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Juan Carlos Guzman-Betancourt

Writer: By Malcolm Macalister Corridor

Women's Cotton Lotus The Flower Of Life in Triangle Short Sleeve T-ShirtConman, escape artist, expert linguist, possessor of hypnotising charm, a dozen aliases and a bunch of false passports – and wanted by police on at least three continents – Betancourt knew precisely what he needed to do. It had worked countless occasions earlier than, in some of the world’s grandest lodges, from Tokyo to Las Vegas, via Paris and London. Born in Colombia, and (omega) often claiming to be the son of a diplomat or a German prince – neither of which, like most issues in his life, had anything to do with the truth – Betancourt had loved a great run. In a ten-yr career as maybe the world’s most achieved international conman and hotel-thief, he had never yet been caught purple-handed. What he was about to do that morning at the gracious 5-star Merrion was tried and tested stuff.

When he walked in he was carrying jeans and a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Save Water – Drink Beer”. He often dressed in stolen Valentino or Armani, and this was a dangerous outfit; but then all types of rich scruffs keep in smart motels. For the first forty minutes or so, it’s unclear what he did within the hotel. He was picked up on CCTV making – or perhaps pretending to make – a cellphone name in the foyer, however that was it.

By round 10.15am, though, he was in a top-flooring corridor and met a cleaner popping out of the ?1,000-a-evening (about £700) Kirk Suite. An American couple, their children, and the children’s grandmother – from Beverly Hills – were staying right here.

Betancourt informed the cleaner he had forgotten his room key, and asked if she could she let him in. She stated she couldn’t, however as he chatted to her, switching on his charm, she mentioned that she could be doing a little babysitting for the household in the suite that night. Betancourt would use this scrap of apparently irrelevant information in a brilliantly skilful way.

He went down to reception. Here, he took his usual gamble – that in an enormous lodge not every employees member will know every visitor by sight. He explained to the desk clerk that he was staying within the Kirk Suite, but had, stupidly, mislaid his key card. Along with his deft and deadly charm, he left the clerk in little doubt that he was a real guest. As he walked away with the “replacement” key card, he turned and casually asked: “Are we nonetheless Ok for the babysitter tonight?”. The babysitting booking had already been made, and was there in the log. Who would suspect a thing?

As soon as in the suite, Betancourt telephoned downstairs – to not the reception desk the place he’d simply been, but to the hotel’s operator. Figuring out that the friends had younger youngsters, he advised the operator that his youngsters had been enjoying with the combos of the suite’s two safes, and that they now wouldn’t open. May someone come up and unlock them for him? When considered one of the security workers arrived, Betancourt spoke to him in an American accent. The entire thing seemed so convincing. And why would Betancourt even be within the suite if he wasn’t a respectable visitor? The guard opened both safes, and left.

In the safes, Betancourt found an American passport, over £2,000-worth of dollars and euros, a ruby ring, and an American Specific card. He took the lot, locked the safes by inputting his personal seemingly random codes, and left.

He strolled out of the lodge and along the north aspect of St Stephen’s Inexperienced, to Grafton Street, Dublin’s smartest shopping area. In HMV, with the stolen Amex card, he bought a pile of CDs and DVDs worth round £500. In Brown Thomas, renowned as Dublin’s “poshest shop”, he purchased round £700-price of designer clothes. But his first cease had been Weir and Sons, established in 1869 and the city’s grandest jewellers. With the hot American Specific card, he hit Weir’s for an 18-carat white-gold Rolex Daytona, worth about £11,000.

Even when the purchase was briefly queried by American Categorical, Betancourt stayed ice-cool. “When the card was swiped, it gave a refusal,” says Weir’s managing director, David Andrews. “So you have to ring for a ‘sanction number’ – and in a whole lot of instances they are going to ask to speak to the holder to ask for some private detail. In this case they didn’t, and gave the sanction. So away we went – a lovely sale.”

Even after this shut call, Betancourt casually strolled around the store looking at extra jewellery. But he didn’t purchase. Once he’d obtained the CDs and clothes, he crossed the River Liffey to O’Connell Street, and purchased a gold chain and a ring for round £700 in another jewellers, John Brereton. But it was when he tried to make use of the stolen card for a fifth time in a chemist’s nearby that his luck hit the rocks. The card had been stopped. For the next seven days, Betancourt disappeared.

Ten days earlier, Betancourt had pulled off one other vanishing act. This time, although, it was from Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, the place he was only two months into a 3-and-a-half 12 months sentence for a near-equivalent £40,000 burglary on the Mandarin Oriental Resort in London.

After saying he wanted to go to the dentist, he had been allowed out of Standford Hill – alone, as is permitted in an open prison. He turned up for the dental appointment, however then kept going. One way or the other, he made it off the Isle of Sheppey within the Thames Estuary (there is just one route to the Kent mainland, by bridge) with, reportedly, no cash and no credit playing cards – but, in typical type, carrying a pair of Cartier sunglasses. The papers would later be filled with it. “Flamboyant jewel thief cons his way out of prison” ran one headline.

Regardless of an alert at all ports and airports, just over per week later he was in Dublin. How he got there is a thriller. Even seen-it-all detectives say they’ve grudging respect for his expertise as a thief, liar, con-artist, linguist, forger – and his potential to get out of tight spots. “He’ll nick or forge something – nailed down or not,” says one. They often examine him to Frank Abagnale Jr, the breathtakingly bold American former conman played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me If You can. The problem for police across the world is that, whereas not practically as inventive as Abagnale in his range of cons, Betancourt, it could be argued, is simply as smart. No one is aware of how much he has netted in a trail of heists at 5-star resorts around the world, stretching back to the mid-nineties. One guess places it close to £1m, however it’s probably more. And one among his favourite targets was London’s big lodges.

Andy Swindells, a detective-sergeant with the Metropolitan Police Hotel Crime Unit – who, in a beautiful piece of policework, would later play a significant part in Betancourt’s downfall – explains the con. “He at all times purported to be a guest. He would come right into a hotel and do issues that company do: cling round, have a coffee, change some money. Inns are small communities, and the reception employees see people all day lengthy. If you alter money a couple of occasions, they’ll remember you.” And, crucially for Betancourt’s plans, they’ll think you’re a visitor.

Swindells says that Betancourt would pick up guests’ names and room numbers from discarded bar tabs, or from gym bookings, or by overhearing workers greeting friends. “You can stand within the breakfast queue and hear people say: ‘I’m Mr So and So’ and the employees will ask for the room quantity,” says Swindells. “Once he’d obtained these particulars, he would go to reception, to the identical individual he had handled earlier when he changed cash, and say: ‘Hello, I’m again once more – I’m Mr So and So in room Such and Such and I’ve lost my key card; can I possibly have one other one?’ As a result of the staff recognise him and because he is aware of the identify and the room number, out of deference the staff could not ask for any identification. There’s a tradition in lodges of ‘the visitor is always right’.”

Betancourt performed ruthlessly on this fact. “Once he’d got into the room, he collected no matter he wanted,” says Swindells. “Then he would cellphone safety and say: ‘Hi, I’m Mr So and So, I’m in my room and I’m so sorry, however can you come and open my safe? I’ve forgotten the combination.’ What’s more plausible than that? It’s not unusual for folks to overlook the code they’ve put in. And with his charm, and nice clothes and flashy watch – why would anybody be suspicious?”

But there have been some shut calls. Betancourt was first arrested in Britain in 1998 on suspicion of four burglaries on the Le Meridien lodge in Piccadilly, and of using a credit card stolen from one in all its rooms. Using certainly one of around a dozen aliases, he gave the name Gonzalo Zapater Vives and jumped bail. The following yr, he was arrested at Heathrow airport after attempting to buy items in an airport Dixons retailer utilizing a credit card stolen from a hotel room in Tokyo. He gave his name as Cesar Ortigosa Vera – and had ID to again this up. In court the subsequent day he pleaded guilty, was fined £400, paid it in cash from a wad of notes, and walked out. His luck was that, at the moment, the Metropolitan Police didn’t have an automated fingerprint system. It was solely later – once he’d gone – that it became clear that card-thief Ortigosa Vera and bail-jumper Zapater Vives had been the identical man.

By Could 2001, Betancourt was back in London. That month alone he allegedly hit the Lanesborough and Mandarin Oriental lodges in Knightsbridge, and the Four Seasons and Intercontinental inns in Park Lane. His haul from the Mandarin Oriental burglary was £40,000 in jewellery and cash. At one in all the opposite hotels he is reported to have stolen £15,000. After the Intercontinental theft – which included a guest’s Amex card – he was clearly in the temper to celebrate, using the card to rent a chauffeur-driven Bentley to take him to Heathrow airport (value: £400). There, on the identical card, he bought a ticket to Paris and blew £8,000 on a pile of jewellery and designer clothes at the retailers in the departure lounge.

Then he disappeared once more – until August 2003, when he showed up in Las Vegas, and allegedly pulled off what could have been his biggest heist. “From one of the city’s finer motels, and from another lodge, he is alleged to have stolen money and jewellery price, in total, over $350,000 [about £200,000],” says Kirk Sullivan, a detective with the Tourist Crimes Element of the Las Vegas Metro Police Division.

“He generally says he’s descended from German royalty – and he generally uses the title Prince,” says Sullivan. “This is all rubbish – however I don’t know that anybody will ever know the truth about him.” Another Las Vegas detective studies that Betancourt would steal Rolexes from resort rooms, and use them for small change. “He was giving these away as tips – for good service, he’d give a waitress a $50,000 watch.”

By November 2004, Betancourt was in London but again. This time he allegedly hit the Grosvenor Home resort in Park Lane; the Savoy; the Royal Garden Lodge in Kensington; and the Dorchester, the place he would later admit to having stolen jewellery, cash and designer clothes worth £36,000 from the suite of a Bahraini businessman. On the time, he was dossing down within the spare room of a council flat in Lisson Grove. What he was doing with all this cash is a mystery. It’s one in all many within the strange and difficult life of Juan Carlos Guzman-Betancourt.

Though newspapers often describe him as “the son of a diplomat”, his mom was a cleaner and his father was a farm labourer within the fields across the remote Colombian nation town of Roldanillo, the place Betancourt was born in 1976. Roldanillo is set within the fertile Cauca Valley, which runs via the northern Andes, about 140kms north of Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. The little green-painted mud-constructed house Betancourt was introduced up in continues to be there, about quarter-hour from town, in a small group of workers’ houses beside the River Cauca

Betancourt’s father is claimed to have left home when the boy was about a month previous. His mom Yolanda later married Harold Velasco, a clerk in an estate agent’s workplace. She would later admit, in tears, that the younger Juan Carlos had been badly handled at dwelling. In his mid teens he too left home, and would later claim he had lived in an abandoned plane at Cali airport, and grubbed in dustbins with different streetchildren to feed himself. However shortly afterwards, he was headline information.

Within the early hours of 1 June 1993, he was discovered wandering and dishevelled at Miami airport. He claimed to be known as Guillermo Rosales, aged 14, and said that he had arrived from Colombia as a stow-away within the undercarriage of a cargo airplane. How he survived the journey – or if his story was even true – has never been definitively defined.

That morning, Colombian-born Miami detective Jairo Lozano was driving residence from his shift when he heard a news item in regards to the teenage stowaway on a Hispanic radio station, Caracol, along with an enchantment for someone to act as a brief guardian for him. “There was a pal of mine who was going to do it and i known as him and he says: ‘You wanna do it?’ and i say: ‘OK’,” Lozano recalls. “He said it would be higher if I did it because I used to be a police officer and so I might maybe take care of the situation better.”

The story was already massive news in the US media when Lozano received to Miami airport. “Everybody was ready for me; they showed me this child, however he was even taller than me, and I’m 5ft 9in”. I mentioned to myself: Shoot – 14 years outdated? He had to be no less than 17 or 18. However, anyway, I signed the papers and took the child house.” Lozano’s wife Bertha tidied him up a bit before they went out to deal with the Television crews which had gathered at their home in central Miami. They filmed Bertha giving Juan Carlos a haircut. After the publicity, provides of assist started pouring in.

“There was this lawyer from Texas confirmed up at the home,” says Lozano, “and he said he represented a wealthy Texan lady who wished to take care of Juan Carlos and that he can be welcome to go to Texas. This lawyer opened an account for him, with $10,000 [about £5,690], to be used for no matter he needed.”

About two weeks later, Juan Carlos disappeared. “That was type of unusual,” says Lozano, “because I believed: he doesn’t know anybody in Miami. Then a few days later I opened the door in the morning and he was standing right exterior the porch. And I am going: ‘Where have you been?’ and he goes: ‘I went walking and that i acquired lost…’ And I assumed: ‘I don’t like this.’ Then about per week later he disappears once more for three days.

Juan Carlos again claimed that he’d “got lost”. But then Lozano and his wife came upon that he had family in Miami – an aunt, in the suburb of Perrine, about 45 minutes away. Coincidentally, Lozano and his spouse already knew her, by means of associates.

“So we took the child to his aunt in Perrine, and he was welcome and stuff, so we left him there and got here back dwelling,” Lozano recalls. Over the subsequent few days, he and his spouse found that some jewellery, tools and a bicycle have been lacking from their house. Lozano says they at first blamed their own son – but on a surprise go to to Perrine, they saw Juan Carlos with the bicycle, and located the jewellery and tools in his room.

The Colombian consulate had already contacted the Lozanos. “They instructed us that they had a criminal file on him and that he was not what he stated he was. They stated his mother was nonetheless alive though he had told us he was an orphan,” says Lozano. “After about two months with us, he was deported. He was an excellent kid, don’t get me dinosaur shirt girls improper – but he lied to us.”

Lozano saw Juan Carlos twice extra. The primary time was a number of months later, when he and Bertha had been back in Colombia on vacation, visiting family. A radio station in the capital, Bogota, had asked to interview Lozano in regards to the well-known teenage stowaway – and arrange a surprise reunion. “They said: ‘Guess what? He’s right here!’,” Lozano recalls. “So we greeted him and hugged him, and that i noticed he had some sort of ID card hanging spherical his neck, but it was turned backwards and that i couldn’t see the picture. So I am going: ‘Is this some work ID you’ve obtained?’ And he goes: ‘Yeah, I’m working at the airport right here.’ So I mentioned: ‘Oh, that’s really nice…’ And that i reached out to the ID and turned it around and i noticed that it was not his. It was the ID for somebody else.”

Lozano later discovered that Juan Carlos had one way or the other made it back to Miami. He thinks it was in early 1994 that the pair dinosaur shirt girls bumped into each other in the future on a street nook on Coral Way. “We stated a number of phrases. He stated: ‘Hi Dad,’ and that i said: ‘Hey, how are you?’ And he said: ‘I’m working’ – and i stated ‘that’s good’ and that was about it. That was the last time I noticed him.”

Lozano says that, even now, he’s not sure if the stowaway account was true. “After all of the stories he’s been telling… I just don’t know. The individuals who found him stated he was sort of freezing, and that they took him to a doctor… but I can’t let you know if that’s true. A pal of mine who flies those forms of aircraft says it’s inconceivable to outlive, that you’d be crushed by the wheels or freeze to demise. But from Bogota to Miami it’s only three-and-a-half hours. So maybe he did it.” He remembers Juan Carlos as an clever kid. “But he wasn’t utilizing that intelligence for good. He was doing wrong. It was fairly clear he had psychological issues. But I didn’t assume he would end up like he did.”

Based on newspaper reporter Luis Angel Murcia, an area correspondent for certainly one of Colombia’s national dailies, El Pais, there appears to be barely any hint of Betancourt’s household in Roldanillo now, aside from a distant cousin who claims to not know him. (omega) Betancourt’s mom Yolanda is believed to be in Cali. Murcia has been advised she scratches a residing there, taking in washing. How, from such humble beginnings, Betancourt managed to turn out to be fluent in so many languages and cross himself off as a sophisticated global traveller is another mystery. Even detectives who have pursued Betancourt for years don’t know.

Amongst those who have pursued him the longest are Andy Swindells and Christian Plowman, from London’s Metropolitan Police Resort Crime Unit. That they had been after the then-unidentified thief since 2001, when Betancourt pulled a string of huge London hotel burglaries, together with the £40,000 Mandarin Oriental theft.

It was when Betancourt got here back to London in late 2004 – and there were stories of robbed rooms at the Grosvenor Home, Savoy, Royal Garden and Dorchester accommodations – that DS Swindells and DC Plowman went back to the paperwork. “We didn’t think he’d be in England,” says Swindells. “We guessed he was most likely in Vegas or Russia.” Then, on 20 December that yr, Swindells was off responsibility and had been out for a drink with some associates in the West Finish. At about 8pm he was referred to as back to Marylebone police station to deal with an arrest. It was close enough to stroll.

It was dark and drizzling as Swindells hurried alongside Conduit Street, in Mayfair. He had by no means seen Betancourt earlier than; only his photograph. However as he become St George Road, two men on the alternative pavement caught his eye. “One was a guy in a protracted, black leather-based jacket,” says Swindells. “The method he was dressed was elegant and expensive – however there was something about him which wasn’t quite proper. I believed this might presumably be him.” He quickly referred to as Plowman from his cellular. Plowman at first thought it was a wind-up – and then set off running from the workplace in Marylebone. Swindells followed the two males along Conduit Avenue, then walked fast on the other pavement to get forward of them, crossed the street, and doubled again to stroll past and see them face-to-face. But, beneath the streetlamps, he couldn’t select Betancourt’s most apparent distinguishing characteristic – a blue-ish mole simply above his nose.

Swindells adopted the men by way of Berkeley Sq., and into a Sainsbury’s store on Berkeley Avenue, near the Ritz. “He and his mate have been procuring; I regarded right at him throughout the aisles, and that i might see he had the mole – and that i known as Christian and whispered: ‘It’s him!’ I used to be still pondering to myself: ‘Is this actually the guy we’ve been looking for for so lengthy?’”

Plowman arrived simply as Swindells was ending the call. He was satisfied. Betancourt was arrested, sporting a £2,000 leather-based jacket stolen from the Bahraini businessman at the Dorchester and with the man’s £8,000 Franck Muller watch on his wrist. Back at the spare room of the council flat in Lisson Grove the place Betancourt had been staying, Swindells and Plowman found a treasure trove.

“There was loads of stuff, thousands of pounds in different currencies, and all the purchasing taken from the Dorchester – stuff that linked him to the offence,” says Swindells. There have been also false IDs: a Russian passport carrying Betancourt’s photograph and a Spanish one in the title of David Iglesias Vieito – additionally bearing Betancourt’s photograph – which had been stolen from its true owner within the Canary Islands. There were baggage tags from St Petersburg and a airplane ticket to Istanbul; and a receipt for a £20,700 Jaeger-LeCoultre watch stolen from the Dorchester, which was never found. The flat was rented by a French man whom Betancourt had lately befriended, and who had no idea he was harbouring one of the world’s top conmen. Shocked, he informed the detectives he knew Betancourt only as “David from Spain”.

Interviewed by Swindells and Plowman, Betancourt admitted every little thing – the 4 London hotel burglaries in 2001, and the four in 2004. Agreeing to have 14 other counts considered, he was charged with the 2001 Mandarin Oriental burglary of £40,000 in jewellery and money, and the 2004 Dorchester burglary of jewellery and cash worth £36,000. He pleaded guilty at Bow Road Magistrates Court docket and, in April last yr, was sentenced to 3-and-a-half years. However lower than three months later he had walked out of prison on the Isle of Sheppey, and was on his spending spree in Dublin.

The burglary at the Merrion wasn’t found until the next day, when the household in the Kirk Suite had been packing to depart and found they couldn’t open their safes. The same security guard was known as up to open them – and remarked that he’d completed the same factor the previous day. The safes, of course, have been empty.

After talking with staff, Dublin detective Bryan McGlinn knew he was not coping with a small-time native thief. He known as American Categorical and seized CCTV footage from the retailers where Betancourt had used the stolen card. The next morning – 18 June – McGlinn and a colleague arrived early at the Merrion to conduct more interviews. Whereas they waited, McGlinn flicked by way of the newspapers in the foyer. “I noticed a headline that learn: ‘Flamboyant jewel thief cons his manner out of prison’, with a photograph… and after i learn the article it seemed it was the same modus operandi,” McGlinn recalls. “We showed it to the safety man instantly and stated ‘Is that him?’ With out hesitating, he mentioned: ‘Yes.’”

McGlinn known as all the city’s massive inns to warn them, and visited all the B and if he arrived there he would need some cheap hostel the place he may keep his head down,” says McGlinn.

He was proper. On Thursday, a tip-off took officers to an internet cafe close to O’Connell Street. Betancourt had been staying in a £35-a-evening hostel nearby. In a backpack he had some jewellery, a laptop computer, an Austrian passport that had been stolen in Cork and the American passport stolen from the Merrion – expertly solid with Betancourt’s personal photograph. On his wrist was the Rolex Daytona he had got from Weir’s. He admitted the Merrion burglary and two counts of theft by deception for utilizing the Amex card to purchase the Rolex, and the chain and ring from the second jewellers, John Brereton.

However he claimed that he was Alejandro Cuenca, from Spain. “He’s a pleasant man, very plausible, very believable; and he admitted all the things, no matter we asked. He’s extraordinarily convincing,” says McGlinn. “If I hadn’t known higher I might have been pretty certain that he was exactly who he stated he was. He even has a tattoo of the Spanish flag on his arm. However we sent his fingerprints off to the Met and Interpol, who each confirmed they were Betancourt’s.”

A few weeks ago, Betancourt appeared in court in Dublin, wearing denims and a blue jumper. Having already pleaded guilty, he was sentenced to two years for the burglary on the Merrion Hotel, and was given two further sentences of 18 months, to run concurrently, for theft by deception of the watch and the jewellery. Additionally awaiting him upon his eventual release is a European arrest warrant issued by the French authorities in reference to thirteen offences allegedly committed in resorts in France. Others warrants are anticipated from the UK and the US. When he was sentenced, Betancourt didn’t react or say a word.

McGlinn recalls that in interviews with Betancourt it was when the fingerprint evidence – and thus his actual name – was first put to him that his pleasant demeanour totally modified. “After that,” McGlinn recalls, “he simply said: ‘Nothing else to say.’”

Other detectives have noticed this too. Although he’s quite prepared to admit to his crimes (in hopes, clearly, of a lesser sentence), the one factor which appears to unsettle Betancourt the most is being confronted with evidence of his actual identification. This may occasionally simply be the skilled conman’s instinctive response – or it may be extra. Now 29, he has claimed to be other folks ever since arriving at Miami airport as a teenager. Whatever is buried in Betancourt’s past that led him to this profitable however lonely life of cons and multiple identities is still – like so much else – a thriller.

Christian Plowman remembers how Betancourt once began crying in a London police cell when he put it to him that his actual title was Juan Carlos Guzman-Betancourt. Plowman didn’t buy the tears – “I thought it was just extra play-acting” – but he nonetheless found it an odd reaction. “He wasn’t having any of it. I just don’t know why he won’t admit it – in any respect. It was very weird,” says Plowman.

“Usually in interviews we ask individuals their motivation for committing offences, because there could be some form of mitigating circumstance. However I remember asking him why he did this. And he just appeared away and said: ‘You wouldn’t understand…’”

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