In his most infamous scam, longtime con man George French Jones targeted wealthy celebrities and sports figures, promising them Miami Heat courtside season tickets during the height of the LeBron James era.
Now, Jones is back in Florida facing charges in an audacious new enterprise: declaring himself the owner of other people’s luxury real estate.
Posing as a high roller, police say, Jones used phony documents to try to gain ownership of a high-end South Beach condo while at the same time trying to take out a $250,000 loan against the property. He’s also facing a second criminal case, accused of impersonating a condo owner to secure a $441,000 loan against the woman’s posh Brickell home.
In two other cases, civil lawyers allege Jones pulled similar scams — using phony driver licenses and court documents — to gain control of a beachfront Fort Lauderdale condo, as well as a mansion in the Cocoplum neighborhood of Coral Gables.
The latest allegations came as no surprise to earlier victims of Jones, a law school-trained smooth talker who has cycled in and out of jail for white-collar crimes in at least four states over the past two decades.
David Meltzer, a Los Angeles sports agent who lost $200,000 on phony Heat season tickets in 2013, called Jones a “consummate con man” with “balls the size of King Kong.” Despite his long criminal rap sheet, Jones wound up getting only 16 months in a California jail for the Heat scam.
“I was totally frustrated. There was no repercussions,” said Meltzer, who has yet to see any court-ordered restitution from Jones. “I knew he was going to end up ripping someone else off. There was no doubt in my mind. I’d a bet money on it.”
In the South Beach case, Jones is awaiting trial on charges of grand theft, identity theft and organized scheme to defraud. He has a Wednesday court date. An arrest warrant on the Brickell case was filed, but has yet to be served. He is currently free on a $30,000 bond.
Jones, 48, did not return repeated calls, text messages or emails for comment. He has been evicted from his swank South Beach apartment steps from South Pointe Park. Another address he listed in court files comes back to a rented mail box in Coconut Grove.
His Miami defense lawyer, Fred Moldovan, declined to comment on the pending case. “He’s around,” Moldovan said of his client’s whereabouts.
Court records show Jones hails from Washington, D.C., and graduated from the University of Maryland in 1990, later completing one year of law school at the University of Baltimore.
In the early 2000s, Jones wound up in Miami, starting a company that purported to be a “nonprofit working with underprivileged youth,” records show, but it’s unclear it was ever a real outfit.
Records show he has more than a dozen arrests in four states since the late 1990s, for everything from having counterfeit hundred-dollar bills to bank fraud. He got sentenced in 2003 to 18 months in prison for bank fraud in Pennsylvania.
Over the next eight years, Jones found himself in and out of jail for repeatedly violating probation while living in California, sometimes for disappearing, sometimes for flaking on restitution — and often for picking up new charges, such as passing counterfeit bills in Beverly Hills, a crime for which he was convicted.
Back behind bars in April 2009, Jones told a federal judge he apologized “for all my shenanigans.” He said he wanted to return to college and work as a paralegal. He swore his time inside the Los Angeles County jail had set him straight.
“I’ve had to fight for my life several times during racial riots. I had to witness people getting beat up daily. I seen a man raped, and I had to watch a man get killed senselessly over a burrito,” he said.
Jones got 24 months in prison, getting out in 2010. But he didn’t go straight as he promised. He continued to extend his rap sheet, including a 2013 conviction for stealing a rental car in Santa Monica, California, for which he got probation.
It was after that Jones began scouring the “The Robb Report,” a magazine aimed at the jet-setting elite, looking for victims. His play was to offer season tickets for the New York Yankees and the Miami Heat, which was then enjoying the championship successes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Among his unsuccessful targets: former NFL players Charles Woodson and Jarvis Green. He also scammed Nick Cannon, a TV personality and former husband of singer Mariah Carey, out of $15,000, purportedly for a share of the Atlanta Hawks.
But he got the most money — $200,000 — from Sports1Marketing, Meltzer’s firm he runs with NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Warren Moon. Jones claimed he was part of a group that was putting together a deal to sell a small ownership in the franchise, plus courtside seats, from minority owner Sidney Kimmel.
“It was to raise our profile and brand,” Meltzer said. “It’s more than being a fan of the Heat — because of LeBron James, we thought it was an incredible opportunity.”
He added: “I couldn’t wait to sit courtside next to LeBron James.”
When the tickets never showed, Meltzer went to the Miami Heat, which reported the scam to authorities. Jones was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport. The ripple effects of the court case spread.
A Las Vegas woman who answered an online ad for help from Jones went to prison for more than two years for helping the con man forge documents. Jones had her contact info stored in his cellphone under “idiot.”
Jones also falsely blamed Stephen Bernard, his former criminal defense lawyer who got him probation in the stolen car case. That earned Bernard a visit from FBI agents — and a lawsuit from Meltzer. Ultimately, Bernard was cleared, but not before costing Bernard $10,000 against his malpractice insurance.
“This is a guy I saved from going to state prison, and this is how he thanks me,” said Bernard, who called him a “horrible person who should be put away for what he’s done to people.”
Once he walked out of California jail, he moved to South Florida, where he rented an apartment at One Collins for $4,500 a month. The building is just steps from South Pointe Park and the beach.
It was in February that he began text messaging his neighbor, a high-end real estate agent named Linette Guerra, inquiring about buying her unit next door to where he lived.
In a series of messages released by prosecutors, he casually offered $2.5 million for the unit while playing up a playboy lifestyle. In one text, he bragged that his girlfriend was “having too much fun at Ultra,” the popular Miami electronic music festival. In another, he apologized for taking too long to return a text. “Just woke up rock star evening,” he wrote.
What Guerra did not know was that Jones was using her company’s name on documents to try to get the $250,000 loan against her own property, detectives said. When confronted by police, Jones acknowledged his “extensive white-collar criminal past” and numerous companies but refused to talk about the loan, according to an arrest report.
Jones didn’t actually get the loan money wired to him.
But in the case of Ana Marzal de Bolivar, the owner of a condo at Brickell Icon, lawyers say he succeeded in getting hundreds of thousands of dollars sent to him as a loan against her property in late 2015. According to court documents, Jones filed a phony deed giving himself control of the property, then got the $441,000 loan by signing his own name and Bolivar’s.
Her attorneys, Henry Bell and Manny Reboso, won a suit against Jones and one of his companies, which never replied to the legal action. The lawyers also complained to police, who are now looking to arrest Jones.
“Ms. Bolivar, like many other individuals, has been defrauded by George French Jones,” said Reboso, of Lagos & Priovolos. “We are confident that he will ultimately be held accountable for his criminal acts.”