A man accused of conning aspiring Hollywood actors, make up artists, photographers and film production crew by impersonating leading female movie executives is facing extradition to the US after being arrested in the UK last week.
Indonesian national Hargobind Tahilramani, 41, also known as Gobind Lal Tahil and Anand Sippy, is alleged to be the “Hollywood Con Queen”, a mystery figure known for preying on movie industry novices by promising them work on non-existent forthcoming productions to dupe them out of their earnings.
Over the course of a six-year catfishing spree, the suspect is accused of posing as Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, former Sony Pictures chair Amy Pascal, ex-Paramount boss Sherry Lansing, Marvel’s executive vice president Victoria Alonso and even Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng in his approaches to job applicants by phone, adopting a high-pitched voice as he invited targets to travel to Indonesia for tasks like location scouting, research or drafting screenplays, according to court documents unsealed in California.
Upon arrival in Jakarta, his victims are said to have been charged spurious fees and led on by calls from the suspect and co-conspirators regarding the bogus film work they believed they had arrived to take part in, typically told to attend meetings that would then be cancelled at the last minute.
Those who expressed scepticism about the promised projects, given plausible titles like The Master, Gotham City Sirens or The Black Widow, would occasionally be threatened with “dismemberment” if they complained, according to the filings.
The “Con Queen” is also alleged to have lured aspiring actors into phone sex during fake auditions.
Mr Tahilramani has most recently been known as a London-based Instagram food and CrossFit influencer, running the accounts Pure Bytes and ISpintheTales.
He was reportedly arrested in Manchester on 26 November at the Supercity Aparthotel in the Northern Quarter and will appear on Friday before Westminster Magistrates’ Court for a bail application.
The arrest was made following the receipt of a provisional request from the FBI after private investigators from the K2 Integrity agency - hired by several of the executives concerned - helped track down the suspect, its warrant accusing him of “directing a worldwide fraudulent scheme pretending to be well-known entertainment industry executives”.
He now faces charges of wire fraud and identity theft.
The Independent contacted Greater Manchester Police who confirmed that a 41-year-old man was arrested on Church Street on the morning of the day in question under the Extradition Act (2003).
The Home Office has since said it is now awaiting a full extradition request to be submitted by the US.
That follows Jules Kroll, K2’s co-founder, saying in a statement his team had aided American, British and Indonesian authorities in “bringing the individual known as the ‘Con Queen of Hollywood’ to justice”.
Also playing a crucial role in the investigation was the Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen podcast, whose journalists Vanessa Grigoradis and Josh Dean spoke to dozens of victims of the scam and heard that those responsible had amassed at least $2m from their marks.
One of the show’s guests, a Long Island screenwriter named Greg Mandarano, revealed he had actually met the “Con Queen” in person six times since summer 2015 and was able to show the hosts a false passport, which in turn led them to Mr Tahilramani via a tip-off from an Indonesian soap opera actress who knew him.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mr Tahilramani is the son of Pakistani and Hong Kong immigrants who came to the US aged 18 to attend college in California, quickly getting into trouble for misappropriating school funds and passing fake cheques in Las Vegas.
Returning to Indonesia, he was imprisoned at the notorious Cipinang Penitentiary in 2006 after being found guilty of embezzlement, earning additional jail time for using a smuggled mobile phone to call in a false bomb threat to the US embassy from his cell.
HarperCollins has already secured the book rights to the story, which is set to be written up by ex-Hollywood Reporter journalist Scott Johnson.
Ironically, the project is already generating film industry interest over a possible adaptation.