Eiffel tower

The crook who sold the Eiffel Tower, not once but twice

onnt Victor Lustig is considered the biggest con for the biggest and bravest scam ever. With a career as a criminal that began at an early age, his latest scheme shook the world by successfully selling the Eiffel Tower in Paris not once, but twice. Victor Lustig, the genius born in a small town in Austria-Hungary, had a hypnotic charm, knew five languages ​​and was the biggest fraud in history. He used to trick rich tourists, using only his charisma.

If you’ve ever researched the most famous or notable con artists in history, Victor Lustig will always be on top. Believe it or not, Victor was accepted into one of Europe’s most prestigious universities, the Sorbonne. His life took a turn for the worse when he decided to drop out of college to pursue an education on the streets. By the age of 25, he was traveling the world, committing various crimes under different names.

Photo of ‘Count’ Victor Lustig (courtesy Jeff Maysh) circa 1920s (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

He pulled off an impressive record of arrests over 50 times, but somehow he always managed to evade conviction each time because he made sure the authorities would run out of proofs. This is what made him a true perfectionist in deceptive scams, remembering everything and relying on his character and the typical human nature that most of his victims would exhibit. The deception of his career had made him become the biggest swindler on the planet.

He arrived in Paris in May 1925 and posed as an American official. France was still recovering. He presented himself at the reception of the famous Hôtel de Crillon, and his identity was not for a moment in doubt. Lustig sent a letter to top businessmen working in the metal industry, inviting them to the hotel for a meeting. In the letter, he said that due to engineering errors, overly expensive repairs, and other political issues that he could not disclose, the demolition of the Eiffel Tower was necessary.

His idea was to act as a representative of the state, and with his charisma and intelligence, it was very easy to persuade anyone he wanted to appear. The tower was to be sold to whoever offered the highest amount. His audience was captivated and the bidding continued. It was not a common idea that anyone would ever think of. He started on the ideology that the French government needed more financial muscle to recover from World War I, so selling the Eiffel Tower was a credible move.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris/ France in 1930 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Victor was bombarded with offers. The “winner” was André Poisson who got ripped off for the sum of 350 million US dollars. Surprisingly, Victor’s scam was not revealed. Even after learning that he had been deceived, Poisson did not report him, so as not to be humiliated in the eyes of his colleagues. Encouraged by the success he had, “Count” Victor Lustig repeated the scam a month later. However, this time the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) was hot on his heels, not only for the first time he had sold the Eiffel Tower but also for counterfeiting banknotes on such a scale that he succeeded to affect America’s economy in 1920. .

Like most delinquents, it was greed that ruined him. Lustig succeeded in breaking the law until September 28, 1935. That evening, FBI agent G. K Fireston gave the signal to his colleague Fred Gruber. The two got into the car and chased the nine-street countdown. Finally, the federal agents drew their weapons. The scam started. According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. Victor Lustig was arrested and a New York judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He died two years later at Alcatraz prison from pneumonia.

‘Count’ Victor Lustig (right) leaves for Alcatraz (Courtesy of Jeff Maysh) from 1935 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In prison, he tells investigators that he was born in the Austro-Hungarian town of Hostinné on January 4, 1890. The town is organized around a Baroque clock tower and lies in the shadow of the Krkonoše mountains. , a region that is now part of the Czech Republic. Before being incarcerated, Lustig boasted that his father, Ludwig, was the town’s mayor, but in prison he testified that his parents were just poor peasants and raised him in a sinister stone house.

Victor Lustig claimed he stole to survive, but only from the greedy, the rich, and the dishonest. Victor died while serving his sentence at Alcatraz prison of pneumonia in 1944.