Tuesday February 09, 2016

'Professional impostor' jailed at Rikers Island conned Edmonton man

Notorious con-artist and imposter, Jeremy Wilson, shown during an interview at Rikers Island jail complex.

Notorious con-artist and imposter, Jeremy Wilson, shown during an interview at Rikers Island jail complex. (Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times/Redux)

Listen 8:53

He had up to 27 aliases in five states. He claimed to be a United States war veteran, a British actor, a Scottish DJ, an MIT professor and an Apple executive.

But according to US authorities the title that best describes Jeremy Wilson is "professional impostor." Now, the accomplished con artist is behind bars at New York City's Rikers Island Jail.

Detectives say that for 25 years, Wilson has been stealing social security numbers and crafting elaborate aliases for himself all over North America — leaving a trail of victims behind. When US authorities finally caught up with him in January, he was claiming to be a wounded Afghanistan veteran and an airline executive.  

jeremy wilson in family portrait

Jeremy Wilson shown in a family portrait. (Charles M. Clark, Jr.)

"It was absolutely clear to me that this man has brilliance at a genius level," Larry Derkach tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's a terribly sad thing that he is pathologically criminal."

Derkach is the Executive Director of Edmonton's Jewish Family Services. Back in 2007, Wilson called the organization seeking their help. He told Derkach he was a Jewish American soldier, seeking refugee status fleeing violent anti-Semitic attacks in the United States.

"I must say, we didn't believe him a hundred per cent because it seemed like a far-fetched story," Derkach recalls. "At the same time, he was in need of some assistance and so we heard his story and did what we could to help."

Derkach eventually invited Wilson to live with him while he built his refugee case. At the time, he went by the name Jeremy Clark-Erskine.

"I have to tell you — we have pretty good sniffers here," Derkach argues. "It's kind of humbling to think that we could make that kind of a mistake but it's also something of a testament, I think, to his criminal brilliance." Deskach says Wilson had a near-photographic memory. 
 

"People will look at this and say, 'truth is stranger than fiction — nobody would make this up.'"  - Larry Derkach

It didn't take long for Wilson to spot an opportunity and take advantage. Shortly after Wilson moved in, he disappeared — along with Derkach's personal and financial information.

"He had purchased a one-way trip to Toronto. A hotel room. He bought a computer. He bought some expensive sunglasses. He bought a 6,000 dollar diamond ring — all of this stuff within a few days," Derkach explains. In the end, it amounted to $17,000.

jeremy wilson con artist seized items

Forged checks, fake passports, military uniforms and other falsified official documents were just some of the items seized from Wilson's apartment. (N.Y.P.D.)



Wilson was deported more than once as an illegal immigrant and has been jailed several times — once escaping by forging a judge's signature.

Despite being taken by Wilson, Derkach admits that he is still fascinated by the crafty imposter and his ability to continually elude authorities while on the lam.

"I think my first reaction was awe," Derakach concedes. "It amazed me that he has been able to, I suppose, talk himself out of being in prison."

Derakach believes there are other Canadian victims, including a woman who might have lived in Atlantic Canada.

If you believe you might have come in contact with Jeremy Wilson we would like to hear your story. Please contact us by email at aih@cbc.ca. Or, call our Talkback line at 416-205-5687.