Scams and shams — March 2016

Abby Lee Miller, star of Dance Moms, is facing 20 counts of bankruptcy fraud, while a southern Ontario resident has been sentenced to five years for one of the largest frauds in the region's history.


"Operation Goldfinger" leads to trial for actor's spouse

Sean Connery's wife of more than four decades, Micheline Roquebrune, 86, is facing up to two-and-a-half years in jail and £16 million ($33 million) in fines for allegedly bilking the Spanish government out of £5.5 million in the 1999 sale of the couple’s Costa del Sol home. The 85-year-old Scottish actor, best known for playing James Bond, was cleared of wrongdoing after a lengthy investigation dubbed “Operation Goldfinger” for the 1964 film in which he starred. Roquebrune has been ordered to stand trial early this year, on charges that she conspired with developers to hide profits from the villa’s sale.


Dance Moms star hid assets

Abby Lee Miller

Abby Lee Miller, the teacher on Lifetime’s popular reality show Dance Moms, is facing 20 counts of bankruptcy fraud. Miller, 49, who filed for bankruptcy in 2010, allegedly hid US$755,000 in earnings from appearances on the series by having payments made to her mother. The suspected fraud came to light when the judge saw an episode of Dance Moms and questioned why her involvement in the program was never mentioned in her bankruptcy filings.


NASA hoodwink

A Pennsylvania engineering professor and his wife have been convicted of fraud in relation to a US$700,000 NASA project. Yujie Ding, 53, of Lehigh University and Yuliya Zotova, 41, had a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop a sensor to track climate change. But instead of managing the project, they pawned the work off on graduate students and researchers at the university, who claim they never saw the couple at the lab. Sentencing is scheduled for this month, and each faces up to 20 years in prison.


Ontario man's $21m fraud

Kitchener, Ont.'s Vincent Ciccone, 65, has been sentenced to five years in prison and must pay $1.7 million restitution for one of the largest frauds in the region’s history. From 2006 to 2010 he promised clients returns of 20% to 30% via day trading and real estate investments, but it was a sham. He lost more than $21 million belonging to 160 investors.


Chinese media mogul jailed

Shen Hao, former publisher of China’s daily 21st Century Business Herald, will serve four years in prison after a Shanghai court found him guilty of extortion and fraud. He was arrested in 2014 for accepting bribes from companies in exchange for positive news coverage, and was forced to confess to the crimes over state television. Shen is one of the pioneers of independent journalism in China, which led many to believe the charges were trumped up by government officials opposed to open and truthful reporting.