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Escaped R.I. art dealer to answer to fraud charges

By Ray Henry
Associated Press / March 21, 2009
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Whether it's impressionist paintings by Monet, athletic headgear or medical tubing, federal investigators say Rocco DeSimone can turn it into a scam worth millions of dollars.

On the eve of his release from prison - a stay interrupted by a brief escape and manhunt - the 55-year-old art dealer faces a new indictment, this time accusing him of duping an inventor and others by saying he had access to deep-pocketed business connections. He pleaded not guilty yesterday to mail fraud and money laundering charges during a hearing in US District Court.

The US Attorney's office wants DeSimone held in prison until trial even though his sentence on tax evasion charges expires tomorrow. A judge ordered DeSimone jailed until a hearing on the issue next week.

Prosecutors argue the latest indictment is another progression in a criminal career that already includes impersonating a federal agent, an insurance fraud case and allegations DeSimone peddled a machine he claimed could turn rocks into rubies.

"He is an unrepentant, habitual con-man who moves from one fraudulent scheme to the next," Assistant US Attorney Lee Vilker said in court documents.

DeSimone intends to fight the charges, said his attorney, Richard Corley. "He is proclaiming that he is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing, and he's presumed innocent by the court," he said. "No one should rush to judgment."

In 2005, DeSimone was convicted of tax evasion for claiming he owned the painting "Canal at Zandaam" by Monet for more than a year before selling it, a lie that saved him roughly $420,000 in taxes. But a jury acquitted DeSimone of charges that he cheated an elderly New York City art dealer of almost $2 million in the sale.

He was sentenced to more than two years in prison.

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