The BlackBerry Trickster

On the trail of a 300-pound con man in hot-pink sunglasses

On a summer day in June of 2005, a young, pretty elementary school teacher named Allison walked into the Wireless Café at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 74th Street. The store, cozy and informal, offered cacti in the window and an international cast of good-looking young men behind the counter.

It was located around the corner from the private school where Allison taught the first grade. School had just let out for the summer. In a few days, Allison would be leaving on a summer-long education trip that would take her from Iceland to the French Riviera and countless spots in between.

She needed a cell phone that would work overseas. She had chosen the store based on a recommendation from her mother, who claimed that practically every woman on the Upper East Side had purchased her first cell phone there.

Illustration by Andrew Bannecker


Editor's note:
As a condition for cooperating for this story, Allison, David, and Lawrence requested to be identified by pseudonyms out of concern for their family’s privacy, and for fear of breaching a previous agreement they had reached with the landlords of their building. The owner of the Wireless Café failed to return several requests for comment. Matthew Bloom did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. Several calls to the Brooklyn offices of Avalon Abstract also were not returned.

Tune in:
A conversation with staff writer Felix Gillette

Allison bought a fancy phone, which she believed would work in the middle of the Mediterranean if such an emergency should arise. She took it home and out of the box, and discovered to her dismay that the instructions were in German. So she returned to the Wireless Café. This time, she bought a BlackBerry. Again, there were problems. She was standing at the counter, worrying about her trip, and frustrated beyond belief.

That's when she began chatting with Andre Roper.

In a small store like the Wireless Café, Roper was hard to miss—a gregarious man of enormous stature, roughly six feet three inches and 300 pounds, with an even bigger personality. He wore a Marc Jacobs purse and hot-pink sunglasses. At times, he stood behind the counter, helping customers. Other times, he focused his attention on entertaining a gaggle of teetering teenage girls who were hanging out in the store. They looked to Allison like girls she could have gone to high school with. They were young and cute and preppy and enraptured byRoper's every word.

Roper told Allison that he loved her shoes and that she was fabulous and gorgeous and how did they not know each other? Allison explained to Roper that she was raised on the Upper East Side. She had gone to Dalton and then to Duke for college. Roper told Allison that he was out on summer break from Wesleyan and living in a ridiculous duplex on Park. His dad had made him get a summer job. Can you believe it? Roper began tossing out the names of his famous friends who had also gone to Dalton.

The more Allison listened, the more she began to think that Roper belonged on television. He was like a character straight out of MTV's My Super Sweet 16, if he weren't a 300-pound black man.

He was also pretty damn good with cell phones. Soon, with Roper's help, the BlackBerry was working. She thanked Roper and prepared to head home to Union Square to finish packing. Roper offered to split a cab with her. He was headed downtown, too.

During the cab ride, Roper showed Allison how to use her BlackBerry, and they kept chatting. Roper confessed that he too wanted to become a teacher. Not a lot of people from the Upper East Side want to be teachers, Allison thought. This guy was really great.

Soon, she was opening up. By the time the cab reached her apartment building, she had a new friend. Before she got out of the cab, Roper invited her to a killer party he was throwing in the Hamptons. She declined, explaining that by then she'd be far away on a boat in the middle of the ocean.

A few days later, Allison was in Halifax when her BlackBerry rang. It was her first call since leaving New York.

She recognized Roper's voice right away. Again, Roper invited her to his party that night. Again, she declined. The whole thing was kind of strange, Allison thought. Hadn't she told Roper that she was going away? Well, whatever.

A few weeks later, she was in Iceland when the BlackBerry buzzed again. This time it was her parents. They were upset. Allison's dad owns a consulting company that employs two company drivers. Now her parents were demanding to know why she had given permission to her friend—Lauren, maybe?—to call the drivers for personal rides. Allison told them that she had done no such thing. Must be some sort of mix-up.

In early July, Allison's older brother Lawrence received an odd phone call. The young woman on the other end of the phone introduced herself as Lauren and explained that she was a close friend of his sister's. Lawrence was in Toronto at the time. In a few weeks, he would be relocating to New York. Lauren wanted to know if Lawrence needed any help moving to the city. Did he need the name of any good nightclubs?

Lawrence, who has a young son, told Lauren that he wasn't much of a rager. The more Lauren kept talking, the more Lawrence felt confused. She kept referring to his sister as the "Visa Queen." The Visa Queen? That didn't sound much like his sister, the earnest elementary school teacher.

Next Page »