Dealing with a con-artist

Monday, July 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

On Friday we reported on Franca Cucinella, whom Tulsa Police say has been running a pretty slick con game for several weeks.

Monday, News on 6 consumer reporter Rick Wells introduces us to two of her alleged victims to show even successful businessmen can get taken. Larry Duca: "The thing is she's very believable, very believable, she's very good." Michael Gilbert: "I know she was Italian. I know she was a woman and I know her cell phone number and that's all the truth there was to it, everything else was a lie."

Two businessmen who tell us they were taken by 23-year-old Franca Cucinella. Tulsa fraud detective Sgt Tony Cellino told us Friday she is a good con artist for one so young. According to police reports over a period of weeks she leased an expensive house in south Tulsa, filled it with new furniture purchased at Mathis Brothers.

Larry Duca installed a phone system, on the strength of her story about her family business in Europe. Duca: "She was explaining they wanted to get into real estate over here, and she had the blueprints of the places she said they were going to be building."

She paid for the phone system with a check. She gave Michael Gilbert a check for a car. Gilbert: "How will I know the check is good? My parents just wired me $2-million from our Swiss bank account." She showed him the wire he gave her the car. All of these transactions, the house, the furniture, the phones, the car all took place on or near a weekend when financial information couldn't be checked. In the end there was no money.

The house is empty again, and for sale. The furniture and phone system are back where they belong, so is the car Gilbert saw her driving on 11th Street and repossessed it on the spot.

Are there lessons we can learn? Duca: "I just say be careful who you're doing business with." Very careful.

Cucinella is in the US on an expired Visa. Tulsa Police are still waiting for some action from the Immigration Service. In the meantime, her bail bondsman refused to continue to guarantee her bail, so she was put back in jail over the weekend.