$150,000 fraud nets 1-day sentence
Con man stays in jail awaiting extradition
 
Brian Morton
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, June 15, 2002
Christopher Rocancourt, whom the judge called a brazen liar.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
Click here to find out more!

Con artist Christopher Rocancourt was sentenced Friday to one day in jail for fraud after pleading guilty in April to bilking a Vancouver businessman and his wife of more than $150,000.

In sentencing Rocancourt, 34, provincial court Judge Conni Bagnall said an appropriate sentence would be two years. But she took into account the 14 months he has been in custody since being arrested.

She said time in custody before sentencing is often counted as "double time," so Rocancourt has already effectively served the two-year sentence.

Crown counsel agreed with the sentencing procedure.

Despite that, Bagnall called Rocancourt's fraud of Robert and Norma Baldock a "financially predatory scheme" that was well planned and executed. "This fraud was possible because he was a talented and brazen liar."

She also said his victims suffered "financial devastation, but not financial ruin."

She said Rocancourt's guilty plea was a mitigating factor, but added: "The court cannot conclude he's truly remorseful."

She ordered Rocancourt to immediately return to his victims what was found on him when he was arrested: nearly $16,000 in cash, a Rolex watch and a laptop computer. As well, he was told he would have to repay about $112,000 in restitution to his victims.

Rocancourt appeared jovial in court, at one time smiling and waving at a media artist drawing his picture.

He has been convicted of several crimes in France and is wanted on similar fraud charges in numerous jurisdictions in the U.S. Extradition proceedings are scheduled to begin on June 24 and he will remain in custody until then.

In January, a sexual assault charge against him was dropped in Victoria.

With him in court on Friday was his wife, Pia Reyes. She was also charged with fraud, but the Crown entered a stay of proceedings Friday.

After sentencing, Reyes said her husband is happy with the sentence -- "one day sounds good to me" -- because he can now get on with his life, although she is not happy he will remain in custody.

She said she supports her husband. "I believe he's an innovative, creative, imaginative person. To me it's exciting. I'm married to a hundred different men."

Reyes said Rocancourt's autobiography will be published in September.

Of their future together, she said she is concerned about his facing trial in the U.S., where he could face a stiffer sentence.

She said she will return to New York, but would like to stay in Vancouver because of its beauty. "Now that I'm free to go, I'd like to stay."

Earlier Friday, Crown prosecutor Miriam Maisonville told Bagnall that Rocancourt conned the Baldocks 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.

She said the Baldocks took a trip to Whistler at their own expense, but Rocancourt spent a considerable amount of money on their Visa.

She said Rocancourt immediately 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 very rich.

Robert Baldock made two trips to Switzerland to try to secure the money, but came back empty-handed.

"All of this was a prop," said Maisonville, "to ensure [the Baldocks] they were dealing with a man of substance.

"It was a confidence game," added Maisonville. "But this was not a game. There were real victims and real losses. It was a nightmare."

At one point, she said, 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."

Maisonville also said that Rocancourt, in order to impress the Baldocks, wrote a $100,000 cheque as a deposit on an $8.8- million ski chalet being built in Whistler. He would visit the construction site daily, even offering suggestions to the builders.

Maisonville said the Baldocks have suffered serious financial loss and several employees lost their jobs as well.

"These people [the Baldocks] were not riding around in Bentleys,' said Maisonville. "[But] a good sales pitch under pressure can have an affect on anyone."

Rocancourt's lawyer, Mayland McKimm, said his client has learned his lesson and just wants to get on with his life and raise his five-year-old son.

"He's accepted complete responsibility," said McKimm. "He asks that his difficult background not be used as an excuse."

McKimm said Rocancourt's son is a treasured part of his life. "He's through with the criminal life. He just wants to get on with raising his son. He hopes to be a writer of novels."

McKimm said Rocancourt never meant to ruin anyone. "He accepts that his practice was to prey on greed. He did not prey on people he felt would be ruined."

According to media reports, Rocancourt at one time dropped his given name for a much snazzier title, passing himself off in Paris as the Russian aristocrat Prince de Galitzine -- and went on to do time in jail for forgery, counterfeiting and petty larceny.

Rocancourt -- who went by the name Michael VanHoven -- was first introduced to the Baldocks by a mutual acquaintance.

As is common custom in business deals, while the Baldocks negotiated with Rocancourt, they paid many of his expenses -- including travel, rental cars and an apartment on West Hastings.

Problems arose with the fund transfer and VanHoven urged Baldock to fly to Geneva to meet his "father," who he said was in charge of all his family assets.

Although Baldock spent a week in a hotel in Geneva, VanHoven's father never materialized.

Once when Baldock returned, he was met by a "Welcome, Bob" sign in Rocancourt's Whistler hotel room.

Court was told that Baldock agreed to buy Rocancourt a $26,000 Rolex watch, because Rocancourt's "father" collected them.

Reyes said Friday she had no idea what her husband was up to. "I thought he was doing business. He keeps me out of his business," she said.

 Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun