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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Guggenheims Decry Billion-Dollar Fraud

MANHATTAN (CN) - Imposters are abusing the Guggenheim name - and claiming to be Guggenheims - to "defraud consumers out of billions of dollars," two real Guggenheim businesses claim. One defendant, from ritzy Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., styles herself "Lady Catarina Pietra Toumei," according to the federal RICO complaint.

Guggenheim Capital and Guggenheim Partners sued five people, from California to New York to Miami, and their allegedly bogus bank and businesses.

Here are the defendants, as described in the 179-page complaint:

Catarina Pietra Toumei, who calls herself a Lady, "falsely claims to be connected with plaintiffs, including that she is the 'Investment Relations Manager' of the 'Guggenheim Fund.'" Rancho Santa Fe, where Toumei lives, or claims to live, is the wealthiest enclave in the nation. An unincorporated community in the hills of northern San Diego County, its part-time residents include Bill Gates and the Sultan of Brunei. Toumei may have a residence in Carlsbad, on the San Diego County coast;

Vladimir Zuravel, of New York City, also uses the name Vladimir Guggenheim and the Vladimir Z. Guggenheim Bank, and claims to be president of the so-called Guggenheim Fund;

David Birnbaum, of Brooklyn, uses the name David B. Guggenheim, and claims to be chairman of the Guggenheim Fund;

Eli Pichel, residence unknown, "falsely claims to be a licensed attorney working for plaintiffs or the Guggenheim family. Defendant Pichel also participates in the schemes described herein through an entity of unknown structure known as 'Pichel Consultancy;'"

Theodore Pardo, of Miami, "falsely claims to be connected with plaintiffs."

The real Guggenheim businesses claim that the imposters send emails, letters and proposals bearing the Guggenheim mark, fraudulently "offering consumers the chance to participate in multimillion and multibillion-dollar investments involving a variety of products, such as crude oil, bank guarantees, diamonds and gold."

Since this summer, the defendants have sent emails to "an unknown number of persons," soliciting investment opportunities in crude oil, 24k gold bars, bank guarantees and diamonds, on behalf of the Guggenheims, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs say the defendants have repeatedly called the Coca-Cola Company, falsely claiming affiliation with the Guggenheim firms, "to discuss financial investments" with its senior leadership.

In October, the defendants tried to form "a business relationship with President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush," via email, offering up the "Guggenheim Funds" and "Guggenheim Bank" to "their disposal," according to the complaint.

They also run a website using the Guggenheim name, which purports to offer "financial consultation and investment services" without authorization, the complaint states.

Guggenheim Capital and Guggenheim Partners say they learned of the schemes when they "received inquiries regarding communications proposing large-scale, complex business transactions - some worth in excess of 1 billion dollars - including letters, financial documents, advertising materials, and emails, which appeared to originate from the plaintiffs, but which actually originated from the defendants."

The materials contained counterfeited Guggenheim marks, including "identical font, type style and distinctive purple color," the complaint states.

The Guggenheims say the defendants "are engaged in a nationwide scheme to defraud consumers out of billions of dollars by pretending to be plaintiffs, the latter of which are two of the most well-known and highly respected financial firms in the United States and the world."

Guggenheim Capital and Guggenheim Partners demand an injunction and damages for trademark infringement, trafficking in counterfeit marks, trademark dilution, cyberpiracy, false advertising, unfair competition, false designation of origin, RICO violations, deceptive practices and fraud.

Lead counsel is Michael Shanahan with McDermott, Will & Emery.

The philanthropical Guggenheim family are descendants of Meyer Guggenheim (1854-1922), who made his fortune in mining and smelting.

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