Van Hoven. He was originally from France, now living in New York City, and staying in Whistler with his wife and small child. His occupation? He said he was a Formula One racecar driver with Team Ferrari.

My husband perked up at that tidbit, and asked Michael why he wasn't racing with Team Ferrari at the big race in Australia that weekend. Michael quickly replied that he was wrapping up a real estate deal in Whistler, and would be joining Team Ferrari in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Monday. I didn't think anything of it.

Michael was a study in contrasts...on the one hand a goofy little French guy fresh from the farm and the next moment ordering an $800 bottle of wine for a dinner party at the restaurant the next evening. Needless to say, I was taken aback by the hefty price tag, and asked him how he could afford such spendy grapes. He never really answered me.

Our conversation bounced from topic to topic, and then it was time to go. He asked us if we'd like to have dinner with him on Sunday, and I told him to give us a call. I wrote down our names and where we were staying, and we did the French kiss-kiss on the cheek thing. That was the last we saw of Michael Van Hoven...until several weeks ago.

While watching the 11 o'clock news on KING-5, I almost fell off the couch: "A French man accused of using various aliases --- including one of a fictitious Rockefeller heir --- to defraud people in the United States and Europe has been arrested in Canada, police said Saturday. Christophe Rocancourt, 33, and his common-law wife were detained Thursday night at a hotel in Victoria, British Columbia on suspicion of fraud."

Christophe Rocancourt? No way. The guy on my TV screen was Michael Van Hoven, the race car driver we hung out with one evening in Whistler. Yikes.

Michael had been a very busy guy. According to a Web site about the international scam artist (www.rocancourt.com), he was considered armed and dangerous and charged with multiple counts on a variety of charges: grand larceny, scheme to defraud, false personation, passport forgery and bail jumping. Swiss authorities believe he helped arrange the armed theft of gems from a jewelry store in Geneva in 1991.

His rap sheet is nearly as long as his list of fictitious names: Fabien Ortuno, James Rockefeller, Prince Galitzine Christo and the son of movie director Dino DeLaurentis. He hung out with such colorful personalities as actor Mickey Rourke, and Rocancourt's international swindling has made him the focus of television shows and publications, including features in Vanity Fair and People. A Hollywood movie is supposedly in the works (John Cusack would be perfect in the role of Rocancourt).

This past summer, Rocancourt bilked numerous businesses and people in New York City and the Hamptons, a chi-chi suburb of the Big Apple. Two bed and breakfast establishments were left holding the bag for $19,000. Peter Hoffman, a licensed private investigator and the owner of Subtle Investigations in New York City, was retained by a retail store in Manhattan that was taken for $40,000. Since that time, a dozen people have contacted Hoffman about the fleecy antics of Rocancourt.

"I believe I've got more knowledge about Rocancourt's New York City dealings than anybody else," said Hoffman in a phone interview last week. The 40-something gumshoe has appeared on such TV shows as Extra and Crier Live. So what's Hoffman's take on Rocancourt's destiny? "I think he's going to remain in jail," said Hoffman.

Today, Rocancourt remains locked up in Vancouver, charged in British Columbia with sexual assault, threatening, assault causing bodily harm and fraud over $100,000.

On May 4, he was denied bail.

Sue Frause can be reached by e-mail at skfrause@whidbey.com.

 

 



©South Whidbey Record 2001

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