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
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 email@example.com.