But wasn’t he stealing from nice people like me?
“I wanted to be accepted. It wasn’t to intentionally manipulate,” he said. “The only reason I did some scams is because my parents cut off my credit cards, and I didn’t want to live beneath them.”
He didn’t have a job, and would spend his afternoons at places like the Waldorf Astoria and the Four Seasons, any nice place where the bar opens at noon.
“So I’m there doing bumps in the bathroom,” he said, a bit gleefully, “meeting so many CEOs and buying people drinks. Or I would be out all night and then at noon go to Nello all coked out and get a bottle of Champagne while all these quote-unquote power lunches are going on.”
In February 2001, he says, his parents cut off his credit cards. The doorman at the Central Park West had told them about his weeklong benders. But by then he didn’t need the credit cards so much. He used other people’s. He claimed the scam goes like this: You troll the obits and find a guy your age. You have a friend who works at the Department of Social Security, and you give him this guy’s name and date of birth. Once you’ve checked the dead guy’s credit rating and made sure it’s solid, your friend reactivates the social security number. Then you apply for credit cards. American Express Platinum is the best. If you can get your hands on one of those, you’re looking at $50,000 to $70,000 before the cogs start to churn.
“Let me tell you, Spencer, how to become millionaire without having a dollar,” he continued, drawing is face into another toothy smile. He paused.
“I wish we were at Cipriani’s,” he said again, thrusting his arms out, and pointing back at himself. Then he went on: “Say I swiped an A.T.M. card; how do I get his money out, he’s an asshole,” he said. “There’s a toy. You can buy it at the toy store in Time Square. It’s called an Etch A Sketch.”
Break open an Etch A Sketch, he said, and pour the black powder into a bowl. You have a credit-card-swiping machine, which is connected to a phone line, which connects to the bank. You take your finger and dip it into the black powder, and then run that finger across the magnetic strip on the back of the card. Now you swipe the card. The machine spits back 10 digits. The four digits in the middle, sandwiched in between three on each side, will be the pin number. Ideally, it will be around 11:50 p.m. Take the card to an A.T.M. at a bodega, not a bank—no cameras. Withdraw as much as you can, usually $800. Smoke a cigarette. Wait till the clock strikes midnight. It’s a new day! Withdraw another $800.
He said he would also occasionally simply steal someone’s credit card and go on a spending spree or use the card number to book a treatment at a spa. They don’t swipe the card until your full body treatment is through—at which point Giovanni is already out the door. Or quickly get a photo ID made with the cardholder’s name on it. Then you can register at a hotel, where they don’t bill the card until the end of your stay. In March 2001, Giovanni claims, he spent a week at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. that way. He hit L.A. clubs. He claims he spent a night on the couch at Paris Hilton’s house in the Hollywood Hills.
“It actually stunk,” he said. “She has like an animal kingdom in her house. I woke up and some kind of animal was taking a shit on the carpet.” He thinks it was a lizard.
The next year, he was sitting in a suite at the Waldorf. A knock at the door. Room service. Surprise! It’s the police. “They had me barehanded,” he said.
The feds moved him all over: MCC, Oklahoma, Utah, then Nevada. In 2005, he was deported to Italy.
He was back in his parents’ house, sulking, pleading for forgiveness. It worked. In 2006 he dropped his bags at the Central Park West apartment.
“This time, from February ’06 to May ’07,” he said, smiling broadly. “I was in it hard-core.”
He ran up bar bills. He played the role of arrogant heir. At a party for Kate Moss on the roof of the Gramercy Hotel, he crossed paths with the actress Cameron Diaz. He told her that it was unfortunate that Justin Timberlake dumped her. She cursed him. He responded, “‘you are nothing,’” he said. “‘You are nothing but a peasant to me.’”
This time the fun ended when he tried to use someone else’s credit card at Bungalow 8 in the spring of 2007.
As visiting hours drew to a close at Greene, he shook his head in disbelief. “If I was out now, I could get the same access. They all know me.”