Uma Thurman, Other Stars Targeted in $30-Million Ponzi Scam

Uma Thurman, Other Stars Targeted in $30-Million Ponzi Scam
From left: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and Uma Thurman
Frederick M. Brown/Getty; Splash News Online; Reuters/Landov

updated 05/28/2010 at 10:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/28/2010 10:30AM

Just because you're a celebrity doesn't mean you're immune from being ripped off. Witness the jaw-dropping tale of a "Scammer to the Stars" who allegedly operated a Ponzi scheme that bilked $30 million from the likes of Uma Thurman, Wesley Snipes, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, playwright Neil Simon, directors Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese and Nora Ephron, illusionist David Blaine, and celeb photographer Annie Leibovitz.

And though some of the luckier stars smelled a rat and got their money out in time, on Thursday federal prosecutors arrested so-called financial adviser Kenneth Starr, 66, in his $7.5-million Manhattan condo – where he was hiding in the closet, until federal agents spotted his shoes underneath the door, according to The New York Times.

Initially, Starr's wife, Diane Passage, a former dancer at the Scores strip club, told the agents that Starr was not home. But then, reports the New York Post, quoting the agents, she pointed upstairs and whispered, "He's upstairs."

Not a Complete Surprise

"News of Ken Starr's arrest does not come as a complete surprise to me, and I will follow this story with great interest," photographer Leibovitz said in a statement. "Ken Starr no longer represents me and has not for some time."



Thurman, The Daily Beast first reported, was forced to confront Starr personally about $1 million that had mysteriously gone missing from her account. The money was then replenished, says The Times, when Starr took it out of the account of another client, a talent agent and his wife.

The Post reports that word of the Thurman incident spread through Starr's celebrity roster like wildfire.

A Mini-Madoff

With comparisons to that greatest Ponzi schemer of all time, Bernard Madoff, who ripped off such celebrity clients as Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Steven Spielberg, Larry King, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Malkovich, baseball legend Sandy Koufax and several organizations to the tune of $60 billion, Starr spent his time schmoozing with A-listers. He donated to charity events where he could rub shoulders with them and allegedly lure them into his money management firm, which he presented as a kind of exclusive private club.



Madoff, 72, is now serving a 150-year prison sentence for his misdeeds. Ironically, both his and Starr's offices were located in the same Third Avenue Manhattan office building.

"Starr had an M.O. that has become unfortunately familiar in recent times," Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said at a press conference Thursday. "He used his access to famous and powerful clients to burnish an image of trustworthiness, inducing them to entrust him with management and control of their financial affairs."

As agents on Thursday left Starr's offices with 60 boxes of documents loaded onto a rented U-Haul, says the Post, among the stunned employees, one said aloud, "I'm ready to puke."

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