An accused scammer dubbed the “Worst Boyfriend on the Upper East Side” bilked at least five Manhattan women out of more than $1.8 million by courting both their hearts and bank accounts, prosecutors alleged Monday.
Nelson Counne, 70, was arraigned on an indictment charging him with fraud and grand larceny for allegedly luring lonely women on online dating sites into believing he was a wealthy art collector and investor — then coaxing them into making hefty investments in phony companies.
“In the end, almost all of Counne’s representations proved to be false,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Kofi Sansculotte said in court.
“He was not independently wealthy and the only funds into his accounts were from confirmed and suspected victims of his romance scams,” Sansculotte head of the office’s Financial Frauds Bureau, said.
Counne did not have homes in London and the South of France — and in fact, did not appear to have ever traveled internationally nor own a passport, the prosecutor said.
“Further, the money put into his accounts by the victims were never used for any investments but were instead used to perpetuate the illusion of his wealth to new victims and to repay previous victims who had detected his fraud,” Sansculotte said.
Prosecutors said Counne, who typically used the alias Nelson or Justin Roth, wouldn’t wait long after starting a new relationship to start pitching investment opportunities.
Among the investment opportunities he pitched were for the Alibaba Group, which he falsely claimed he had access to, and a phony start-up company Counne said he co-owned with a former Google executive, prosecutors said.
After allegedly brow-beating the women into making their initial investments, he would go back for more, claiming the money was needed for related expenses and salaries for staffers.
Counne was dubbed “Worst Boyfriend on the Upper East Side” by the New Yorker magazine in a May 2022 article about his alleged romance scams.
He’s also no stranger to the law. Last year, Counne was charged with scamming a Connecticut woman out of $500,000, according to a report by Greenwich Time. It’s unclear how or if that case was resolved.
In Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday, his lawyer, Dannielle Von Lehman, argued that despite her client’s past alleged misdeeds, he has always shown up for his court appearances.
“Mr. Counne [is] an elderly man,” Von Lehman said. “He’s 70 years old. He has lived in the same address on 82nd Street for the past 25 years. He has a prior criminal history but he has zero failures to appear and throughout the entire time.”
She said his criminal history dates to 2007, but did not provide details.
Judge Gregory Carro ordered Counne held on $150,000 cash bail or a bond of up to $750,000 pending a return court appearance on May 3.
“As alleged, Nelson Counne’s sole source of income for the past eight years was money he swindled,” said District Attorney Alvin Bragg 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,” the statement said.
“We urge everyone to exercise caution when told there’s an investment opportunity that seems too good to be true. If you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam, we are here to help – call us at 212-335-8900.”