In the tranquil days before Osama bin Laden, Christopher Rocancourt was the celebrity fugitive of the moment -- at least among the chattering classes of New York and Los Angeles.
There had been articles about this man who often called himself Christopher Rockefeller in People magazine, a long profile in Vanity Fair, even an interview with The New York Times from a secret location.
But when we met Rocancourt, following his arrest near Vancouver, B.C. in 2001, he wasn't operating at full power. The Vancouver Police had confiscated his Armani suits, and his hair was being styled by a prison barber.
But even if there were such a thing as a French Rockefeller, you'd think he'd speak good enough English so as not to require subtitles. And Rocancourt quickly agreed, expressing disdain for anyone stupid enough to fall for his fables.
"Right now I say to you, 'My name is Christopher Rockefeller.' You will believe it? No," says Rocancourt. "You will not. You will laugh."
But that's not the only name he's used. He's been known as Prince Galatzine Christo, Christopher De Laurentis, Christopher De Laurenta, Fabian Ortuno and Christopher Reyes.
"I think it's great to change your name," says Rocancourt. "I say I like to change my name. An actor changes his name. An actor pretends to be somebody. You don't go prosecute somebody because he changed his name or because he pretends to be somebody. So you should prosecute all Hollywood."
He may have a point, but not a terribly persuasive one to people in law enforcement, who have gone to great trouble cataloging Rocancourt's misdeeds in a number of criminal charges such as grand larceny, fraud, forgery, bribery and bail-jumping.
"Don't believe anything he tells you," warns George Mueller, supervising investigator for the Los Angeles district attorney's office. He is to Christopher Rocancourt what Inspector Javert was to Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables" -- the tireless stalker of his every alias and ruse.
"He's not an Italian mob guy, he's not a race car driver, he's not a producer," says Mueller. "He doesn't own vineyards, and he's not the nephew of Sophia Loren living at her house."
How much did he take people for in Los Angeles? Mueller says probably at least $1.5 million to $2 million.
By the time Detective Mueller began getting complaints about the Gallic grifter, Rocancourt was already salting the fringes of Hollywood and Beverly Hills with wads of caviar and liters of champagne -- ingratiating himself with the likes of Mickey Rourke and Jean-Claude Van Damme. He then leveraged their limited star power with the habitués, hangers-on and paparazzi of the L.A. club scene, becoming sort of a demi-celebrity among the totally clueless.
Rocancourt says he had a nice life. He owned a couple of Ferraris, and he had a floor at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Married to Pia Reyes, a former Playboy playmate, Rocancourt hired a bodyguard, bought a Humvee that once belonged to Dodi Fayed, and even shook hands with the sheriff while fleecing some of the people the sheriff was supposed to be protecting.
Amanda Thayer says she met Rocancourt through a pretty good friend of a good friend, which in LA seems to pass for due-diligence. She needed a loan of $4.2 million to buy a company she helped start that rented props to the movie industry. Rocancourt said he would be happy to loan her the money in exchange for 20 percent of the company and $100,000 up front.
"I've grown up in LA. I've been around the movie business. I've been around the music business," says Thayer, who hired someone to check Rocancourt out. "He didn't portray himself as anything other than somebody that could very easily be in that business."
Not long after Thayer gave Rocancourt his $100,000 up front, he changed all his telephone numbers and disappeared.
The same thing happened to Buddy Ochoa, a struggling actor who gave Rocancourt $15,000 after he promised to turn it into $80,000 in a matter of weeks. Ochoa spent more than a year chasing Rocancourt around Los Angeles, begging for his $15,000 back. Finally, he said Rocancourt promised to return the money to Ochoa's bank account.
"I was so relieved. Two days later it wasn't in there," remembers Ochoa. "So I called back. The hotel says, 'He's not here.' I said, 'Do you mean he skipped out?' And they said, 'We'll transfer you to security.'"
Buddy Ochoa and Amanda Thayer weren't Rocancourt's only victims in Los Angeles, just the only ones willing to talk to us. There were lots of other victims, like the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Rocancourt owed $60,000 in hotel bills.
In fact, the only known assets he left behind were a few pieces of memorabilia that Detective Mueller collected with a search warrant.
One item that was confiscated was his day planner, which had the initials "C.R." on it.
"That could either stand for Christopher Rocancourt or Christopher Reyes or Christopher Rockefeller," says Mueller.
There was also a gold Rolex, an unregistered .38 caliber pistol, an autographed picture of Michael Jackson, a bogus lease for a private jet he left lying around to impress people, and an honest-to-god U.S. passport bearing Rocancourt's name.
Rocancourt claims he applied for the passport "like normal people," even though he's not an American citizen.
"You can tell me if you do come from where I come from, you will not dream to be in America," asks Rocancourt, who says he didn't know you had to be an American citizen to have an American passport. "How many immigrants in America did come on the boats, sneaked from Cuba, from everywhere?"
In reality, he got the passport by bribing a clerk in the passport office.
The true story of Christopher Rocancourt began 34 years ago when he was born in the fishing village of Honfleur on the northern coast of France. He was the son of a house painter and a prostitute who gave him up to an orphanage when he was nine years old.
"You're with 250 children. You wake up in the morning, get a meal, and you go to school," remembers Rocancourt. "Everybody talk about his parents. And you go back. You go back to what? You go back to misery."
He soon decided to create a new past for himself. He says he left the orphanage when he was 16, and headed to Paris to pursue a career in modeling. He appeared in Italian Vogue before discovering that his talents lay elsewhere.
He traveled throughout Europe, dabbling in forgery, until the Swiss arrested him in a jewelry heist and threw him out of the country until the year 2016.
After his escapades in Los Angeles, he surfaced next in the Hamptons of eastern Long Island, where he checked into a $300 a night bed-and-breakfast and began introducing himself as international businessman Christopher Rockefeller.
Rocancourt says he invested money in the stock market, and occasionally received loans from others – loans he was unable to repay because he got arrested.
Rocancourt, who likes to think of himself more as a deadbeat than a thief, says all kinds of people wanted to loan him money. One of them, according to an indictment, was a real estate agent named Jessica who loaned Rocancourt $85,000.
According to a sworn statement from his bodyguard, Dante Daniello (who seems to have had his own problems with the law), it was an investment deal that Rocancourt promised Jessica, saying it would return her $345,000.
When he was finally arrested in East Hampton, he skipped bail to avoid charges of swindling a masseuse and skipping out on yet another hotel bill.
With the summer season winding down in the Hamptons, Rocancourt headed north to Canada where he spent his winter skiing, thumbing his nose at authorities until the Mounties finally caught him.
From his jail cell in Vancouver, he is trying to work out some of the kinks in his defense strategy. And he insisted that we mention he had found God.
"I think it's the most important thing a human being can embrace, is the word of God," says Rocancourt.
We asked him if he was familiar with the Seventh Commandment? Thou Shalt Not Steal.
"I never steal," claims Rocancourt. "Never."
So how does Rocancourt explain what he's doing in prison?
"It's like I say to you, 'Let me borrow your tie right now.' Well, you say, 'Okay, that is my tie. I'll let you borrow it.' But today, I don't give back your tie. I broke a promise, yeah? That makes me a thief," he asks.
"I did borrow it, but that doesn't mean I'm a thief. I didn't grab it. I didn't take it. I didn't steal it."
But he admits he lied, even though he didn't steal.
As we said, there are still a few kinks to be worked out. But Rocancourt has got nothing but time as he awaits trial for swindling a Canadian businessman out of $100,000. He has charges against him in Canada, New York and California.
"Oh, man," says Rocancourt. "Maybe I'm a popular guy."
"When Christopher does get out, and some day he will," says Mueller. "With all this time sitting in jail wherever that may be, he's going to think of another game, because that's what it is to Christopher -- he'll play it again. He only knows one way. I don't think he could work a hard day of labor in his life."