Con Man of the Hamptons, in
His Own Words
hristopher Rocancourt, the con man who spent this summer in the Hamptons posing as a Rockefeller and bilking the well-to-do out of nearly $1 million, called to set the record straight. He stole. He lied. That was not in question. He admitted as much.
It was late Wednesday night in New York City, but Mr. Rocancourt was calling from someplace else: all he would say was that it was "an English-speaking country" and that it was early in the morning there. The interview with two reporters had been pre-arranged.
The purpose of the call was not to chronicle his exploits, nor describe his life on the lam, he said. It was to redefine the contours and colors of his personality. So far, those had been drawn by his pursuers: federal agents, television producers, the victims of his phony stock deals and bogus loans. He had called to paint his own portrait.
"I would not consider myself a criminal — I steal with my mind," Mr. Rocancourt said in a thick French accent. "If I take things, if that is your definition of a criminal, then I am a criminal."
It would be naïve to take the word of a voice that claims to be a fugitive at face value. Especially when there is no face to see. So the voice — steady and confident — was asked questions that only Christopher Rocancourt could answer.
The names of your father and mother? Daniel and Annik, he said.
The name of your Los Angeles lawyer? Victor Sherman.
The name of the son of the painter who was the host of a dinner party for you in July? Paco.
It was at that very dinner party, a Southampton soirée given by the painter Gines Serran-Pagan, that the shady dealings of "Mr. Rockefeller" nearly turned into farce.
Mr. Serran-Pagan said that he knew all along that Mr. Rocancourt was an imposter and that he had filled his dinner table with friends posing as shipping heiresses and art collectors hoping to catch the grifter unawares.
"I wanted in on his game," Mr. Serran-Pagan said.
While the guests at the party did not confront Mr. Rocancourt that night, the word of his role-playing was spreading. Hints had come a few weeks before, when Mr. Rocancourt, in character, first dropped by the artist's salon. Blindly tasting a glass of Ernest & Julio Gallo, he proclaimed it vintage wine.
"I liked him," Mr. Serran-Pagan said. "But I knew he wasn't a Rockefeller. As a con man, I'll give him an 8."
Mr. Rocancourt had his own version of Mr. Serran-Pagan's dinner party. After reading a published account given by Mr. Serran-Pagan, he said it was amusing at best.
"I enjoy a good game and give credit where credit is due," he said. "But no shipping heiress or magnate offers a one-course meal of pasta in a cheap bowl in the middle of the table," he said. "I've had better meals in prison. Of course, I chose not to try and humiliate the artist with his jug wine. Alas, the gentleman did not return the courtesy."
Mr. Rocancourt was finally arrested in East Hampton in early August, charged with impersonation and walking out on his $19,000 bed-and-breakfast tab. He ran out on his September court date and his bail — $45,000 paid by a friend. He fled overseas. He left through California a few weeks ago after getting a dye job and a new passport, he said.
The authorities had been tracking Mr. Rocancourt for more than a decade. He is suspected of bilking the rich on four continents. Investigators have tied him to a diamond- smuggling ring in Zaire and a violent jewelry store heist in Switzerland.
During his hourlong phone conversation on Wednesday, Mr. Rocancourt was serpentine and unfocused, touching on liturgy, love, lessons to live by and a life of crime.
He described himself as a devout man, a practicing Catholic who had no need to confess his sins. Of his upbringing, Mr. Rocancourt, 33, would say only that he attended Catholic school in Europe and studied philosophy at a French university.
He said he no longer saw his ex- wife, a former centerfold model, but continued to attract comely women.
"I'm not too tall. I have a broken nose, but I've had pretty good luck," he said. "I'm well read and I'm a gentleman. Women find this attractive. What can I say?"
Nor does he see his 3-year-old son, Zeus, to whom he offered this advice: "My life is a hard way. Stay in school. Educate yourself. Vanity is the wrong way. And above all, never be an informant."
The authorities have linked Mr. Rocancourt to a shoot-out in West Hollywood, Calif., but Mr. Rocancourt said he was not the ruthless killer they claimed.
"I've never killed anyone," he said. "I don't believe in taking another life. It is the ultimate sin."
He said he felt no remorse for his actions, just pity for his victims. "I feel sorry for their greed," he said. "I am not laughing. There is nothing funny about stupidity."
Would he be caught?
"That is in the hands of God," he said. "If they catch me, I will make no deal. I will do my time."