Lady Catarina Pietra Toumei had a Rancho Santa Fe address and attended soirées of San Diego’s Beautiful People. She claimed to be an investment relations manager, “humanitarian and philanthropist.”
Then, in civil and criminal suits in New York, she and two accomplices were charged with attempting to defraud investors by claiming to be connected to the famed Guggenheim family as they tried to make multimillion- and billion-dollar deals for diamonds, gold, oil, works of art, and such.
Supposedly on behalf of the Guggenheims, she attempted to contact George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, press baron Rupert Murdoch, and other dignitaries.
She and her friends were written up as modern-day impostors by the New York Times, New York Observer, New York Post, and San Diego publications such as the Reader.
Last year she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and got two years of probation. Her accomplices — who both claimed to be Guggenheims — got off easy, too.
Now she has changed her name back to one very similar to her maiden name. In August, she printed notices in the East County Californian that Lady Catarina Pietra Toumei intended to change her name. According to a long takeout in the New York Observer, she was born as Rina Nastopka in 1966. She married three times and used eight different names over the years.
In early September, North County Superior Court declared that she is now Lady Katerine Nastopka.
Since the mid-19th century, various Guggenheims have made fortunes and become famed philanthropists. Guggenheim museums are celebrated for their collections and architecture in New York; Bilbao, Spain; and elsewhere.
In 2010, when Guggenheim Capital LLC and Guggenheim Partners LLC learned of the alleged misuse of the family name, they sued Toumei and her partners in New York, charging them with a nationwide scheme to defraud investors through false use of the Guggenheim trademarks and name, while claiming to be owners of the nonexistent Guggenheim Fund and Guggenheim Bank. The court banned them from further use of Guggenheim trademarks.
Then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York charged the three with being “criminal impostors” soliciting funds for “multi-million and multi-billion-dollar investment opportunities.” Noted the U.S. attorney’s office, “Catarina Pietra Toumei generally acted as the front-person in promoting these purported investments, calling herself ‘Lady Catarina Pietra Toumei,’ and telling potential investors that she was a countess.”
Jan Ronis, longtime San Diego criminal defense attorney, represented Toumei in the criminal case. “I was shocked this got filed,” he says. “Nobody lost any money, and nobody was going to lose any money” because the attempted deals were not credible. “It started like a lot of juveniles in romances that blossom over the internet. She was wooed over the internet.” She believed that she was actually dealing with someone “who had access to great resources” because of the Guggenheim name, says Ronis.
“She was a sympathetic woman who had ups and downs in life and hardships,” says Ronis. “It was a late attempt to try to attain fame and fortune that had eluded her.” The three people involved “got their thrills by corresponding with people who were rich and famous.” The two men “used her to do correspondence.”
I then asked Ronis about the false fronts Toumei has put up in San Diego and the many names she has used. “Smart attorneys don’t ask too many questions,” says Ronis, professing he doesn’t know much about her local activities.
Those activities raise eyebrows. The Reader reported that in 2009 she was a guest at a party sponsored by David Copley and Scripps Institution of Oceanography to honor His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco. The New York Observer obtained emails in which she allegedly claimed to have once been a fiancée of the prince. That publication also wrote that “she falsely claimed to be married to John Ratzenberger,” a TV star. (They had had a brief relationship.)
She has claimed to work for media outlets and individuals that deny she ever did, according to the Observer.
On her former website, bestsellingwriter.net, Toumei boasted that she had invested with “the fastest-growing privately held company in America and the fastest-growing beverage company in America.”
Actually, she was one of many persons who got sucked into a multilevel marketing scheme named eFusjon, Inc. The law offices of Alexander M. Schack in Rancho Bernardo sued the firm and its principals for being a pyramid scheme. The suit was settled secretly. The company apparently closed its multilevel marketing operation and has a mailing address but no phone number. Geoffrey Spreter of the Schack law firm cannot remember Toumei/Nastopka being involved.
Toumei has a website, sextradebook.webs.com, that supposedly promotes Sex Trade, Part Memoir, Part Fantasy, billed as a fictional thriller featuring a young prostitute, a showgirl, and a Harvard grad transvestite.
I went to the sextradebook site and found no book, but got to a site named Rescue Children from Human Trafficking, a purported nonprofit foundation that exposes child sex slavery. Many of the articles are written by someone named “Katerine.” There is a photo of Toumei/Nastopka, and she is quoted as an expert source in one of the articles.
I emailed the foundation and she responded. We set up an interview. She said she has been slandered in many stories and would share “exclusive information” with me if I would not reveal her new name. Having been offered several such deals before, I did not bite. She said she has lost 13 jobs in two years, is forced to do secretarial work, has no assets or financial support for her teenage son, and has been on food stamps. “I am not in investments or brokerage; I am just trying to get by,” she said.
But she has written a manuscript about “all kinds of government cover-ups, threats, and conspiracies.” But since I would not go along with her terms, our conversation ended…not, however, before she claimed that one of her accomplices is actually a Guggenheim.