ATLANTA – Armed with an electronic voice changer and a talent for wooing loaded lonelyhearts, Georgia-based pulp-fiction fantasy author Mitchell Gross bamboozled a Florida real
estate agent by creating a phony securities firm and putting the investment straight into his own pocket. There was only one problem with what would be his last work of fiction — he forgot to write a happy ending for himself. Gross may have pled love eternal to his victim, but today he also pled guilty to charges of fraud and money laundering.
Facing up to 20 years in prison, Gross, 61, bilked Robbie Johnson for almost that many years after meeting her on the Jewish dating site where he often met his prey. After chatting her up on the internet and flying out to Miami to meet her, he spun tales of his book royalties blossoming into independent wealth from investment in a high-yield brokerage company. Name-dropping Stephen Spielberg, Pierce Brosnan and Kirsten Dunst as all being involved in turning his books into movies, he dazzled and sweet-talked Johnson into investing almost $3 million into something called The Merrill Company, supposedly a subsidiary of Merrill Lynch.
Gross gave her a phone contact to his investment broker, but according to court documents, when the smitten Johnson called the non-existent broker, it was Gross who answered, disguising his voice with his electronic voice changer. The Florida victim apparently didn’t think anything strange about getting financial advice from a weird robot voice because Gross had told her that broker man spoke through a prosthetic voicebox ever since throat cancer destroyed his larynx. In this way, the malevolently inventive fraudster played his own straight man, beginning a long con that lasted years.
“Much like the novels this defendant wrote, the stories he told to his victims to entice them to entrust him with their money or their legal business were also fiction,” U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said, “but of a far more sinister nature.”
Under the pseudonym “Mitchell Graham”, Gross was the author of a fantasy trilogy entitled The Fifth Ring and another book, The Emerald Cavern (and where else would you find a subterranean gold-digger than in an emerald cavern?) Under the name “Douglas Alan”, he published Circle of Lies, a crime thriller, but of course it was Gross himself who was running round and around in deception.
Maybe all those pseudonyms went to his head. A disbarred lawyer since the time he was caught playing mixmaster with clients’ escrow accounts and his own personal funds in 1991, Gross was also known to flash a fake CIA agent badge when he needed to come off as really powerful and mysterious. After pulling the switcheroo with his Florida real estate girlfriend’s money, he went on a spending spree that included buying high-class artwork, a sleek BMW convertible to go with his Corvette, a hoity-toity private golf club membership — and also some restitution payments to his other girlfriend-victim he met on the dating site, Jane S., a domestic relations lawyer in Atlanta.
Gross the ex-lawyer was also raking in illicit bucks from a lawsuit that didn’t exist. When pleading guilty in the Johnson case, he also admitted defrauding a couple out of $2.2 million in lawyer fees after convincing them their real estate business was being sued and he was handling the complicated dealings. If that’s not enough, there is other gross misbehavior in Gross’s past, including being a felon in possession of firearms, convictions for insurance fraud, practicing law without a license after he was disbarred, and even some alleged copyright infringement for bootlegging copies of court records. On top of it all, he even wrote fake book reviews praising his own novels.
Gross’s penchant for churning out prose also helped him pen convincing letters, purportedly from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Playing the good guy, he told the Florida victim lady that he would ask the SEC to check out “the Merrill Company”, the fictitious firm he dreamed up. He then forged SEC documents endorsing and praising the artificial company and the nonexistent broker, further convincing Johnson that her money was in good hands instead of the dirty paws of the washed-up author and disbarred lawyer she considered her gentleman friend. The fanciful documents showed the dummy broker to be a senior member on the Council of Economic Advisors under six presidents and even had the straw man giving Congressional testimony on several occasions.
Gross also churned out fake account statements and IRS reports showing how much money his darling goldmine was supposedly making. After he possessed both the moolah and Johnson’s heart he slowly withdrew his overtures, declining to move in with his swooning target and finding excuses to avoid her. But he kept playing with the money and by 2008 Johnson apparently figured that her investment went straight into an account under Gross’s name.
Gross’s love was an elaborate façade and so were the supposed profits he promised his victim. It started with “I love you” but in the end all she got was an IOU. The only dates she’s getting with her old paramour these days are dates to testify in court.
Like all gamblers, Gross thought his luck would never run dry. It sure was a long run as far as one-man rackets go. With the scheme dating back to 1994 and the lid not blowing off until 2008, that’s fourteen years of using low means to live high on the hog. His disbarment goes all the way back to 1991, so he was already engaged in serious professional wrongdoing over twenty years ago. With that streak of luck, maybe it’s no shocker that Gross really thought he would keep getting away with it, that the Devil was on his side, riding shotgun in his dirty-money BMW and that the cruise would last forever. He was as wrong as dyslexic in a spelling bee, but maybe there’s still one upside for Gross. He will definitely find plenty of writing time in his new office — a cell in federal prison.