How Peter Falcone Conned Me Out of $37,000 (Part 1)
That’s a name I’ll never forget. And it’s a name you should commit to memory. I suspect this slime might be planning his next con out there somewhere — and his next victim could be you.
It’s said you can’t cheat an honest man, which I suppose is partially true. Greed is tasty bait at the end of a very sharp hook. And just when it seems you’re nibbling on a sure thing, the con man suddenly snaps this line and fishhooks a fresh catch.
In the summer of 2006, I became the fresh catch. Nolan Dalla — Catch of the Day.
I was the perfect target.
Trusting? Check. Distracted? Check. Cash on hand? Check. Stupid? Check-mate.
Just days before the 2006 World Series of Poker was to begin, a six-week marathon I’d be working from start to finish, often 12 to 16 hours a day with no breaks, I was approached by my “friend” Peter Falcone. We met at a local coffee shop. Falcone announced he wanted to “talk business.”
Before getting into the details of that conversation, allow me to provide some background about Falcone and our friendship.
I initially met him and his wealthy girlfriend through some very trusted friends. At the time, Falcone was dating an eccentric older woman named Betsy Superfon (yes — that’s really her name). Betsy lived in a multi-million dollar mansion in the Malibu hills, which is one of the richest areas of the country. She had made tens of millions of dollars as the purported queen of “1-900” phone sex lines back during the 1990s. In fact, she even knew Ruth Parasol, the woman who made her initial millions the same way (phone sex) and who later created PartyPoker.com (who became one of the world’s richest women). Given her well-known connections to the phone sex business, Betsy Superfon was often jokingly called “Superphone.”
No doubt, Betsy was the real deal. Nice, sincere, always fun to be around — she was a welcome addition to any social gathering. And for several months she always showed up in the same circles where I hung out — casinos, cardrooms, parties, fancy restaurants in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles — with a somewhat younger man introduced to everyone as Peter Falcone.
I learned Falcone was originally from New York City. He had quite a story, about what one would expect from someone with the last name “Falcone.” One remarkable thing about con artists is — they’re instantly likable. After all, no one freely gives his money away to someone they didn’t trust and like. Falcone was a natural charmer and his personal credibility was boosted immensely by hanging out with Betsy and her wealthy circle of friends.
Over the course of several months, Falcone and I became even closer as friends. We frequently discussed sports betting. An avid sports bettor, I was interested in his insights into games. Falcone didn’t work a job but always appeared loaded with plenty of cash. He was always evasive about exactly what he did for a living, opting to leave things to the imagination. I surmised that Falcone had some business connections back in New York, perhaps partook in various investments, and gambled heavily on sports with extra cash. Either that, or he had inherited a large sum of money and was now living life in the fast lane.
All the pieces seemed to fit. Perfectly.
Three days before the 2006 WSOP began, Falcone sat across from me at the coffee shop. The conversation pretty much went like this.
“I’ve got a big thing I’m working on right now,” Falcone said. “There’s a guy I know back in New York’s diamond district. He owns several of the jewelry shops. He’s an action junkie.”
So, what does this have to do with me, I wondered.
“He’s an old Jewish guy. Orthodox. Thing is, he doesn’t trust the New York bookies. He’s been burned by them a few times. So, he gets down through me. I make a lot of bets for him here in Las Vegas. That’s why I see you a lot around sportsbooks.”
The story sounded plausible.
“Right now, he wants to get down as much as he can on baseball. He wants to go five dimes a game if he can. But no one takes that kind of action.”
Again, this all seemed legit. And remember — there was nothing to suggest that Falcone wasn’t trustworthy at the time. How else was he living this jet-set lifestyle, hanging out at casinos all the time, with no apparent source of income?
“You bet on sports,” said Falcone stating the obvious. “How much can you get down on a single game?”
At the time, I had three or perhaps four offshore accounts plus access to the betting windows in Las Vegas, so “getting down” a high figure wasn’t a problem.
“Probably $3,000 a game,” I answered. Since I’d bet that round figure many times before, this was a number I was comfortable with.
“Tell you what. How about if I give you a few of his plays and you bet them,” Falcone suggested. “That way I don’t have to run all over town every morning. Besides, I’m in Los Angeles half the time. You can just take all the action yourself when I’m not around.”
“So, what’s my end,” I asked.
“He pays me $1,000 a week in cash — win or lose,” Falcone said. “Then, when he has a winning week, I get ten percent of the take.”
“Does the guy always pay up when he loses?” I asked.
“Of course, he does. The man owns half of 47th Street.”
But how in the hell can the guy hope to ever make a profit doing that?” I asked. “There’s no way this guy can win in the long run.”
“He doesn’t care,” Falcone said. “The man just wants to be in action. He probably loses a quarter million a year.”
So, based on some quick calculations Falcone was pulling in an easy $100,000 a year. And now, I was being offered a piece of his action.
“Do you want to handle the bets and take some of my end?” Falcone asked. “I have enough things going on right now and can’t be in Las Vegas all the time. Since you’re betting baseball anyway, why not just add in his bets to your account and we can work it all out later?”
The lunch ended with me “agreeing to think about the proposition.”
If greed was infectious, I had caught the bug.
But first, I was determined to erase any lingering doubts about exactly who I was dealing with.
During the course of our conversation at the coffee shop, Falcone informed that he was staying at Caesars Palace. He also mentioned he’d bought a new Jaguar, which he said he’d leave in Las Vegas when he flew back to Los Angeles. Falcone asked if he could park the Jaguar at my home when he while he was back in Malibu staying with Betsy. He even encouraged me to drive the luxury car whenever I wanted.
The following day, I phoned Caesars Palace just to make sure his story was straight. When I asked for “Peter Falcone’s” room, I was informed he had just checked out of the hotel that morning. But at least his story matched.
Sure enough, that same afternoon, Falcone pulled up in the parking lot in a brand new maroon-colored Jag.
No job. Always loaded with cash and insisting on paying for everything. Ridiculously wealthy girlfriend. New York connections. Stories that were verified. Fancy luxury car. And now, I was being offered what seemed like a ridiculously easy way to make tens of thousands of dollars by doing essentially nothing at all.
What else was there to think about?
In sports gambling, we have a common expression, which is “to post.”
Unless the gambler has an established track record and is trusted, the bettor must post cash in order to make wagers. With offshore sports betting, which was rampant at the time, many agents (bookies) allowed betters to float their wagers and then settle up when a certain figure (win or loss) was reached. I had around $60,000 in assorted offshore credit, which means I could wager virtually any amount on any game as long as I didn’t exceed my “credit line” — which was $10,000 at a few sites and $20,000 others. So, getting down a bunch of $3,000 wagers wasn’t a problem.
We met again at the same coffee shop.
“When can your friend post the cash?” I asked. “I’m not floating someone that I don’t know that kind of credit. I mean, what if he loses — or worse, he goes to jail, or dies?”
“We’re settling up next week,” Falcone assured me. “I’ll tell him about you and ask him to send some advance money. That way, you can get started and there’s absolutely no risk.”
Over the next half hour, Falcone told me stories that the New York jeweler was “on fire.”
“Why don’t we just start out betting slowly,” Falcone said. “You can accept whatever wagers you want. Or, you can turn them all down. If they conflict with your own plays, just don’t bet them. I just need to know for certain so I make sure he knows which games he’s betting on and how much he’s betting. I’ll call you tomorrow at 7:30 am. He usually phones his plays to me every morning. I’ll give you a call and you can decide if you want to do this.”
The hook was set.
COMING NEXT: How Peter Falcone Conned Me Out of $37,000 (Part 2)