‘Vladimir Z. Guggenheim’ Not Actually a Real Guggenheim

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Photo: iStockPhoto

As we learned from Michael Idov's feature about the new kind of New York Russian, "In the world of art, the main seat of Russian influence is the Guggenheim." That might explain why Vladimir Zuravel, a Russian native of Queens, and his two partners, Catarina Pietra Toume and David Birnbaum, decided to pose as members of the illustrious Guggenheim family and use their false pedigree to sell fake investments, including a $4 billion sale of crude oil and a $1 billion deal involving diamonds and a vodka distribution venture. But it doesn't explain why Zuravel thought "Vladimir Z. Guggenheim" would be a believable alias. Everybody knows J. is the most convincing middle initial. It also doesn't explain why Toume thought claiming she was married to John Ratzenberger, you might know him better as Cliff Clavin on Cheers, would put investors at ease with handing over huge sums of cash. (The pair used to date.) Although all three face up to twenty years in prison, prosecutors said the alleged scheme found no takers. Guess calling yourself a countess on "Guggenheim Fund" stationery wasn't exactly a deal-closer, either.

Grifters who pretended to be members of famed Guggenheim family face 20 years in prison [NYDN]