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Monday, 17 June 2024
UK judge rules Hollywood 'Con Queen' suspect can be sent to US

UK judge rules Hollywood 'Con Queen' suspect can be sent to US

Entertainment Desk

A suspected con artist who allegedly impersonated top female Hollywood executives to swindle wide-eyed aspiring stars out of hundreds of thousands of dollars can be extradited to the US, a British judge ruled Tuesday.

Dubbed the "Con Queen of Hollywood", suspect Hargobind Tahilramani, 43, led investigators on a years-long, global manhunt so improbable it has even been chronicled in a book, coincidentally published this week.

Tahilramani is wanted in the United States for offences including wire fraud and identity theft, and in a ruling handed down Tuesday UK judge Paul Goldspring approved his extradition.

Sitting at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, he sent the case to interior minister Suella Braverman for a final decision.

Last year lawyers representing the US said Tahilramani was the "mastermind" of a conspiracy to defraud more than 300 people out of more than one million US dollars between 2013 and August 2020.

Among the Hollywood moguls he allegedly impersonated, over the phone or in text messages, were Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy, former Sony movie chief Amy Pascal and ex-Paramount boss Sherry Lansing.

Wendi Murdoch, the former wife of Rupert Murdoch, was also allegedly aped by the master of accents, along with various male movie executives.

Victims were approached with offers of lucrative showbiz jobs and instructed to travel to Indonesia for tasks including location scouting, research and drafting screenplays, according to court documents previously filed in California.

Tahilramani would "use fake accents and alter his voice to sound like a woman," the documents state. On arrival, the victims were allegedly bilked for US currency at every turn by Tahilramani and his co-conspirators, with the promised movie projects transpiring to be entirely fictional, and their expenses never reimbursed.

If targets complained or expressed doubt, Tahilramani would sometimes threaten to "dismember" the victim, the documents state.

The scam continued despite global travel bans during the Covid pandemic, when victims were instead asked to shell out for non-existent training videos.

Tahilramani was arrested in November 2020, in a budget hotel in Manchester, northwest England, where he had allegedly claimed to be a "writer for Netflix", following an FBI investigation.

During extradition proceedings last year, Tahilramani said he had lived a sham life because he is gay, and claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by US prosecutors.

He claimed he should not be extradited to the US because a substantial amount of the alleged conduct took place while he was in the UK.

His lawyers also argued that US prison conditions would breach his human rights.

But Goldspring rejected the arguments, ruling he was "not at real risk" of that.

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