Phantom Figurines

Online Fraudster Steals More than $300,000

By John E. Ouellet, CFE


Roland Granger was an experienced antiques salesman with an apparent clean record. Then he discovered eBay. He auctioned rare figurines, collected more than $300,000, did not deliver the goods and skipped town. Learn from this CFE as he investigates the fraud, interviews witnesses and eventually discovers the evidence that gave Roland a six-year prison sentence. 

MarchApril-PhantomFigurinesShe was a widow with three grown sons. Her late husband left her with a tidy inheritance that would have been sufficient for most women, but not for Eleanor Wallace; she was far too motivated and independent. At a mere 63 years old, she wanted more from life than idle contentment.

Roland Granger was unhappily married and living on the western side of Michigan, some 200 miles from Eleanor. Like Eleanor, Roland was not one to let life pass by without noticing him. He was two years younger than her, with a head for business and an eye for women.

 Eleanor was refined; Roland was brash. She was tall and slender; he was compact with a burgeoning belly. She took great pride in her appearance and kept her hair smartly colored and coiffed. He was gray, balding and often disheveled. She chose her clothing carefully, for appearance and fit, while he kept the appearance of a weekend golfer in mid-July on the 18th green. In a bit of a character turnabout, it was Eleanor who preferred the informal “Ellie.” He insisted on “Roland,” for its formality, because most nicknames lacked respectability, and others he thought were just plain silly. 

They met at an antique show. He was a seasoned pro, having been in the business with his wife for several years, and Ellie was still green. She used the money left to her by her late husband to start up her own business. Her sons warned her against such a venture. After all, she was getting on in years and had no experience — better to hand it over to an investor and live on the dividends. But Ellie had more trust in her own instincts than those of a stranger.

Ellie’s business was really more of a consignment shop. She took in trinkets and gadgets, knickknacks and doodads. Those items she liberally called antiques had no place among Roland’s genuine artifacts.

Roland was smooth. His glib ways made it easy for him to sell and for folks to buy. He knew his merchandise and priced it right. Anyone near his booth was a buyer — or so he reasoned. They just did not know it until they heard his pitch. But he was not condescending. He didn’t argue, tussle or mortify. Most of those who waved him off often returned later for small talk and perhaps a purchase or two.

Ellie was impressed. She was a more striking figure than Roland, but she was stiff and uncomfortable in the role of salesperson. She had little confidence in her business acumen and none in her products. During a respite in his day, Roland challenged himself: “See that piece you’ve got?” he asked Ellie, pointing to a costume broach. “I’ll sell it for a glass of wine with you after the show.” He took it back to his booth and returned an hour later with $45.

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