Upper East Side scammer, 71, dubbed ‘worst boyfriend in Manhattan’ appears in court in shackles ahead of trial for defrauding love-sick victims out of millions

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Nelson Counne appeared in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday to face grand larceny and fraud charges
  • His trial date was adjourned to May 18 as his lawyers attempt to recover key evidence in the form of deleted text messages
  • Counne is accused of scamming at least five women out of over $1.8 million, posing as an art dealer and convincing them to invest in his start-up company

An elderly man deemed ‘the worst boyfriend on the Upper East Side’ has appeared in court in shackles ahead of his trial for scamming several women out of nearly $2 million.

Nelson Counne, 71, appeared at Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday to face multiple counts of second-degree grand larceny, third-degree grand larceny and fraud.

His trial date was ultimately adjourned to May 18, allowing his lawyers time to recover the phone records of several witnesses who claim key evidence in the form of text messages was deleted.

He is accused of posing as a wealthy art dealer and scamming at least five women out more than $1.8 million after meeting them on a dating site and striking up a romantic relationship with each of them.

Counne has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held in jail on $150,000 cash bail or a $350,000 insurance bond.

Nelson Counne, 71, appeared in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday. The man stands accused of defrauding at least five women out of more than $1.8 million

Counne's trial date was ultimately adjourned to May 18, providing his lawyers more time to recover the phone records of witnesses who claim their texts were deleted

Counne’s trial date was ultimately adjourned to May 18, providing his lawyers more time to recover the phone records of witnesses who claim their texts were deleted

The elderly man has pleaded not guilty to several counts of second-degree grand larceny, third-degree grand larceny and fraud

The elderly man has pleaded not guilty to several counts of second-degree grand larceny, third-degree grand larceny and fraud

He failed to appear for a hearing in February, with defense attorney Danielle Von Lehman claiming he was feeling unwell due to his age.

The 71-year-old’s criminal racket was exposed in a New Yorker article dubbing him ‘the worst boyfriend on the Upper East Side’.

Prosecutors allege the accused con artist would meet unsuspecting victims on Our Time, a dating site for people aged 50 or over.

He presented himself as a wealthy art collector and investor with an impressive real estate portfolio including property in London, Florida and Saint-Tropez, as well as an imposing apartment near Central Park.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg claimed the instances of fraud date back to December 2012, but Counne, who was arrested last March, has denied the allegations.

The 71-year-old requested to be released on his own recognizance in May 2023, but the effort fell short as the judge deemed him a flight risk.

Prosecutors allege he used the aliases ‘Nelson Roth’ or ‘Justin Roth’ as he spun a tale about co-owning a fake start-up company alongside a former Google executive.

Soon into the relationships he would allegedly start pitching the women investment opportunities.

But he ‘refused to provide details, sometimes telling the women that the investment existed in a “gray area between legal and illegal”,’ Bragg wrote in a press release last year.

The accused con artist gained notoriety through a New Yorker article dubbing him 'the worst boyfriend on the Upper East Side'

The accused con artist gained notoriety through a New Yorker article dubbing him ‘the worst boyfriend on the Upper East Side’

Prosecutors allege he used the aliases 'Nelson Roth' or 'Justin Roth' and presented himself as the co-owner a fake tech start-up

Prosecutors allege he used the aliases ‘Nelson Roth’ or ‘Justin Roth’ and presented himself as the co-owner a fake tech start-up

After the initial investment, Counne would seek even more money, claiming it was needed for ‘investment-related expenses’ as well as ‘salaries and housing costs for the staff of the tech start-up,’ according to Bragg.

Conne promised to repay each of the victims their original investments plus a substantial profit on top, but this never panned out, as the 71-year-old claimed his funds were tied up in the investments, or his accounts were frozen due to investigations into his financial activities.

‘Ultimately, almost all of Counne’s claims were false,’ Brag wrote. ‘Not only did he not own homes in London and the South of France, he has never traveled internationally and does not have a passport.

‘He was not independently wealthy, and the only funds in his accounts were from victims of his romance scams.

‘Instead of being invested, the victims’ funds were used to make Counne appear wealthy to new victims, and to repay previous victims who had detected his fraud.’

One woman identified in the New Yorker piece as Kristie claimed she lost $5,000 to the alleged conman.

Their entanglement began when she met Counne at Campagnola, a pricey Upper East Side Italian restaurant, in 2000.

Kristie, who was working through a breakup at the time, said Counne presented himself as an English art dealer who was visiting New York to complete a deal.

Counne, pictured during his March 2023 arrest, convinced his unsuspecting victims to dole out thousands of dollars at a time for 'investment opportunities'

Counne, pictured during his March 2023 arrest, convinced his unsuspecting victims to dole out thousands of dollars at a time for ‘investment opportunities’ 

After the initial investment, Counne would seek even more money, claiming it was needed for 'investment-related expenses' and the salaries of his employees

After the initial investment, Counne would seek even more money, claiming it was needed for ‘investment-related expenses’ and the salaries of his employees

Some women even accused him of stealing their jewelry, which led to Counne being convicted and sentenced to one year in prison

Some women even accused him of stealing their jewelry, which led to Counne being convicted and sentenced to one year in prison

As their relationship dragged on, he later proposed to her with a diamond ring he told her not to wear until it was insured.

When a jeweler told Kristie that the diamond was not real, she confronted her beau, though the pair stayed together. 

Counne later invited her on a Christmas vacation to Europe, but cancelled when he supposedly had to receive treatment for colon cancer, Kirstie recalled.

When she attempted to visit him at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he claimed to be staying, staff told the bewildered woman that Counne had never checked in.

The 71-year-old managed to swindle her out of $5,000 over the course of their relationship, Kristie said.

She later realized that her $2,000 diamond ring was missing and immediately suspected Counne.

He denied the accusations, but his con began to unravel when Kristie received a call from another woman named Elaine who had lost a necklace while dating him at the same time.

The pair met a third woman in Philadelphia who realized she was also being tricked.

The women reported the stolen jewelry to authorities and Counne was slapped with a year-long prison sentence, of which he served eight months.

Among his victims are a Greenwich, Connecticut woman he defrauded out of $500,000 in 2022

Among his victims are a Greenwich, Connecticut woman he defrauded out of $500,000 in 2022

The 71-year-old would brag that he was a wealthy art collector and investor with an impressive swathe of properties including an apartment near Central Park (pictured)

The 71-year-old would brag that he was a wealthy art collector and investor with an impressive swathe of properties including an apartment near Central Park (pictured)

But Counne was undeterred, and in 2018, he was caught scamming other women under the name ‘Nelson Roth.’

That year, Counne began speaking to an Upper East Side woman online, claiming he was an art dealer with homes around the world.

He allegedly borrowed $7,000 from the woman’s daughter, Julia, which the woman later paid back herself.

When Julia read text messages exchanged between the pair, she learned that Counne owed her mother at least $60,000.

After confirming his identity with the help of a private investigator, Julia contacted the District Attorney’s office, which lodged a case against him.

The 71-year-old was also charged with defrauding a Connecticut woman out of $500,000 in 2022.

According to an affidavit, the woman contacted Greenwich police in March 2021 after providing a certain ‘Nelson Roth’ with $75,000 that had vanished into thin air.

The swindler had promised not only to recoup the money, but to ‘return her investment 10 times the amount she had provided,’ the affidavit states.

The Greenwich woman stopped cooperating with Greenwich police, stating that she and Counne were in a romantic relationship, according to the affidavit. The two wed in Virginia the same year.

But a Greenwich detective contacted the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and was advised that investigations into the man were ongoing, ‘with a total loss reported by the victims nearing $1 million dollars’.

Investigators were unable to find any commercial licensing or business activity of any kind and deduced that Counne had no source of income other than the scam.

The case was reopened in September 2021 when the Greenwich woman reached out to police once more, saying she was ‘always in fear’ for her physical safety. She claimed to have given Counne a total of $500,000.

Investigators obtained a search warrant and discovered that Counne had spent thousands of dollars dining at upscale restaurants and paying off his bills.

In addition to the numerous allegations of fraud and larceny, violence has frequently cropped up in Counne’s criminal past.

At just 34 years old, he was charged with, and later acquitted of, second-degree murder. The charges stemmed from the shooting death of a jeweler in Queens.

Counne was also charged with assault in Connecticut in June 2020 for allegedly hitting a woman during an argument. That charge was ultimately dropped.

Three years later, he was shot multiple times in the chest in a suspected contract killing. No one was ever charged in the shooting.

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