The BlackBerry Trickster

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

A few minutes later, somebody named Lauren called back and demanded to know how he had gotten her number. By now, David had talked extensively with Allison's brother about his interaction with the mysterious Lauren, and he was convinced that Lauren was, in fact, Roper, sounding like a woman. David decided to play along.

He told Lauren that they had friends in common; did she want to meet up sometime? Lauren explained that she was the little sister of celebrity publicist Lizzie Grubman and that she was currently in London. Later, she bragged to David about her fabulous going-away party at Rock Candy, a nightclub on East 21st Street, where Lauren and her friends had racked up table service to the tune of four bottles of champagne and three bottles of vodka.

As it turned out, David knew the owner of Rock Candy. When the conversation ended, he called his friend and asked whether they had hosted a party recently, featuring a 300-pound black man and an entourage of young white girls? The owner checked with his manager. Sure enough, there had been a party fitting the description.

Illustration by Andrew Bannecker

Details

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


Over the next few days, David tried to lure Roper back to New York by inviting Lauren to a party at Rock Candy. When that didn't pan out, David invited Lauren to the MTV Video Music Awards, to which he had an extra ticket. But Lauren wouldn't take the bait.


On Wednesday, August 31, Roper arrived at JFK Airport on a transatlantic flight from London. He had flown first-class, and on the ride home, he allegedly traveled in comfort, taking two chauffeured vehicles: one for himself, one for his luggage.

Following Roper were detectives from the Ninth Precinct. After midnight, Roper's cars arrived outside the Ritz-Carlton—where he was about to move into an apartment on the 34th floor. The detectives approached him outside the building, and Roper fled on foot. But he wasn't in the best of shape. Soon the cops caught up with him. Back at the station, in the quiet moments before dawn, Roper confessed.

"I went to her apartment and told the doorman I was her brother," Roper told the detectives. "The doorman gave me the key. I hosted six or seven parties at her apartment. There were about 50 to 60 people at the parties and I charged $20 a person." He also confessed to taking Allison's checkbook and Bloomingdale's card.

At the time of Roper's arrest, the police had found in his possession a photocopy of a credit card belonging to someone named Matthew Bloom. They began a parallel investigation.

The following morning, detectives called and asked Allison if she could come down to the station. At the precinct, Allison peered through a one-way mirror and saw the outsize charmer from the Wireless Café curled up on the floor in the fetal position. Allison learned from the detectives that Roper had apparently been documenting his fabulous summer using her video camera. Until then, she hadn't even noticed it was missing.

Roper was soon released on bail. About a month or so later, the cops picked him up again. Back in custody, Roper played the role of an entitled, neurotic, Jewish teenager. "I can't believe you're arresting me on Yontiff," he told the officers. "I was off my medication."

In the months to come, with the case preparing to go to trial, Allison met up with an assistant district attorney to witness the videos that Roper had made on her camera. Allison sat down and watched in horror as throngs of preppy teenagers were shown stumbling around her living room, slurping down mixed drinks, smoking pot, and inhaling nitrous oxide through the gas masks. At one point, the various partygoers stood in front of her closet, looking through her clothes, and commenting on the designer labels.

There was also a short scene that captured Roper at an apartment with his actual mom. But the glimpse of Roper's home life was fleeting. Not enough to answer the question that would still be puzzling Allison more than a year later.

Who was Andre Roper?


During the fall of 2005, Allison wasn't the only person pondering Roper's past activities. At around the same time, a detective with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was also trying to untangle Roper's world.

On November 29, the detective got a phone call from employees of JPMorgan Chase Bank in Brooklyn. They were concerned about some suspicious wire activity.

About three weeks earlier, the bank employees had noticed a transfer of $500,000 from a titling business headquartered in Brooklyn called the Avalon Abstract company into Roper's personal account. A bank investigator became suspicious, froze the money, and began sifting through past records. On August 29, $150,000 had been transferred from Avalon Abstract into Roper's account. Toward the end of September, it happened again. Another $700,000.

How had Roper managed to steal close to a million dollars from an obscure company in Brooklyn?

The detective soon discovered that on August 29, Roper had called a Chase branch in Pelham, New York. Somehow Roper had obtained Avalon Abstract's account number. Over the phone, from London, he had given the number to a teller while pretending to be an employee of the company's president. Using his outsize charm, Roper had then talked the teller through the transaction.

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