Former Cheers star John Ratzenberger has distanced himself from an ex-girlfriend who has been accused of posing as an associate of the art world's Guggenheim family to con millions of dollars out of investors.
Federal authorities allege Catarina Pietra Toumei claimed she was a countess from the famed New York family and said she was married to the actor in a bid to dupe top businessmen, including executives from drinks giant Coca-Cola.
The woman reportedly told potential investors she was in charge of brokering deals for the Guggenheim Fund and Guggenheim Bank - both of which were non-existent organisations.
Toumei allegedly teamed up with 67-year-old David Birnbaum and Vladimir Zuravel, 45, who passed themselves off as David B. Guggenheim and Vladimir Z. Guggenheim, to pull off fake schemes surrounding the sale of $1 billion-worth of diamonds "from the private collection of the Guggenheim family", a $4 billion sale of crude oil from China, and a venture to distribute "Guggenheim Vodka", according to prosecutors.
The two men were arrested on suspicion of wire fraud on Monday (31Jan11), but were subsequently released on bail.
Toumei has yet to be caught, but Ratzenberger's representative has moved swiftly to dismiss any link between the actor and his one-time ex.
His publicist, Diane MCNamara, tells the New York Post, "Mr. Ratzenberger had a short-lived relationship with Ms. Toumei, almost two years prior to this complaint. He is unaware of this alleged criminal activity and is saddened that her life has taken this turn."
If convicted of the fraud charges, all three suspects face up to 20 years in prison, reports the New York Post.
The real Guggenheim family is pursuing its own legal action against the trio for tainting its good reputation.