Victor Lustig: The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower Twice

Victor Lustig is always mentioned in the lists of the most outstanding cons of the world. He was arrested about 50 times, but each time he was released for lack of evidence, because he was a perfectionist in deceptive schemes, remembering everything and completely relying on the knowledge of human nature.

Victor Lustig was born in the family of the mayor of Hostinne, a small Czech town. The boy got excellent education, he was fluent in at least five languages, and the best citizens of the city gathered in his parents’ house. father sent his son to study at Sorbonne, but the young man quitted his studies. For several years he traveled all over Europe, making dozens of small crimes under different names. Most often he got introduced as Austrian Count Victor Lustig, whose property was confiscated by Marxists.

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Before World War I Lustig was earning by gambling and fake lotteries on transatlantic liners. From the beginning of the war, this source of income dried up. Instead of recreational liners armored boats sailed across the Atlantic, and Lustig had to find a new source of income.

After moving to America, the Count came up with a new scam. He is expected to have earned a few hundred thousand dollars by selling machines to print $ 100 bills. It’s a pity that the precise mechanism could produce no more than one bill in 6 hours, but it would not matter for a disoriented buyer tempted with easy money. What is more, he could buy several of these machines. For authenticity Lustig loaded his machines with two or three genuine banknotes, took 10 to 30 thousand dollars per machine from a buyer and was gone.

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When the machine suddenly stopped printing bills and gave out blank paper at the end of the day, the customer pressed brass buttons and clicked levers for long before he realized that he had been deceived.

Lustig is said to be able to profit on the Al Capone, although not just small fry, but crafty mafia feared his name. Lustig came to Al Capone, told a touching traditional story about the lost Austrian estate and asked for a loan of 50 thousand USD, promising to return twice as much in two months. Al Capone was intrigued by the possibility of such lucrative business, and ordered to give the required amount to Lustig. He put it on a bank deposit in Chicago, and at the appointed time took it back, leaving himself accrued interest, and returned the rest to Al Capone, describing vividly that the deal had fallen through. Al Capone was so surprised and pleased at such an original turn of events that gave this honest man an “award” – five thousand dollars.

In 1925 Victor Lustig returned to Europe. And almost immediately came up with a new scam, especially as its object was visible out of the windows of all Paris for 35 years already, getting rusted and causing more annoyance than respect. The only reason why the Eiffel Tower had not yet been demolished was the fact that during the World War I, it served as a watchtower observing the enemy aircraft, and nobody wanted to spend money on it.

The Count carefully examined the issue of non-ferrous metals – who, what, how much, and then forged documents, appointing himself the Deputy Minister of Post and Telegraph. Then he invited five of the largest owners of metals reclamation for a confidential meeting. The topic of the meeting was not mentioned in the official invitation printed on the fake stationery, it was only mentioned that the issue concerned the purchase and dismantling of a certain object onerous for the French economy.

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At the appointed time all five dealers came to the most expensive and prestigious Hotel Crillon in Paris. Lustig explained that he was speaking on behalf of the government and was authorized to announce a tender for the sale of the Eiffel Tower. Next Lustig offered businessmen to take their seats in luxury cars and drove them to explore on-site the object of the future trade. He was amiable, joked and answered all questions.

As a result, the tower was sold to Andre Poisson, who asked especially many questions, and was very nervous when the other participants asked questions in the meeting. During another meeting with Poisson Lustig hinted that it was Poisson who might be the eventual winner of the tender, and complained about his low salary. Businessman immediately wrote a check for 250 million francs, plus another half of that amount as gratefulness to the official, for which he received the documents for the Eiffel Tower. Soon Poisson suffered a severe disappointment. However, he did not go to the police in order not to spoil his reputation.

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All year long Lustig reveled and spent the money raised from the sale of the Eiffel Tower. To his satisfaction Poisson concealed fraud, and there was no scandal. But when the money finally came to an end, Lustig dared to even more unheard audacity – he decided to sell the tower for the second time, already for 350 million francs. But whether the Count did not bet on the right buyer, whether his wife turned out more perspicacious than Madame Poisson, but the trader went to the police and Lustig had to flee to the United States.

In America Lustig was engaged in making counterfeit money and was so successful in this that in 1934 a special department was created, which had to figure out: who flooded the United States market with counterfeit bills. In 1935, Lustig was arrested. during the search plates for printing bills and counterfeit money amounting to 51 thousand dollars were confiscated. The day before the trial, he managed to escape, but soon he was caught again. The court sentenced him to 15 years’ imprisonment and, in addition, to 5 years for escaping from custody.

Lustig was placed in the prison of Alcatraz, where he spent 12 years, and then died (whether from a brain tumor, or pneumonia) on March 11, 1947 at age of 57 and was buried in a common grave. The death certificate was written, that, most likely, his real name was Robert W. Miller. Minor difficulties arose when a clerk was to fill in the column “profession”, but after some thought, the official wrote the “seller”. counterfeit bills made by Lusztig got circulated in the US market for many years.