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Mommy's Little Con Man

When NYU senior Hakan Yalincak was arrested and put in jail after attempting to cash a forged $25 million check, his mother, Jackie, tearfully supplied a sketchy, convoluted explanation for everything. And when, a month later, she too was arrested for fraud, it seemed she’d taught her son everything she knew.


Jackie Yalincak at home in Pound Ridge.  

One evening, before her arrest, Jackie calls. I recognize the strong accent, the deep, gruff voice on the brink of emotion. Her name is really Ayferafat Yalincak. But everyone calls her Jackie. We speak often these days. Jackie seems to have designated me a person she can count on. This evening, she tells me she’s just back from a visit to her son, Hakan, who is confined to the New Haven County Correctional Center.

“How is Hakan?” I ask, as I always do.

“Not doing good,” Jackie says gloomily, as she always does.

No doubt. Twenty-one-year-old Hakan is the New York University senior the government calls an “economic danger to the community.” The threat, in the government’s view, is that Hakan is intent on getting his hands on other people’s money. To start, there’s the counterfeit $25 million check he tried to cash, which led the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut to charge him with bank fraud. (With transfers, the government says he tried to get $43 million.) The government has also targeted the hedge fund he began as a college junior. There was real money in the hedge fund. Hakan, with Jackie’s help, raised $7.4 million from sophisticated investors. Plus, there’s his suspicious $1.25 million gift to NYU—where did that money come from?

Jackie no doubt guessed that she, too, was under investigation. She, though, has more pressing concerns. Her boy, slight, to her mind, frail, and housed with violent criminals, is suffering. “He is spitting up blood,” she tells me. Jackie, I know by now, has a descriptive gift. At various points, she’ll report that her son hasn’t eaten for ten days, has a raging fever, and has blood coming out of his eyes. Jackie and Hakan are very close, seemingly two halves. “I don’t care for money,” Jackie once told me. “Hakan is . . . special. I love him to death.”

Jackie had always shown Hakan off. To enroll him in school early, she marched him before teachers. “Do some math,” she instructed him. She started Hakan on piano and violin and taught him English by making him say the English name for foods he wanted. “My father is the easy parent,” Hakan says.

Even as an NYU student, Hakan lived at home. If he stayed up late, Jackie checked on him and then tucked him in. It’s a real love affair, and Hakan, I know, feels the same. After bail was denied, he burst into tears. “Crying for his mother,” as a visiting lawyer put it.

Now Jackie’s calling to tell me that Hakan has no visitors other than his parents—even his sister hasn’t yet been cleared. Along with everything else, she’s worried that Hakan is lonely.

“If you visit, that would make him very happy,” Jackie tells me.

I’d like to, I say, but authorities have turned down my request.

“You’re on his visiting list,” Jackie says in a whisper. I’m surprised, but she insists, “I saw your name.” Then she asks, “Do you know what he looks like?” As if he hadn’t been dubbed the “Sultan of Swindles” by the Post, with his photo all over the place, but is merely her forlorn and defenseless son, in need of a friend.

“Yes,” I assure her. I plan a visit, though I can’t help but wonder if Jackie might be baiting a hook . . . for me. The U.S. Attorney would have me believe that an overture like this is a lure, a bid to involve me in the ornate, gothic, criminal drama of their lives.

I first met Jackie at the lovely house her family rents in Pound Ridge, New York, a community of winding roads, hiking trails, and stone walls a few miles from Greenwich, Connecticut, where Hakan’s hedge fund had shared an office with his mother’s mortgage business. The house, at first glance, seemed to have several entry doors. While I waited at one, Omer, Hakan’s father, appeared at another, a small white dog in each arm. Quickly, he led the way to the living room, to Jackie and to Hakan’s younger sister, Hale, a senior in high school.

“We were waiting two graduations,” Jackie says dolefully.

Jackie installs herself on the couch, looking regal; mostly it’s the hair. She’s a 50-year-old Turkish woman with wide-set eyes, a pyramid-shaped eyebrow, and electric blonde hair.

“Where did you get the name Jackie?” I ask, just to start things off.

“People call me Jackie. I don’t use Jackie name at all,” she says. Apparently, there’s to be no small talk. “Whatever document you are asking, I am ready to show,” she announces. She places a Brioni shopping bag full of documents beside her. The government has seized papers and computers. “I received those today,” she says and tucks her hand into the bag, a pantomime, I think, of candor. “If there’s any money stealing or anybody lost the money, I have a proof, all, everything.”

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