The Wall Street Journal
Fraud, Writ Large: Con Man Roils World of Fountain Pens
April 8-9, 2006
Mauricio Aguirre-Orcutt did jail time for impersonating a State Department employee. He later duped a Dallas college into naming him a dean. But he really got in trouble when he tried to con the rarefied world of pen collectors.
The 37-year-old Mr. Aguirre-Orcutt is serving a 57-month sentence in a federal prison southeast of Dallas. His crime: fraudulently obtaining a $4,200 fountain pen. During a three-year period, Mr. Aguirre-Orcutt amassed dozens of limited-edition fountain pens, often telling their owners they would be given to celebrities or powerful political leaders.
Pen collecting is a genteel hobby whose practitioners gather several times a year to show off and trade their often-bejeweled or engraved instruments, sometimes valued at tens of thousands of dollars. Pen merchants and designers want to get their pens into the hands of famous people for vanity, pride and, at times, profit. Like a picture of a famous actress wearing a designer dress to the Oscars, a famous person using a special pen can generate buzz and boost sales. Collectors tend to trust each other and often make deals on a handshake...
Itís not clear what attracted Mr. Aguirre-Orcutt to pens, though his lawyer, Michael Snipes, believes it was a desire to be close to the wealthy people who collect them. Mr. Aguirre-Orcutt didnít reply to a letter sent to him at Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution near Dallas. His wife, Julie, contacted by email, refered questions to Mr. Snipes.
...Mr. Aguirre-Orcutt pleaded guilty to mail fraud in Dallas Federal Court, accoring to Dallas U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper, whose office prosecuted the case. The pen world has changed since Mr. Aguirre-Orcutt's scams. Merchants say they still do business among each other on a handshake. But, when it comes to individual customers, 'if you're dealing with someone new, you almost start out with a suspicious nature until you verify," says Mr. Kallman, the El Paso dealer. "We're not as naÔve as we once were.'"
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