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NYC man allegedly bilked nearly $2 million from Upper East Side women through ‘romance and investment scams’

Nelson Counne appearing in Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday (New York Post screenshot)

Nelson Counne appearing in Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday (New York Post screenshot)

A 69-year-old man in New York City has been arrested for allegedly conning five women out of nearly $2 million dollars “through a series of romance and investment scams,” prosecutors announced.

Nelson Counne, previously dubbed “Worst Boyfriend on the Upper East Side,” by a 2022 New Yorker magazine article, was taken into custody this week after a grand jury indicted him on one count of first-degree scheme to defraud and three counts of grand larceny.

“As alleged, Nelson Counne’s sole source of income for the past eight years was money he swindled,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg said in a statement. “He allegedly fed lie after lie to women he falsely claimed to have a romantic interest in, enticing them with investment opportunities that never existed while using their funds to repay past victims, lure in new ones, and fund his lifestyle.”

Court documents allege that between December 2012 and January 2021, Counne stole more than $1.8 million from at least five different women using the same romance and investment ploy.

Prosecutors say that Counne met his victims via several different online dating apps under the aliases Nelson Roth or Justin Roth. Posing under the false identities, Counne allegedly purported to be “an independently wealthy retired art dealer and investor” who bounced around from his homes in London, Manhattan, and the South of France.

“Counne presented each of the victims with a supposed investment opportunity. He refused to provide details, sometimes telling the women that the investment existed in a ‘gray area between legal and illegal,’ and sometimes hinting he had access to inside information,” the release states. “Among the purported investments Counne claimed he could access were Alibaba, as the company prepared to become publicly traded, and a start-up company purportedly run by Counne and a former Google executive, which would provide an online lottery that potential college students could pay to enter for a chance to win tuition coverage. Most of the victims were initially hesitant, but Counne persisted until each agreed to invest.”

After allegedly bilking an initial investment from the victims, prosecutors allege that Counne would then return seeking additional financial support from the women, which he justified by saying the funds would be used for “investment-related expenses” such as “paying fixers to ensure that the deals were completed,” or funding start-up costs.

Counne explained to his victims that his own funds were “tied up” in the same purported investments or that his funds had been frozen due to ongoing investigations, but prosecutors say that he promised each victim they would receive their money back in full, along with a “substantial profit.”

But authorities allege that nearly everything Counne told his victims about himself was false.

“Not only did he not own homes in London and the South of France, he has never traveled internationally and does not have a passport,” prosecutors wrote. “He was not independently wealthy, and the only funds in his accounts were from victims of his romance scams. Instead of being invested, the victims’ funds were used to make Counne appear wealthy to new victims, and to repay previous victims who had detected his fraud.”

Counne’s attorney, Daniell Von Lehman, reportedly told WPIX that her client plans on fighting the allegations levied against him.

“He’s an elderly man. He’s lived in New York his whole life pretty much,” Von Lehman told the station. “These are very serious allegations. They can make allegations all day. What they can prove obviously is something completely different from that.”

A state judge set Counne’s bond at $150,000 cash or $350,000 insurance bond.

Von Lehman did not immediately respond to an email from Law&Crime seeking comment.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.