3 charged in NYC in Guggenheim impersonation scam

New York City prosecutors have charged three people in a failed scheme to cheat investors by pretending to be members and representatives of the Guggenheim family.

New York City prosecutors have charged three people in a failed scheme to cheat investors by pretending to be members and representatives of the Guggenheim family.

A federal complaint alleges the defendants used the prominent name to promote phony investment opportunities including the sale of $1 billion in diamonds and a vodka distribution venture.

Prosecutors say a Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., woman tried to pass herself off as a countess. She remains at large.

The two men appeared in court Monday and were released on bond. One says the case is "just a simple mixup."

They each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy charges.

The real Guggenheims made their money in mining and smelting. They are noted for their philanthropy and contributions to aviation and art, including several museums.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

NEW YORK (AP) — A woman pretending to be a countess and two accomplices sought to cheat investors by hyping fake investments — including the sale of $1 billion in large-carat diamonds — they claimed were backed by the Guggenheim family, prosecutors said Monday.

The woman, 45-year-old Catarina Pietra Toumei, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., was at large, they said. The two men were in custody and were to appear in federal court in Manhattan on charges they tried to pass themselves off as Guggenheims, they said.

"The defendants allegedly impersonated one of America's most famous families to fleece potential victims by pitching bogus investments," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

A criminal complaint accuses the three of reaching out to wealthy investors with claims they were selling $1 billion in diamonds of up to 20 carats from "the private collection of the Guggenheim family." They also pitched a deal to distribute vodka and another purportedly brokering $4 billion in crude oil for a Guggenheim-owned refinery in China, the complaint says.

In telephone conferences with potential investors, the men identified themselves as "David B. Guggenheim" and "Vladimir Z. Guggenheim," the court papers say. Toumei called herself "Lady Catarina Pietra Toumei," they add.

The real Guggenheims made their money in mining and smelting. They're noted for their philanthropy and contributions to aviation and art, including several museums around the world.

Federal authorities brought the criminal case after Guggenheim Capital, an investment firm with legitimate roots with the family, sued the three defendants, accusing them of using the name without permission.

If convicted of conspiracy, the three each could face up to 20 years in prison.

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