Thursday, January 31, 2008

e pluribus unum

From yesterday's Toronto Star:
Scam artist bilked dozens out of $3M by appearing to pull winning lottery numbers out of the yolks - January 30, 2008 - by Staff Reporter

All it took was a dozen eggs and a magic trick for “Roshanbhai” to convince people he was a spiritual healer who could fix their family, health and business problems – and help them win the lottery.

The catch? They had to fork over money for a special ceremony, in some cases more than $100,000.

After the smooth-talking self-proclaimed swami was done, the egg was on the faces of his victims, scores of whom were bilked out of about $3 million in total before he fled to Mumbai last month.

Though it sounds far-fetched, Roshanbhai – real name Mohammad Umar Ashrafi, 43 – left dozens of people in the GTA, all members of the Sikh community, embarrassed and broke.

Police believe he has pulled the same scam in Texas, California, New Jersey and Illinois, as far back as 1997. Peel police have issued arrest warrants for Ashrafi and his sidekick, Latafat Ali Khan, 36. Both are Indian nationals.

Admitting to being duped out of $105,000 is not easy for Paramjit Bhullar, owner of a Toronto trucking firm. “How do I feel? Stupid. I’m coming out front because I want him to get caught so he can’t rob anyone else,” says Bhullar, 42, who went to Ashrafi for help with marital and business problems after hearing a Punjabi radio show ad.

He met Ashrafi and Khan at a Mississauga home on Guildwood Way. After listening to Bhullar’s problems, Ashrafi told him they were the result of someone’s black magic. He told Bhullar to return a few days later with a dozen eggs.

At the second meeting, Ashrafi proceeded to boil the eggs, on which he had Bhullar write the names of his family members. Ashrafi cracked the cooked eggs open. On the egg with Bhullar’s name on it, Ashrafi “found” a piece of foil in the yolk, in which was tucked a Lotto 6/49 form with what Ashrafi claimed were winning numbers.

To ensure he hit the jackpot, Ashrafi said he needed $210,000 for special prayer materials imported from India. When Bhullar balked at the amount, Ashrafi cut it in half. Bhullar withdrew all his savings, got a $20,000 loan and charged another $20,000 to his credit cards.

About 40 people with similar stories have filed complaints so far, but police believe the actual number of victims is well above 100 here, with possibly hundreds more in the U.S.

“The people who lost more money are reluctant to come forward because they’re embarrassed. A lot of people borrowed money to pay him without their spouses knowing so they want to keep it a secret,” said Peel Const. Michael MacDougall.

It seems remarkable to me, but apparently rich people are easy marks and bilking them out of lots of money is not as difficult as one might imagine. Obviously not-rich people don't have the money to be bilked out of in the first place. - I post this only because I thought it amusing and an illustration that con men are a dime a dozen. Perhaps this explains why Mahesh set his sights on the rich from the very beginning. They would, he recognized, be easy to persuade and "world peace" was an easy sell.

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