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Man Charged in Guggenheim Name Scam Won’t Serve Jail Time

Vladimir Zuravel, one of three people charged with posing as members of the wealthy Guggenheim family in a plan to swindle investors through phony billion-dollar deals, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to one year probation.

Prosecutors charged Zuravel, David Birnbaum and Catarina Pietra Toumei in January 2011 with a scheme to use the Guggenheim name to lure investors into fake investments in oil, bank guarantees, diamonds and gold. They claimed Zuravel, an immigrant from Moldova, used the name “Vladimir Z. Guggenheim.”

In a hearing yesterday in Manhattan federal court, Zuravel pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of criminal contempt, according to court records. Zuravel admitted that in a separate civil case he disobeyed a judge’s order barring the group from using the Guggenheim name.

Charges against Birnbaum, who allegedly used the name “David B. Guggenheim,” were dropped in September. Toumei, a California woman, is seeking a deferred prosecution, her lawyer said in an April 25 letter to the court. If granted, a deferred prosecution would allow Toumei to resolve the case without a criminal conviction.

When prosecutors filed the original charges, they said the three defendants tried to use the Guggenheim name to enter business relationships with former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and Coca-Cola Co.

Zuravel, who claimed to be Birnbaum’s adopted son, told the court at the time that the criminal charges were the result of “just a simple mix-up.”

The Guggenheim family is descended from Meyer Guggenheim, a Swiss immigrant who made a fortune in mining and smelting in the 19th century. They are known for charitable giving, including the establishment of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The case is U.S. v. Toumei, 11-Mag.-207, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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