The BlackBerry Trickster

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

How did he fool the bank tellers?

Roper was circumspect. "I'm telling you, you're going to bug out," Roper said. "All I did was call a branch and ask for a guy who handles all their business accounts. I said that I worked for Avalon and [president] Armando Berrios. I told him, 'Armando told me to transfer $150,000 from this account into this account.' He said, 'OK, fine.' I was in London when I did this. Within 15 minutes, it was cleared into my account."

Roper contemplated staying in London. But eventually he returned to New York. After all, he had his new apartment to look forward to. "Who doesn't want to live in the Ritz- Carlton?" said Roper. "It had water views and views of midtown. It was on the 34th floor. I can't live below the 20th floor, especially in Manhattan. You never see anything."

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

Looking back, Roper said that the whole situation could have been avoided if he hadn't suffered through a falling out with his father—Lawrence Roper of Sands Point, Long Island. According to Roper, if he had stayed on good terms with his father, he never would have fallen into such desperate financial straits.

Toward the end of the interview, Roper confessed that he's had a hard time coping with his own mental illness in jail. "I take lithium twice a day," he said. "I'm bipolar. I'm not getting the mental health I need . . . I was seeing a therapist three times a week."

"Here it's nothing," he went on. "This place makes you constantly paranoid. The majority of the people I'm around are like the violent drug dealers and gang members and stuff like that. They're like the proletarians."

After the interview, I spent several days fact-checking Roper's story. In the end, most of what he's told me about himself turns out to be false.

No public records indicate that he ever lived in Greenwich. According to officials at Phillips Academy, Andover, no one named Andre Roper ever attended school there. No public records suggest the existence of a Lawrence Roper living in Sands Point. Other biographical details don't check out.

So where is Roper actually from? Eventually I discovered that Roper has a mom and a sister who live in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

On January 31, I knocked on the door of his sister's fourth-floor apartment in Flatbush. Roper's mom invited me in. She was dressed in a green T-shirt, baggy cotton pants, and orange slippers with yellow flowers. Originally from Jamaica, she told me in a lilting accent that she works as a nurse aide and is currently babysitting her grandson—a friendly, young kid, who is zipping around the apartment occasionally flashing a big, winsome smile.

We sat down in the living room, which is decorated with Roper's sister's wedding photos and strewn with his cousin's toys. The moment I brought up Andre, his mom began crying. Over the next hour, she told me that Andre was born in Brooklyn. The family then moved to East Orange, New Jersey. In East Orange, all of Andre's teachers said he was exceptionally smart. But he never graduated from high school. "His teachers used to say that Andre could be anything that he wanted to be," she said. "He made bad choices."

Andre first started seeing a therapist as an adolescent and was subsequently diagnosed as bipolar. "Andre is a good person," his mother said. "He's been in and out of mental institutions. But he's not going to hurt anyone."

Does she know when Andre became so seemingly obsessed with wealthy New Yorkers? "It started with his mental problems," she said. "I don't know why."

Andre does fine when he takes his medication. When he stops, things go haywire. For many years, her health insurance helped pay for Andre's psychiatric costs. But during his most recent stint out of jail, he was seeing a therapist who wasn't covered under her plan. Andre was doing well, the therapist had told her. Looking back, she thinks it was a waste of money. "I think Andre was outsmarting her," she said, "How could she not know?"

Like everyone else, she remains baffled by Andre's crimes. "He's a charmer," she said. "Everybody loves Andre." Even so, she can't figure out how Chase Bank could have let him steal all that money. "So he just walks in and said he's Donald Trump and they believe him?" she said. "I think that Chase Bank should be the ones on trial, they're so stupid."

I asked if she will attend her son's final sentencing hearing. She said no, it would be too painful. But she will be thinking of him. "I pray every day," she said, "that Andre will change."

In mid January, Roper's lawyer submitted a sentencing memorandum on his client's behalf. Over the course of several pages, the lawyer reported on the findings of the court-appointed doctor—noting, along the way, that Roper suffers from bipolar and borderline personality disorders as a result of being "shunned, beaten, and sexually abused" as a child. "He lives in a fantasy world and has dramatic mood swings including suicidal ideation," wrote the lawyer. "His crimes are just another way he has learned to use to hurt himself."

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