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Con man asks Rhode Island to help him appeal conviction

By Laura Crimaldi
Associated Press / August 8, 2011

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PROVIDENCE - A former Rhode Island art dealer who has posed as a Secret Service agent, peddled an invention promising to convert rocks to rubies, and orchestrated a $6 million con is claiming to be a pauper who needs the government to foot the bill for him to appeal his latest criminal conviction.

Rocco P. DeSimone, 58, has led a roller-coaster life, once listing treasures as varied as elephant tusks, a first edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird,’’ and a John Singer Sargent drawing in court filings, but he has perhaps come to its nadir: Court records recently counted $46.25 in his prison commissary account.

“DeSimone’s future is basically zero,’’ said his attorney, Paul J. DiMaio.

A judge ordered DeSimone last month to serve 16 years in prison and three years of supervised release and pay more than $6 million in restitution for swindling investors in an invention called the Drink Stik, a device that connects beverage containers to respirators and gas masks worn by soldiers in contaminated areas.

A preliminary forfeiture order is expected to recover more than $2.2 million for DeSimone’s victims once the items are sold by US Marshals, federal prosecutors said.

But DeSimone says he is millions of dollars in debt, owing the Internal Revenue Service $1.2 million and $1.6 million to a business partner. DeSimone claims what’s left of his fortune is a 2006 Honda Element valued at $12,000 and a little more than $3,000 in cash, checking, and savings accounts, including $1 in Smith Barney stock.

“I have been incarcerated for more than four years,’’ DeSimone wrote in an affidavit filed July 29. “I have lost my home. Most of my assets have been forfeited in the present case. I have had great expenses for my attorneys in the prior and present convictions. There have also been great expenses in the civil cases surrounding this matter.’’

But DiMaio said he believes the victims, who poured retirement and college savings into DeSimone’s swindle, will get their money back.

“If he had the money, he’d pay everyone off,’’ DiMaio said.

The affidavit DeSimone filed detailing his finances to support his case for a government-funded court appeal shows just how improbable his lavish lifestyle was.

DeSimone counts his only job as a stint in 1980 at the defunct Pawtucket Auto Auction, where he grossed $2,000 a month. His wife hasn’t worked since 2000, when she had a job at the Herbert Nursing Home in Smithfield and earned $160 monthly during her two months on the job, the affidavit said. Before that, she hadn’t worked in about a decade. Gail DeSimone did not return a message seeking comment.

He says he is owed more than $500,000 from friends and attorneys, including his biggest debtor, Florian “Al’’ Monday, a convicted felon who was sentenced to nine to 20 years in prison after one of his associates shot a guard at the Worcester Art Museum during the heist of Rembrandt’s “St. Bartholomew.’’

In a telephone interview, Monday called DeSimone a crackpot. He said he believes the $436,000 debt DeSimone listed refers to money that he passed on to an antiques dealer to broker the return of art stolen from a museum in 1990. He denied owing DeSimone any money.

DeSimone sold an 18-foot boat for $20,000 to pay one of his attorneys, the affidavit said. He and his wife also set aside a Vernet painting, “Napoleon on Marengo,’’ during proceedings in a civil lawsuit filed in 2007 by some of his victims in the con.

Prosecutors say DeSimone’s criminal career began in 1979, when he was convicted of impersonating a Secret Service agent. He then pushed an invention to convert rocks to rubies in the 1990s. He got caught up in insurance fraud in the 2000s and involved himself in “shady art deals’’ that resulted in a 2005 conviction for tax fraud, prosecutors said.

While serving that sentence, DeSimone escaped from prison.

Now federal officials are deciding where DeSimone will serve his prison term, a federal judge is considering whether the public will foot the bill for his latest fight for freedom, and DeSimone stands firm that he did nothing wrong.

“He doesn’t believe he committed a crime,’’ DiMaio said.