BUSINESS

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A CON MAN

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI May 7 2007
BUSINESS

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A CON MAN

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI May 7 2007

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A CON MAN

BUSINESS

Come back to Canada and face prison? Jurgen von Anhalt isn’t stupid.

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI

Last July, on a sweltering afternoon in south Florida, a few hundred guests—invitation onlygathered by a runway at the Pompano Beach airport. They sipped wine, nibbled on cheese and stared into the sky as a black and yellow helicopter appeared in the distance. Sitting in the front seat was the man everyone came to see, the lovable, smooth-talking German prince who, after a 10-year hiatus, was about to relaunch his revolutionary art career. “Ladies and gentlemen,” proclaimed the master of ceremonies. “Here he comes!”

As the crowd cheered, Jurgen von Anhalt— a.k.a. Jurgen Prinz von Anhalt, Duke of Saxony, Count of Ascania—strolled toward a nearby Bombardier jet (or, as he calls it, his “$25-million paintbrush”). Minutes later, the 64-year-old was standing directly behind the engine’s powerful exhaust, grey hair and blue jeans flapping in the wind like a man caught in a hurricane. Waving to his fans one more time, von Anhalt picked up a can of white paint and tossed it in the air. He reached for the red can next. Then green. Then yellow. As he emptied each one, the blast of the engine pounded the paint onto a giant canvas a few metres away. “I’ve never seen anything so fabulous,” said one woman in the audience. “The painting is gorgeous.” Susan Foster, a

local politician, was so impressed with the splatters that she presented the prince with an official proclamation, expressing the city’s “pride and honour in his visit.”

What the VIPs lining the runway that day didn’t know was that the man splashing house paint all over himself was, at the time, facing 27 charges in Canada for his role in the socalled Lydia Diamond caper. Two months ago, a Toronto judge found him guilty on all counts, ruling that he and his ex-wife—Princess Emilia von Anhalt—staked some land north of Toronto and spent the next few years enjoying the good life on the dime of naive investors who handed over their money in hopes of striking it rich in diamonds, alongside the prince and his princess. Emilia was the undisputed ringleader; the judge found her guilty on 65 counts of contravening Ontario securities law and slapped her with a two-year prison term. But Jurgen was no innocent bystander, the court ruled. His punishment: 15 months behind bars.

At this moment, however, the self-pro-

claimed prince is nowhere near a jail cell. He lives in the Miami area, peddling his “Jet Art” and schmoozing with the local A-list—most of whom remain oblivious to the prince’s legal troubles north of the border. Von Anhalt isn’t hiding from anybody, and because his lawyer is appealing the sentence, he is technically not a fugitive, either. In fact, when Maclean’s asked to meet him a few weeks ago, he happily obliged. “The truth has to come out,” he says, in a thick German accent. “If I have to put the last money from Jet Art into the lawyers, then I will do it.”

Von Anhalt is standing in a double-car garage, smoking a cigarette and admiring his “masterpieces.” His outfit screams Florida: khaki pants, pink belt, brown loafers, no socks, and a linen shirt unbuttoned almost to the waist. A thick gold chain completes the look. The house is equally flashy, nestled in a posh gated community where the hedges are impeccably trimmed and the security guards are always on patrol. But it’s not his house. The way he tells it, a relative had some

extra room and offered to store a few paintings. Even the prince’s closest friends are not exactly sure where he lives. “This one is going to Italy,” he brags, pointing at a large round canvas sprinkled with blue, yellow and red. The sale price: US$63,000.

Tarinan von Anhalt—princess number five for Jurgen—is also in the garage, smiling as her sweetheart (they were married last June) recalls the origins of his abstract art. The story, like all his tales, is a lengthy mix of namedropping, arm-waving and sweet memories of penthouses past. It was the late 1970s, he says. Israel. “It came to me within seconds,” he recalls. “Why not build a ‘peace chain’ from Tel Aviv to Cairo? People holding hands from Tel Aviv to Cairo! And they will never, ever take a gun and shoot each other again.” It takes a few more minutes, but the prince finally gets to the point: the peace chain flopped (the politicians were nervous, he says), but during the same visit, a plane flew so low over his hotel that the entire building shook. “I said to my friend: T have an idea. I’m going to paint with the force of a jet!’ ”

And that’s what he did. In the late ’80s, von Anhalt travelled from city to city, wowing audiences and landing in the local press. By the ’90s, however, Jurgen packed up his paint cans, married Emilia, and moved to Canada in search of diamonds. Then he got prostate cancer. “I have deep knowledge about holistic medicine,” he says, sparking up another cigarette. “Deep. I’ve saved a few lives. And I saved my own. Three weeks later—gone. The cancer never reappeared.”

So he went back to work. “Then I find out that my former wife was f—ing everybody left and right!”

“Jurgen, no,” says Tarinan, cutting him off. Save that for lunch, she says. “The most important thing is that we’re rebuilding,” she explains. “It’s not about the picture everyone wants to paint—the high lifestyle. We are trying to make a living. We are trying to show that you can do something very positive with jets, not terrorist things like blow up the World Trade Center.”

Their grand plan is to launch a “Millennium Jet Art Worldwide Tour,” with stops in Rome, Berlin, London, China and Australia. “The last one will be Moscow,” the prince says. “I want a jet to be pulled on the Red Square. I am sure we will get the permit. The Rolling Stones performed there and it was packed.” They hope to make some money. No question. But the von Anhalts also insist that they are out to help the less fortunate. At each event, the prince promises to donate one of his creations to a worthy cause, to be auc-

tioned off at a later date. “I said: ‘If there is no charity involved, then I’m not doing it,’ ” he says. “I don’t take. I give.”

Don’t tell that to Marlene Wolfman. She first met the prince and his former princess in 2002, while working at a ritzy hotel in downtown Toronto. One night, a customer phoned the restaurant to make reservations for a “royal” couple. “That was how they worked their way in,” she says. “They were very charming and drank only the best wines and champagne. Money was no issue to them.”

VON ANHALT’S FORMER WIFE EMILIA WAS THE RINGLEADER ™ OF THE LYDIA DIAMOND CAPER, BUT JURGEN WAS NO BYSTANDER

It was not long before the von Anhalts made their pitch, urging Wolfman and a fellow waitress to invest in their company, Lydia Diamond Exploration of Canada Ltd. They boasted about their property in Wolf Lake, Ont., claiming that all 3,000 acres were potentially loaded with jewels. Emilia said she personally found a yellow, nine-carat diamond near “a big tree.” Wolfman was sold. She bought $1,000 worth of shares.

By then, however, the Ontario Securities Commission was hell-bent on busting the royals. OSC staff discovered that the von Anhalts had violated standard protocol for a private company, selling far too many shares to far too many people. Forensic investiga-

tors estimated that between 1996 and 2000, the couple collected $1.8 million from more than 300 gullible investors (private businesses cannot have more than 50 shareholders). In November 2002, the commission banned the pair from trading securities. But they didn’t stop. People kept buying shares, and the von Anhalts kept promising that everyone would triple their money once the stock went public.

The big payday never came. Instead, the couple skipped town. They divorced in 2004, and a year later, the OSC came after them again, charging both with violating the original 2002 order. Last month, when Justice John Moore sentenced them to prison, he described them as “repeat and flagrant offenders” who financed an “opulent lifestyle” with other people’s cash. Emilia didn’t even show up to defend herself. The last anyone heard from her, she was living in the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel with Lydia, the couple’s only child and the namesake of their now-infamous company (Maclean’s tried to contact Emilia by email, but she did not respond).

“She lied from the minute I met her,” Jurgen says of his ex-wife. “I trusted her totally, and I loved her as much as a human can love.

It was a Shakespeare romance. Now I don’t even know where my child is.” Jurgen and Tarinan are sitting in the dining room of Café L’Europe, a swank bistro a few blocks from the oceanfront mansions of Palm Beach. Before driving to the restaurant, Jurgen put on a fresh shirt, not because he was hot, just because he likes to change in the afternoon.

The new one is a Versace, black with purple and white flowers. When the waiter arrives, he orders the liver, “on the rare side.”

“This is a story about betrayal,” says Tarinan, a native New Yorker. “He believed his ex-wife and he let her control things.” Tarinan trusted her, too. The new princess actually shared a luxury condo with the prince and the old princess back when they all lived in Toronto. She also invested heavily in Lydia—$300,000 worth, she says. Unfortunately, like Marlene Wolfman and so many others, she never actually received a share certificate. And, not surprisingly, Tarinan blames that on Emilia, not Jurgen. “She was handling all the finances.” At trial, numerous shareholders put their hand on the Bible and said the same thing. Ken Parish, a dairy farmer turned insurance broker, bought $10,000 worth of stocks—all from Emilia. “Jurgen shouldn’t get the bad wrap,” he says. “He’s a victim, too.”

This much is certain: he definitely plays the part. Chewing on his liver, Jurgen huffs

and puffs and throws his hands in the air. The mere suggestion that the judge was correct— that he really is a well-oiled swindler—makes him furious. “You can’t have so many idiots in one spot!” he says. Again, Tarinan interrupts, pinching his leg under the table. “You have to get less excited or we call it off,” she says. “Eat.” But Jurgen keeps talking. About how he lost 11 years of his life. About the audit that proves the company he founded still owes him hundreds of thousands of dollars. About the massive windfall yet to come. “I’m still holding 20 million shares!” he says. “I know we are sitting on something unbelievable there.”

On paper, Lydia does still exist, but the company accounts are empty. The only tangible assets are the mining rights and about 2,600 shareholders waiting to see if their certificates are worth anything. Among the current board of directors is Heinke Martens, who—as if this saga isn’t twisted enough—is also godmother to the von Anhalts’ daughter, Lydia. “If there was a Nobel Prize for con artists, they would get it,” she says of her onetime friends. “They would have no competition.” When the truth emerged, Martens, a German by birth, did a bit of her own detective work. She discovered that years ago, Jurgen bought his royal title by paying a member of the real von Anhalt clan to adopt him. In other words, he’s no prince.

Jurgen scoffs at such nonsense, pulling out a birth certificate as proof of his royal lineage. If all goes well, he will soon have a U.S. green card, too. “And I want to go back to Canada,” he says. “I like the country.” But not yet. Not with a jail term hanging over his head. “I am very positive that once this appeal is over, the sentence by a smart judge will be taken off.”

And if not? Will he turn himself in? “No! No!” he says. “Do I look stupid?” M