A smooth-talking British subject, described by authorities as a con artist who bilked wealthy women of thousands of dollars by selling phony movie rights, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Malibu Municipal Court to three counts of grand theft.
“He is a very, very good con man, working first in England and now in the United States,” Sheriff’s Detective Bill Soltis said of Graham Leaver, 49. “He comes off like an English gentleman--refined, debonair, very articulate. He’s a charmer who gets whatever he can and then leaves.”
After his plea, Leaver was held without bail.
Leaver, who used the alias Viscount Guiy De Montfort, was arrested Monday at the Beverly Wilshire hotel after sheriff’s deputies received an anonymous tip from a Malibu woman. She was supposed to meet Leaver at the hotel bar to discuss a business deal, but heard from her friends that he was wanted by authorities.
“When we walked in he was sitting alone at a table,” Soltis said. “He tried to talk us out of (arresting him), but we wouldn’t listen.”
Sheriff’s deputies were looking for Leaver after a complaint from another Malibu woman who accused him of stealing her jewelry and a gun while he was living in her home. Soltis said the woman had met Leaver three months earlier and had offered her “an investment opportunity” in a movie he had written.
The stolen jewelry and gun were traced to pawn tickets found in Leaver’s belongings, along with a passport revealing his identify.
“He is the smoothest confidence man I have ever dealt with. He could sell snow to the Eskimos,” Soltis said. “His whole thing was that he was the victim and never, ever the suspect.”
According to Soltis, Leaver would try to persuade wealthy women to invest in a movie he had written.
“He would begin with these wealthy women and slowly draw in their circle of friends,” Soltis said. “He would give his victims postdated checks, claiming that the money was coming from a movie deal he had put together in Ireland.”
Under his alias, Leaver wrote a 1980 book about the British royal family, which he used to gain the confidence of his victims, Soltis said.
Leaver was sentenced in England to three years in prison for fraud, Soltis said. After serving six months he escaped and came to the United States in 1988.
Leaver was arrested in June in Los Angeles and charged on five felony counts of fraud, but the case was dropped and Leaver was released after spending four months in jail.
“Whoever was handling that case dropped the ball,” said Detective Art Castro of the Los Angeles Police Department’s forgery division in West Los Angeles. He said charges will be refiled against Leaver this week.
“Con artists are successful because basically people are greedy,” he said. “That is the bottom line with this guy.”