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Will Mir 'savior' take Russia for a ride

Friday, April 30, 1999

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

He arrived in town in 1995, a charismatic British gentleman with a charming accent, a James Bond lifestyle and a self-proclaimed pedigree as an international financier.

  Peter Rodney Llewellyn

He turned out to be an international con man who bilked a Pittsburgh businessman out of $25,000 in an investment scheme involving an Indian tribe in New York and trust funds in the South Pacific.

Now Peter Rodney Llewellyn is making news again -- - especially in England and Russia.

This time he's apparently trying to wheedle a free ride on Russia's Mir space station under the guise of being its financial savior.

"He probably has them so [hoodwinked]," said Pittsburgh police Detective James Conn, who arrested Llewellyn here two years ago. "He's an egomaniac. Can you imagine what a ride on the space station will do for him the next time he tries to scam someone?"

In the last three days, Conn has fielded at least 10 calls from newspapers in England and Australia asking about Llewellyn's past.

The tabloids are so interested because the English-born Llewellyn, 51, has portrayed himself as a waste-disposal magnate who claims he'll pay $100 million for a one-week trip in space aboard Mir.

The 13-year-old space station has just over three months of life left, unless the private company running it can find the money to keep the station in orbit.

According to accounts in the Moscow Times, Llewellyn is claiming to be the owner of a U.S.-based waste processing company called Microlife. Russian space officials say he is a crack pilot and fit to fly, although Llewellyn admitted to the newspaper he is 100 pounds overweight and, while certified to fly a Cessna, hasn't taken to the skies in 19 years.

The Russians seem convinced that Llewellyn is the investor they've been waiting for. According to the Moscow paper, they even made him a vice president of a new financial subsidiary of RKK Energiya, the corporation that runs the station. The subsidiary was established in March to raise private money to keep Mir in orbit beyond the August deadline when the Russian government pulls the plug on funding.

If Llewellyn comes up with $100 million, he gets a ride on the station "sort of as a reward for him," Energiya spokesman Sergei Gromov told the Moscow Times.

Next month, Llewellyn is supposed to return to Russia to start training -- the Russians are expecting him to bring $10 million in good faith money. Llewellyn has also offered to build a waste-processing plant and a children's hospital.

Trouble is, those who know Llewellyn say the plan is just another elaborate scam pulled from a considerable bag of tricks.

British and Australian journalists checking up on him, one of whom called the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, say he's been involved in numerous financial schemes in Hong Kong, London, Singapore, Vietnam, Ohio and Perth, Australia.

News clippings from Australian and British papers describe him as a flamboyant Londoner who has over the years claimed to be a British secret agent, a Welsh lord and a British knight who traces his ancestry to one of the signers of the Magna Carta. He also claims to control family trust funds in Switzerland and France.

"He's a con man of the first order," said Conn. "He's brilliant, and he's been able to dance through the raindrops."

Except in Pittsburgh -- here, Conn and Detective John Mihalcin charged him with five counts of theft by deception for bilking the businessman. The charges were dropped when Llewellyn paid restitution.

The businessman now works for another Downtown firm and asked that he not be identified because he could lose his job. But he said yesterday he was eager to see Llewellyn exposed before he bilks the Russians, or anyone else.

In 1995, according to police, Llewellyn approached the businessman in the rest room of a London hotel after the man had just completed a successful deal.

Llewellyn convinced the man he was a high roller interested in investing in the United States. He later called and offered him a chance to invest in a casino on an Indian reservation in New York. Llewellyn, who had moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio, where his wife grew up, also visited Pittsburgh and offered the man an opportunity to invest in trust funds based in Samoa.

In the end, the man gave Llewellyn $19,000, and paid another $6,400 for Llewellyn's hotel accommodations in Pittsburgh.

Conn and Mihalcin obtained an arrest warrant for Llewellyn.

FBI agents from Dayton, Ohio, who were pursuing another fraud case against Llewellyn involving a $500,000 defense contract, picked him up in Yellow Springs.

When Llewellyn was brought back to Pittsburgh, accompanied by two lawyers, the detectives didn't need to interrogate him. One of them merely asked about his cashmere overcoat and he opened up.

"He said he paid 10,000 English pounds for it," Conn recalled. "He never shut up after that."

Conn later found that Llewellyn had befriended an inventor in Yellow Springs. He ingratiated himself enough to be named chief executive officer of his company, Cyberlink Mind Systems, after the firm received a contract from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Conn said Llewellyn was so destitute when he arrived in Yellow Springs from Perth that he didn't own a car. But during his time at Cyberlink's helm, the company's resources vanished and Llewellyn bought a $250,000 home, a Bentley and a Mercedes. He ran the company until the day Conn arrested him.

The Pittsburgh detectives and prosecutors, however, eventually withdrew the charges against Llewellyn when he agreed to pay $41,000 in restitution to the bilked businessman.

After that, Conn lost track of Llewellyn until the overseas newspapers started calling him Tuesday.

He said Llewellyn has probably been scamming people ever since the local arrest.

Why hasn't he been caught?

"These are complicated cases," said Conn. "You get very little restitution. You have to reach out across the country to catch these people. A lot of people figure it's not worth it."

Llewellyn, who had been registered at a hotel in Tel Aviv, Israel, was booked to fly to London on Wednesday, where a British newspaperman hoped to interview him about the space station deal.

He never arrived.

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