Skip to content

Art fugitive – R.I. man accused of duping investors faces trial

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – A Rhode Island man whom prosecutors call a “habitual con man” heads to trial next week on charges that he duped investors by claiming access to deep-pocketed business connections.

Rocco DeSimone, a former art dealer from Johnston, was convicted in 2005 of filing a false tax return and later escaped from prison. He now is accused of inducing people to invest money in products that he said brand-name companies had offered millions of dollars to buy.

One invention was a protective covering for CDs and DVDs to prolong their life. DeSimone told potential investors that he owned the product and that Nintendo had offered millions of dollars for it, even though both claims were false, federal prosecutors said.

He also allegedly persuaded an inventor to give him an ownership stake in a product called the Drink Stik – a device that connects beverage containers to respirators and gas masks worn by military officers in contaminated areas – by falsely claiming that he was friends with the chief executive of Fidelity Investments. He also lied in telling potential investors that Raytheon Corporation had agreed to buy the Drink Stik for hundreds of millions of dollars, prosecutors said.

DeSimone is accused of taking in roughly $6 million in money, property and forgiven debt. Prosecutors plan to call as witnesses some of the people who gave him money.

Jury selection starts Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Providence and opening statements are expected Wednesday. The trial is expected to last at least three weeks.

One of DeSimone’s lawyers, Katherine Godin, said DeSimone maintains his innocence.

We’re going to try and establish that he was genuinely trying to market the products and that this was not a fraud,” Godin said.

DeSimone was convicted in 2005 of cheating on his taxes by claiming he owned the painting “Canal at Zaandaam” by Monet for more than a year before selling it. The lie saved him roughly $420,000 in taxes.

The latest alleged scam began when DeSimone was free pending appeal of that conviction, prosecutors say.

He was sentenced to more than two years in prison, but escaped in March 2008 from a minimum security facility in New Jersey before surrendering days later.

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-ES-01-01-10 1313EST