By Michael Musto
By Capt. James Van Thach told to Jonathan Wei
By Kera Bolonik
By Michael Musto
By Nick Pinto
By Steve Weinstein
By Michael Musto
By Michael Musto
At the time, Roper was hardly loaded. His account showed a negative balance of $441.42. By the end of the business day, he was flush with cash. Shortly after the transfer, Roper paid $51,800 for the one-year lease on the swank apartment in Battery Park City.
Following his arrest, Manhattan prosecutors indicted Roper in the fall of 2005 on a range of charges, from grand larceny to burglary to forgery. Eventually he pled guilty and received three to six years in one case and six years in the other. Additionally, in April of 2006 the federal prosecutors indicted Roper on a felony charge for defrauding the Avalon Abstract Corporation. In September of 2006, he pled guilty in that case too.
By the time I heard of Roper's case, he was living in a Brooklyn jail cell, south of Park Slope near the Gowanus Bay, awaiting his federal sentencing hearing. I wrote Roper a letter requesting an interview. He agreed. And on a Wednesday afternoon in mid January, the jail's assistant warden put Roper on the phone.
Roper's voice surprised me. He didn't sound like a big, burly man of Jamaican descent. He sounded more like a jaded teenager from the North Shore of Long Island.
Over the next hour, Roper proved to be preternaturally charming, quick-witted, and encyclopedic about New York society. He also demonstrated a tentative grasp of what is real in his life and what is fantasy, mixing the two seamlessly throughout the conversation.
Roper explained that his problems that summer began when he dropped his cell phone on the way back from the Equinox gym on East 85th Street. Afterward, he said, he stopped by the Wireless Café to fix his phone. Soon he had a job. Shortly thereafter, he met Allison.
Roper claimed that he grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, attended Phillips Academy, Andover, and went to college at New York University, where he undertook an interdisciplinary major in life skills, which included internships at Goldman Sachs and the French embassy. When Allison came into the store, he said, he spotted a fellow member of his peer group. Pretty soon they were talking up their mutual connections, including a friend they had in common from Allison's synagogue.
"When people live on the Upper East Side and in Greenwich, a lot of people go to private school, and boarding school, and similar summer camps," said Roper. "So people are bound to know each other through different people. It wasn't like I stalked her or something. She went to Dalton and Duke. Do you know how many friends I had that went to Dalton and Duke? She was a Tri Delta. My sister is a Tri Delta. You know what I'm saying?"
Why did he take her apartment?
"It's summer time," Roper said. "Kids are still in the city. They're either working for their parents or just going back and forth to the Hamptons. I needed a place to have parties. I figured, well, she's not home. She wouldn't even notice."
According to Roper, convincing the doormen that he was Allison's brother was easy and nobody even asked to see his ID. "No one said anything to me," said Roper. "What are they going to say to me? I'm not a little guy."
Roper said that at some point he began running out of money, which was when a guy named Matthew Bloom walked into the Wireless Café. Roper said that he didn't like Bloom from the get-go. "He was just such a pompous Australian prick," he said. "I'm partially British. I just hate Australians." (Bloom did not return several phone calls seeking comment.)
Using the Wireless Café's copy of Bloom's driver's license and his American Express number, Roper went on another mini shopping spree. At the time, Roper was looking to get away from the city. So he purchased a round-trip, first-class plane ticket to London on Virgin Atlantic and charged it to Bloom's credit card. The total cost was $8,547.28. He also used Bloom's card to pay $1,874.70 in vet services for his dog Romeo, a white Labrador with blue eyes.
"Beautiful, beautiful dog," Roper said.
Roper told me that London is practically his second home. At first things were great, but then he began running out of money again. That's when he dreamed up the scheme involving Avalon Abstract.
How did he do it?
Roper explained that when he was living in New York he made the acquaintance of the college-aged son of the woman who owns Avalon Abstract. (Several calls to the company's offices in Brooklyn seeking comment were not returned.)
"One day we were at this place called Mamoun's, which I eat at religiously because I'm Jewish, and I love falafel," Roper said. "We were sitting there and he was like, 'You know what happens when I go to Chase Bank, I get respect. Because all of my mom's accounts have at least $5 million in them.' "
"He's one of those," Roper said.
According to Roper, he kept asking more and more questions until eventually he knew the ins and outs of the business. Roper said that when he was sitting in London, pondering his dwindling funds, he dreamed up the embezzlement idea.
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