Crime and Courts

Chief investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.

Cops Nab International ‘Catch Me if You Can’ Scam Artist in NYC

A con man who scored luxury goods and hotel rooms across the country for years by pretending to be a pilot and an injured veteran, among other identities, was himself conned into turning himself in to authorities in New York City this week, investigators say.

Jeremy Wilson most recently scammed his way into leasing a 2016 BMW X3 and renting a luxury two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan by stealing identities, writing fake checks and pretending to be a wounded soldier, law enforcement officials said.

"The worst thing about this is not only that there are real victims but that he was portraying himself as a war hero and was utilizing that story to be able to victimize other citizens," said Angel Melendez, a Homeland Security investigator.

Wilson is believed to have past convictions for similar scams in Indianapolis, Pennsylvania and California, investigators said, although they said they are still sorting out his many aliases. He was recently released from federal prison after his latest fraud-related conviction, police said.

After Wilson ran up more scams in New York, Homeland Security investigators and NYPD detectives duped him into turning himself Monday, officials said. They towed the BMW from his Hanover Square building in the Financial District and told him it had been taken as possible evidence from a shooting and that he could come retrieve the vehicle. When Wilson showed up at the 10th Precinct station, police arrested him.

Investigators had to use the ruse because Wilson was not with the car and they had to employ a strategy that wouldn't spook the career criminal or send him running, police said. 

Officials said a search of Wilson's apartment turned up numerous fake passports and other stolen IDs, military uniforms, Harvard and MIT hats and coffee mugs, computers and cash. In some cases, they said Wilson even pretended to be a pilot for a major airline so he could score hotel rooms and bill them to that company.

During questioning in New York, police officials said Wilson boasted of being just like the scam artist portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can."

Real veterans who have been tracking so-called "stolen valor" suspects said Wilson has been on their radar for years. 

"We find in every case of stolen valor that we've researched, there's an element of financial fraud -- everything from a free cup of coffee all the way through veterans benefits, in some cases millions of dollars," said Terence Hoey, a stolen valor investigator. 

Wilson also has a current warrant for his arrest in Massachussets. Officials there said he allegedly stole several Apple computers and IDs from MIT. He is accused of committing fraud with fake checks in order to lease the BMW there.

Wilson was awaiting a court appearance at 100 Centre St. Tuesday. A public defender said she expects to get the case but had not received paperwork to represent him at this time and had no comment.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office has also declined to comment.

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