The BlackBerry Trickster

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

Before they got off the phone, Lauren asked if he knew when exactly he would be staying at Allison's apartment over the summer. Lawrence told her the dates.

A few weeks later, Lawrence arrived at his sister's 20th-floor apartment in a luxury building near Union Square. His sister's weird friend Lauren was nowhere to be found. In the meantime, Lawrence was left to clean up his sister's apartment. She had left the place a mess.

The floor was dirty. There was a cake in the fridge and lots of beer—not to mention a bag of devices that looked like a bunch of gas masks. (Maybe in case of a terrorist attack?) On the floor of the apartment's bathroom, there was some shattered glass where a framed poem had fallen off the wall. Lawrence didn't spend much time inspecting its stanzas. If he had, he might have noticed that the poem, written years earlier as a present to his sister from a friend named Lauren, had made a joking reference to her as the "Visa Queen." But Lawrence didn't notice. In fact, nothing in the apartment seemed so out of place as to arouse his suspicion. His sister had never been the cleanest person in the world.

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

Toward the end of July, Allison was in Monaco when she received one more unexpected phone call. It was a representative from her bank in New York, calling with bad news: Her bank account was overdrawn by approximately $20,000.

Allison was flabbergasted. She had never been that great with finances. Maybe she had mixed up the exchange rate on the euro?

When Allison returned to New York during the second week of August, her boyfriend, David, a tall, handsome 24-year-old Upper East Side native, met her at the airport. With Allison back, her mom was throwing a family reunion at their house in Quogue, on Long Island. The plan was to head back to Allison's apartment, repack, and head for the Hamptons.

Back at the luxe apartment, David took a seat at Allison's desk. There he noticed an odd-looking bag. He opened it and discovered a handful of oxygen masks like the ones football players huff into on the sidelines during games. One of the masks was decorated with a dinosaur sticker.

David called Allison over and they stood looking at the masks. Then Allison wheeled around and took a hard look at the apartment. In a flash, she realized that something was wrong. Things were missing.

Her stereo speakers were gone. Her top-shelf liquor had been replaced with cheap stuff like a bottle of Parrot Bay rum. In time, she would notice other missing items, including an iPod, two watches, her college ID, the keys to her parents' house on Long Island, and on and on. Also missing was a rectangular sheet of laminated paper that Allison's parents had made for each member of the family, containing their e-mail addresses, their cell phone numbers—and those of the company drivers.

David and Allison marched downstairs to confront the building's managers. When pressed, one of the managers had a simple answer: "Your brother has been throwing some crazy parties."

Allison retorted that they must be mistaken. She explained that her brother wasn't the type. They asked if she had a picture of him. Allison raced upstairs and returned with a photo.

The building managers looked nervous. Finally, they began describing to Allison the guy they thought was her brother or maybe her brother's boyfriend—big, black, flamboyant, charming, extroverted, used the concierge service constantly.

Immediately, Allison knew who they were describing. It was Andre Roper.

Following the revelation, Allison called the owner of the Wireless Café and began laying into him. She demanded information on Roper. The owner of the store gave her Roper's cell phone number, told her not to call again, and hung up. (The owner failed to return several requests for comment.)

After calling the police, David and Allison went down to the Ninth Precinct Station House on Avenue C to meet with detectives about Roper.

As it happened, the cops already had a file on him. Despite being only 21 years old, Roper had already racked up a string of criminal offenses ranging from unauthorized use of a vehicle, to possession of stolen property, to "illegal diversion of lab equipment by overseer." He had been released from prison only a few months before meeting Allison.

The cops put together a photo lineup. Allison picked out Roper. Then she and David left for the Hamptons.

When they returned from Quogue a few days later, the police still hadn't arrested Roper.

In the meantime, an unpaid bill from Bloomingdale's had arrived in Allison's mail for $1,874.70. Apparently, Roper had gone on a shopping spree using her Bloomingdale's credit card. Allison also soon realized that her overdrawn bank account had nothing to do with, say, extravagant meals in Monaco. Her checkbook was also missing.

In a fit of anger, David decided that he would try and catch Roper himself. He picked up the phone and punched in the number that the Wireless Café owner had given Allison. The call went to voicemail. David left a message.

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