Bloomberg News

Woman Charged in Guggenheim Name Scam Won’t Serve Jail Time

July 27, 2012

Lady Catarina Pietra Toumei, one of three charged in a scheme to use the Guggenheim family name to swindle investors through phony billion-dollar deals, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was given two years of probation.

Toumei, 46, admitted today to helping her two codefendants violate a judge’s order, issued in a civil trademark lawsuit, that barred them from using the Guggenheim name. Toumei was sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Cott in Manhattan.

Prosecutors from the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan charged Toumei, Vladimir Zuravel and David Birnbaum in January 2011 with a scheme to use the Guggenheim name to lure investors into fake investments in oil, bank guarantees, diamonds and gold. Charges against Birnbaum, who allegedly used the name “David B. Guggenheim,” were dropped in September and Zuravel was sentenced to a year of probation in April after pleading guilty.

“I always was surprised that the case was filed,” Toumei’s lawyer, Jan Ronis, said after today’s hearing. “At all times, she truly thought they were Guggenheims.”

Met on Internet

Ronis said Toumei, who lives in the San Diego area, met Zuravel and Birnbaum on the Internet and had never seen them in person.

Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for Bharara’s office, declined to comment on the case.

Zuravel, whom prosecutors said used the name “Vladimir Z. Guggenheim,” pleaded guilty to contempt for using the Guggenheim name in violation of the judge’s order in the trademark case.

When prosecutors filed the original charges, they claimed the three defendants tried to use the Guggenheim name to enter business relationships with former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and Coca-Cola Co.

Zuravel, who said he was Birnbaum’s adopted son, told the court at the time that the criminal charges were the result of “just a simple mix-up.”

The Guggenheim family is descended from Meyer Guggenheim, a Swiss immigrant who made a fortune in mining and smelting in the 19th century. They are known for charitable giving, including the establishment of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The case is U.S. v. Toumei, 11-Mag.-207, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Van Voris in New York at rvanvoris@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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