In Denmark, Stein Bagger’s spectacular fall from technology golden boy to alleged scam artist and international fugitive has captivated many of the country’s 5 million residents. His purported fraud, said to be as high as $170 million, is the biggest scandal in 20 years.
But when Bagger, 41, strode into the Los Angeles police station near skid row on Saturday morning, officers wondered whether he was delusional.
“I am Stein Bagger,” the man said, putting his hands on the counter. “I’m a fugitive from Europe and I’m here to turn myself in.”
Skeptical officers took the lean, 6-foot man back for questioning.
“We’ve had several people come in and tell us they were the king of Denmark,” explained Officer Jack Richter.
But as Bagger leaned across a desk, the sleeve of his black Armani jacket crept up to reveal a Rolex watch. A computer search turned up an Interpol warrant for his arrest on charges of counterfeiting, forgery and fraud, according to the LAPD.
Bagger was turned over to federal authorities Saturday night and held at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Until his flamboyant appearance in downtown Los Angeles, Bagger had last been seen on Nov. 27 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was vacationing with his wife and daughter.
At the time, he was on top of the world. Bagger, chief executive of Copenhagen-based IT Factory, had recently been named Danish Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young after leading the previously crumbling computer company into what seemed to be an incredible turnaround. The Danish press reported that IT Factory had doubled its revenue and profit for each of its last three fiscal years.
The company was reportedly due to announce a $53.6-million profit and had co-sponsored a successful Danish cycling team in the Tour de France.
Bagger had allegedly taken a conference call the day he vanished. Worried, his wife contacted authorities.
Officials inside and outside the company launched an investigation. Within days, it was revealed that more than 90% of the company’s revenue was based on fraud. They found a secret office in a nearby hotel.
The company had allegedly created dummy contracts for computers and software from fake companies, then sold those leasing contracts to banks and other investors. Bagger allegedly forged the signature of the company’s chairman to avoid board scrutiny.
IT Factory filed for bankruptcy last week, and its employees were being questioned by Danish economic crime detectives. Ernst & Young has rescinded its award.
The company’s website was replaced with a short letter in Danish and English, explaining that the company was in bankruptcy and supplying the trustee’s contact information.
“We ask the public to appreciate that the employees of IT Factory . . . are subject to the general rules of secrecy,” it reads.
The request is likely intended for Danish news and technology media outlets, which have been fascinated with the case. Among the sensational tidbits was a report that Bagger hired an American actress to impersonate an official of “Stanford Technical University” when challenged on his resume, according to Ulrik Haagerup, head of news for DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corp.
The charismatic Bagger was also said to have ties to Hells Angels members in Denmark, who were implicated in a brutal attack on a supposed associate before Bagger left for Dubai.
Bagger told the LAPD that he flew from Dubai to New York, arriving Nov. 28. There, he said, he borrowed a friend’s credit card and Audi sports car and drove to Los Angeles.He checked into the Best Western in Hollywood on Friday night.
On Saturday, he decided to turn himself in and punched “police” into the Audi’s navigation system. The device led him from Hollywood to the LAPD’s Central Division station in downtown Los Angeles -- listed alphabetically, it was the first to come up.
He walked into the police station about 11 a.m., the picture of European class, wearing jeans, the $3,000 casual jacket and $65,000 gold watch and carrying a backpack.
Bagger told police that he had been the victim of a scam, but he also revealed that he was an international fugitive.
“You never know who’s going to walk through the door,’ said LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon, head of detectives for the central division. “Today we got the millionaire next door -- the only question is, Whose millions does he have? “