RICH, FAMOUS AND TARGETED
Senior citizens and online shoppers aren't the only groups targeted by scam artists. For con artists and cheats, celebrities are walking bullseyes with hefty bank accounts. Celebrities of all stripes — and their fortunes — often find themselves in the crosshairs of devious employees and friends who find a way to fleece them. Here are 16 memorable celebrity money mishaps.
In 1989, pop music superstar Billy Joel sued former manager Frank Weber, who happened to also be his former brother-in-law and godfather to Joel's daughter. The $90 million suit alleged that Weber used deception, shady investments, and outright theft to steal from Joel for years. After drawn-out court battles, the multi-talented musician penned "Great Wall of China," a song that allegedly chronicled the disappointment and betrayal he felt.
In 2001, British superstar Elton John lost a protracted court battle after filing a $30 million lawsuit against his former accounting firm. John, who once spent $60 million in 20 months on flowers, alleged that PricewaterhouseCoopers and his former manager billed him inappropriately and mismanaged his estate.
Bernie Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence for running a Ponzi scheme that ensnared many celebrities. Actor John Malkovich reportedly lost $2.2 million to Madoff.
Famed actor Robert DeNiro was among the victims of art dealer Lawrence Salander, who was prosecuted by the Manhattan district attorney in 2009. DeNiro lost an estimated $1 million to the scam when the perpetrator allegedly sold around 50 of his late father's paintings and never paid DeNiro's estate.
In 1996, the former manager of pop superstar Sting was jailed for six years for stealing nearly $5 million from the British rocker. The adviser, who was employed by Sting for 15 years, reportedly used the money to settle personal debts and make sketchy investments.
Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, who died in 2016, dedicated his life to helping others. Unfortunately, convicted scammer Bernie Madoff apparently helped himself to funds from both Wiesel's charity and personal savings. Wiesel's charity Foundation for Humanity was bilked of $15.2 million and Wiesel lost his entire life savings.
"Kill Bill" actress Uma Thurman recently sued a disgraced celebrity financial adviser for allegedly swindling her out of nearly $2.5 million. The adviser had just finished serving a lengthy prison sentence for financial crimes when Thurman accused him of irresponsibly investing her money.
Hot-headed tennis great John McEnroe said he fell victim to Lawrence Salander, the same art dealer who reportedly Robert DeNiro, and lost $2 million. McEnroe pursued legal action in 2007, claiming that Salander sold him a painting that had liens against it.
According to Courtney Love, the estate of her late husband and rock icon Kurt Cobain was victimized by ongoing identity theft. More than a decade after Cobain's death the Nirvana frontman's estate, including money reserved for the education of the couple's daughter Frances Bean, was allegedly taken for $36 million.
Former Jacksonville Jaguar Fred Taylor reportedly lost his entire 1998 signing bonus of $3.6 million to his agent. Taylor told Sports Illustrated that he considered Tank Black, then one of the biggest agents in the country, to be a friend and father figure. Black was later accused of running one of the biggest scams in the history of pro sports.
In 2011, Beverly Hills spa owner Maria Gabriela Hashemipour was sentenced to community service, probation, and nine months of home confinement for making unauthorized charges to the credit cards of her celebrity clients. Among her top victims was actress Liv Tyler, who lost nearly a quarter-million dollars.
One bizarre and disturbing scam targeted actress and model Cindy Crawford and her husband, entrepreneur Rande Gerber. An extortionist came across a photo of the couple's 7-year-old daughter tied to a chair during a game of cops and robbers, and threatened to give the picture to the media if they didn't pay him $100,000. The couple balked and called the FBI instead.
In 2016, then-Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez was one of the more famous athletes named as a victim in a federal prosecution of a man believed by many to be both a financial pro and a friend. The indictment alleged that Ash Narayan siphoned up to $33 million from a collection of athletes across all sports, including $7.8 million from Sanchez.
One of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game, John Elway fell victim to a Ponzi scheme launched by a hedge fund manager. By the time authorities caught up with the alleged con man, less than $10 million was left from the $71 million investors contributed. Elway and his partner are believed to have invested $15 million.
In 2009, several pro baseball players found their bank accounts frozen and quickly learned they were victims of a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Among them was pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who played for the Minnesota Twins and New York Mets. Although the dollar amount Pelfrey lost is not clear, the pitcher said at the time that 99 percent of his money was tied up in the scam.