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Mommy's Little Con Man


Omer, Jackie, and Hale Yalincak at home in Pound Ridge.  

“She’s a diabetic and heart problems—all that medicine for her.”

“Tizanidine, Lipitor . . . ” I read.

“She is very sick,” Omer says.

“Isorbide, NitroQuick . . . ”

“Some vessel is not working. Maybe she needs a surgery. Bypass surgery. And then diabetic. Terrible condition. Very serious.”

All this is made worse by Hakan’s bad luck.

“She lives only for her son,” says the husband, pointing to her.

Jackie, who has been nodding silently, lights a Marlboro.

“You don’t mind?” she asks. I don’t, though I think of a letter Hakan sent me. It closes with a P.S.: “Mom, don’t smoke.”

On the couch, a slightly darker gold than Jackie’s dazzling hair, she suddenly breaks into sobs. “We are having such a hard time right now I prefer to die. I do. I mean there is nothing left to live.”

At the New Haven County Correctional Center, I wait in a windowless room with a half-dozen black women.

“Legal visit?” the guard asks.

“No,” I say. “A friend.”

My name is on the list, as Jackie said. I march into a long, narrow room. Hakan is seated on the other side of a thick plastic window. We pick up phones. He is shaggy-headed and unshaven (for which he apologizes). He looks scarecrow skinny in those pajama-like things prisoners wear. He has light-brown eyes and dark-brown hair, a real mop of it, that is going red from the prison shampoo.

“Write quickly,” Hakan says. “We don’t have much time.” First thing, he wants me to know his correct age. “I’m 19, not 21,” he says, which he apparently learned only lately. And he has a twin brother. Or had. He died a decade ago. Leukemia, it seems. He is buried in Belgium or Turkey—I will hear both. This family, clearly, has a sideline in calamity. Hakan, too, is lately a cancer victim. “Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” he says and extends an arm for me to examine through the plastic divide. I nod gravely. Hakan says his cancer struck last year. Thankfully, it’s now in remission. Again I find myself nodding, though as I recall, his mother put the cancer years earlier.

I ask him about the $25 million check.

“That was from a life-insurance policy on my aunt,” who, naturally, died recently, Hakan explains breezily. With Hakan, there is intensity and breeziness, sometimes both at once.

Hakan’s defense against the charge of bank fraud is simple—maybe it was a counterfeit check. In that case, someone fooled him. Is it so far-fetched?

Hakan is personable, winning, in a precocious, hand-in-the-air way: He tosses out beguiling non sequiturs (he can’t seem to help himself), usually to prove he’s a prodigy. He speaks five languages, plus a little Hebrew; he reads the Torah and the Koran.

At the same time, the boy wonder seems almost theatrically inept in basic aspects of daily living. “I’m just a kid,” Hakan tells me. He doesn’t drive, so he sometimes took a car service to NYU. And he lugged around documents in a plastic bag, one time fishing out a check to pay his civil attorney, Robert Chan. “The stuff he wears most of the time would not be taken by Goodwill,” says Chan. More than once, Hakan showed up for a meeting claiming to have lost his wallet, and had to borrow money. Sometimes he didn’t show up at all, later mentioning, in that family shorthand, a broken jaw or a car accident. Once, he started a business e-mail, “My father had a heart attack today,” then turned to the day’s agenda.

The court files finally arrive: Jackie had impersonated an internist in Indiana. "That’s not me," she insists. “Nothing to do with me at all.”

Hakan can seem to be driven not by a calculating criminal mind but by an exhausting and mostly self-destructive desire to please. He was, many say, a lonely kid. Still, on some Friday nights he plunked down his platinum card and bought rounds. He also sprang for a limo. “So no one would drink and drive,” he says.

Clearly, as a college kid, Hakan had unusual access to money, handy if you’re looking to impress. Once he bought some earrings for a pretty girl—“model pretty,” Hakan says, and looks almost sheepish. She was a Greenwich teenager named Amanda who worked briefly for his mother. One day, she said something flirty to Hakan like “You never buy me anything.” Hakan tells me, “It had been a very good day trading, so I bought her $3,800 earrings at Tiffany’s,” which he really did. (She confirms she got earrings.) Then he quickly adds, “And I bought something for my mother and sister, too, so they wouldn’t be jealous.”

Maybe it was a similar urge to please that led Hakan, out of the blue, to e-mail a dean at NYU about a gift. The dean invited an NYU development exec to a meeting. “They were shocked at the amount,” Hakan tells me giddily. Hakan, who high-school classmates thought lived in an apartment over a hair salon, said he had in mind a donation of $21 million of family money.

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