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Upper East Side Man, 71, Sentenced to Prison for Long-Running Romance Scam

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced on Wednesday that Upper East Side resident Nelson Counne has been sentenced to 4-to-8 years in state prison over a series of romance scams that netted him close to $2 million.

Earlier this month, Counne pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the second degree and scheme to defraud in the first degree.

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“Nelson Counne used an expertly crafted persona and elaborate web of lies to convince women to hand over their savings,” D.A. Bragg said in a press release, adding that he conned at least five women. “While the scale of this fraud is remarkable, romance scams are all too common.”

According to a report by the New York Post, Counne tried to play off his string of crimes as simply a “misadventure” while speaking in court.

Presenting himself as an independently wealthy retired art dealer, Counne met women through various online dating apps, sometimes using aliases such as “Nelson Roth” or “Justin Roth.”

Soon after, Counne approached his victims with a hazy investment opportunity, telling the women that they existed in a “gray area between legal and illegal,” according to the press release.

He got his victims to give him money for totally fake investment schemes, including opportunities to invest in the massive Chinese online retailer Alibaba.

Although his victims were hesitant at first, Counne was persistent. And when they eventually caved, he turned to a classic Ponzi scheme tactic: instead of actually investing in anything, he simply used any new injections of cash to make himself seem more wealthy, and to pay off other victims in order to give his fraudulent behavior the illusion of legitimacy.

Counne ultimately netted $1.8 million from his victims between December 12, 2012 and January 22, 2021.

Counne’s infamy was first reported in an April 2022 article in The New Yorker which appropriately dubbed him “the Worst Boyfriend on the Upper East Side.”

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Romance scams are a common and lucrative scheme for would-be criminals. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans lost a total of $1.14 billion from such scams in 2023.

One of Counne’s victims, identified as “Ms. Gerson,” lost $50,000 in the scheme. However, she wanted him to know that she’ll be fine in the end.

“I want you to know, you didn’t break me. I still go to fine eateries, and you will be rotting in prison!” Ms. Gerson wrote in her victim-impact statement which was read aloud by prosecutor Raymond Castello, the Post reported.


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