There’s something about con men – and women – that fascinates. Think about Inventing Anna, the Netflix series about the fake German heiress. There is also the story of Dirty John, based on the violent sociopath John Meehan who convinced a woman to marry him and later attacked her daughter with a knife. And who can forget Fyre Festival, Billy McFarland’s fraudulent luxury music festival?
Sadly, victims are often so embarrassed they never go to the police.
What’s the fascination with stories about con artists? Experts say people want to think that they would never fall prey to scammers.
Then there is the more profound question of whether it’s possible to really know someone.
The subject of Lauren Markham’s April 27, 2022 article in The New Yorker, “The Worst Boyfriend on the Upper East Side,” was Nelson Counne, who went by Nelson Roth for years. He allegedly romanced New York women for decades, convincing them to invest in business deals that somehow never panned out.
The article chronicles the several relationships Mr. Counne had with women while living with another woman, and how some of the girlfriends eventually connected with each other as they became determined to get their money back and see Counne face justice.
The article describes how Counne portrayed himself as a businessman and art dealer with multiple homes. The big tipper frequented upscale New York restaurants where he was known by name.
He told one of his more recent victims he was tiring of New York and thinking of relocating to Connecticut. He encouraged her to start a house hunt so they could buy a property together.
When the woman pressed him to be paid back, Counne said he had been in the hospital with heart troubles. After the woman’s daughter called the hospital and was told there was no one there under that name, Counne said of course there was no record of his stay as he’d been in a VIP ward.
Back in 2000, Counne became romantically involved with a woman he also invited to participate in investment opportunities. In Markham’s article, the victim said though Counne was sweet and romantic, he would suddenly start screaming at her. At one point he told this woman, to whom he gave an engagement ring, that he had to cancel their travel plans to Europe because he was sick with colon cancer. After she couldn’t find him, he said he’d stayed in the hospital’s VIP area.
He also told her he’d been awarded a purple heart from Vietnam, and that he had a business partner named “Jack.”
Soon after that woman broke up with Counne, he was indicted on two counts of Grand Larceny. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison.
According to Markham’s article, Counne had been charged with the murder of a jewelry dealer whose body was found in a marsh in Far Rockaway in 1987. He was later was acquitted. Three years later he survived being shot twice in the chest in what officials at the time said looked like a hit.
Further, Counne’s father, Jacob “Jack” Nessim Counne, who may have been the inspiration for Nelson’s imaginary business partner, left Nelson Counne’s mother when Nelson was a young boy.
Jack Counne had his own troubles with the law. According to Markham’s article, in the 1960s he allegedly ran an underground gambling parlor in an East Side penthouse and was arrested in 1970. Later he was found not guilty.
In 1975 Jack Counne was found dead, shot through the head.
Markham’s article describes Counne’s grift as “aspirational.”
She wrote that Counne’s New York victims Googled him during the pandemic and learned he’d been arrested in Greenwich in June of 2020.
At the time, Mr. Counne, who gave his address to Greenwich Police as Davenport Drive in Stamford, allegedly had an argument with and hit the victim’s prescription sunglasses off her head while she was driving, causing a contusion.
He was charged with Assault 3 and Conspiracy to Commit Breach of Peace 2, and his bond was set at $1,000. The case was later dropped.
The end of Markham’s article describes how the sister of one of Counne’s New York victims spotted him in Greenwich enjoying the outdoor dining scene, dressed in posh jeans and a sweater and talking loudly on his phone.
This month, a Greenwich Police Criminal Information Summary refers to an incident on Steamboat Road back on Aug 13, 2021. A financial crime investigation was initiated on March 31, 2021.
On Friday Sept 16, Greenwich Police traveled to Rikers Island to take custody of and extradite Mr. Counne, now 69, with an address of East 82nd Street in New York, on an outstanding felony charge of Larceny 1.
Counne’s bond was $500,000, which Judge Blawie set with the condition he surrender his passport.
Mr. Counne was unable to post his bond and was subsequently placed in GPD cell #2.
He has been assigned a date in Stamford Superior Court on Sept 30, 2022.