A Real-Life Con Man Took Inspiration From George Costanza

‘What’s the deal with crypto scammers?’
A Real-Life Con Man Took Inspiration From George Costanza

George Costanza came up with a number of dodgy schemes over the course of Seinfeld — from attempting to drug his former boss, to creating a fake charity at Christmas Time, to dating his own cousin just to annoy his parents. What did Marisa Tomei ever see in this guy?

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before one of George’s lies inspired a real-life crook.

Last week, a New Yorker named Thomas Sfraga pleaded guilty to wire fraud, after having convinced people to invest in a cryptocurrency that was really a scam — like, even more of a scam than a regular cryptocurrency. Using the crypto influencer personality of “T.J. Stone” (A-plus name choice, by the way), Sfraga reportedly “swindled more than $1.3 million from friends, neighbors and investors.” He even appeared on podcasts and emceed “cryptocurrency events in New York.”

In addition to the fictional crypto, “T.J.” also convinced his marks to invest in “bogus real estate projects” by masquerading as the owner of multiple businesses including “Build Strong Homes LLC” and “Vandelay Contracting Corp.” 

Yup, apparently Vandelay Industries has expanded beyond latex manufacturing.

The fact that Sfraga used the name of George Costanza’s fake company, which he invented purely to get a positive employment reference from his “former boss” Jerry, didn’t go unnoticed by prosecutors. Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office specifically noted in their press release that “in the television show Seinfeld, the character George Costanza falsely claimed to have interviewed for a job with the fictional company Vandelay Industries.” 

The office stopped short of commenting on whether or not the defendant was master of his domain. 

Sfraga promised his victims “investment returns as high as 60 percent in three months” but then kept the money for himself, using it to “to pay expenses, and to pay earlier victims and business associates.” 

Come to think of it, creating an elaborate lie in order to try and smooth over the consequences from a previous elaborate lie does seem like a very Costanza-esque move. 

It also seems pretty risky to name your fake company after one of pop-culture’s most famous fake companies. This guy may as well have pretended to be the head of the Bluth Company or McDuck Enterprises, or faked being the CEO of the Mr. Sparkle detergent empire. And it’s not like the name “Vandelay” was only used in one Seinfeld episode, George often referenced Art Vandelay, who began as a fictional importer-exporter, created so that Jerry would have an excuse to run into a woman he’d met at a party.

And, of course, Art Vandelay was also the name of the judge in the Seinfeld finale. Since Sfraga is facing a maximum sentence of “20 years in prison,” he and George may end up sharing a similar fate.  

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).


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