Hargobind Tahilramani, the alleged “Hollywood Con Queen,” has spoken publicly for the first time after taking the stand in court on the first day of his extradition trial.
The U.S. government has formally requested the self-described food blogger be extradited from the U.K. to face eight charges in California, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Tahilramani is accused of being the “mastermind” behind a $1 million scam targeting film industry professionals, in which he is alleged to have posed as dozens of mostly female Hollywood executives and their assistants in a bid to lure victims out to Jakarta in Indonesia with the promise of work. Among those he is accused of impersonating are producer Gigi Pritzker, Disney exec Dana Walden and Annapurna Pictures founder Megan Ellison (pictured above, left to right).
He is also accused of impersonating Ellison’s mother Barbara Boothe and her assistant, former Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” producer Thomas Hayslip, according to court documents. In at least one case, Tahilramani is even said to have “offered sexual favors” while posing as Pritzker, asking the victim to send videos.
Once in Indonesia, the victims, which include screenwriters, DoPs, make-up artists, actors and even lawyers and security personnel, were asked to hand over cash for expenses such as chauffeurs and translators with the promise of eventual reimbursement in addition to hefty fees for their services. Although some victims received forged bank wire transfer forms apparently showing payment was on its way, no money ever arrived. U.S. prosecutors claim the cash was deposited into Tahilramani’s Indonesian bank account.
Tahilramani allegedly defrauded over 300 victims in a scam spanning seven years. It continued even after international travel was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. alleges, with Tahilramani adapting his tactics to overcome the global stay-at-home orders. In one example, the U.S. government, via their U.K. lawyer, claimed that Tahilramani, posing as Hayslip, contacted actor Dan Considine and referred him to someone claiming to be Disney exec Dana Walden. Allegedly impersonating Walden, Hargobind is then accused of inducing Considine to send $7,000 to Indonesian bank accounts in exchange for what he believed would be an opportunity to audition for a Christopher Nolan movie. “The audition was a sham,” the U.K. lawyer told the court.
Hargobind was finally arrested in November 2020 in a hotel in Manchester, where, according to the U.K. lawyer, he had told staff he was a writer for Netflix. Hargobind denied this on the witness stand. The lawyer, cross-examining, asked why Hargobind had also requested five extra rooms at the hotel, telling staff they were for producer Doug Liman who was coming into town to work on a project. Tahilramani declined to respond to the question in case the answer prejudiced any subsequent criminal trial.
The proceedings currently ongoing in the U.K. are not to ascertain Tahilramani’s innocence or guilt but to decide whether he should be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for the crimes of which he is accused. Tahilramani argues that he should be tried in the U.K. However the lawyer for the U.S. government attempted to show the court that Tahilramani, who was born in Jakarta, was in the U.K. unlawfully after overstaying a tourist visa and had no links to the U.K. He also suggested that most of the victims were American.
Tahilramani was cross-examined for over two hours on Wednesday afternoon, in an at-times heated and melodramatic exchange as the lawyer attempted to dismantle Tahilramani’s credibility. At one point the court was adjourned for 10 minutes after Tahilramani broke down crying.
During the cross-examination, Tahilramani, who spoke with an American accent, was repeatedly grilled on his past. He said he was born in Jakarta to a Hindu father and Christian sisters who bullied him over his sexuality and had him declared legally dead. He said he had attended university in California in the early 2000s, studying business communications, before being disqualified for plagiarism. When asked why he had plagiarized the speech, Tahilramani intimated it was “for attention.”
“I’m not an accountant like my father,” he said, his voice rising. “I’m allowed to be creative sir, I’m allowed to perform.”
After the disqualification he went on a “$100,000 spending spree” on his father’s credit card before returning to Indonesia, where he was twice admitted to what he described as “mental hospitals.” In between, he said, he briefly worked for EMI Records.
He was later convicted in Indonesia of embezzlement, smuggling contraband and a bomb hoax at the U.S. embassy.
Under questioning, Tahilramani put the bomb hoax down to a misunderstanding, which occurred when he rang the embassy from prison and asked to speak to a U.S. Marine on duty after missing friends from Los Angeles. Tahilramani claimed in his witness statement that he spoke to the Marine about politics, suggesting that if the Republicans were re-elected it might lead to a 9/11. It was this, he claimed, that was misinterpreted as a bomb threat. In response, the U.K. lawyer asked: “So where does the phone sex come in?” alleging that Tahilramani omitted from his witness statement the fact he had tried to engage the U.S. embassy official in “phone sex” before mentioning 9/11.
At one point during cross-examination, Tahilramani appeared to suggest that the charges on which he is wanted in the U.S. were a conspiracy concocted by government officials and journalists and repeatedly emphasized he lived in fear of his sisters.
The case continues.