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Businessman among those allegedly conned by woman

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

PHILADELPHIA -- Heiress, socialite, physician, arts benefactor -- Tereza Solomon Demoody seemingly had it all.

She lived in the penthouse suite of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, cruised around town in a limousine and claimed Revolutionary War hero Haym Salomon as an ancestor.

So when Demoody asked a prominent real estate broker named Harvey Sklaroff for two personal loans totaling $80,000 -- and promised to repay the money within days, with 25 percent interest -- it seemed a safe bet to Sklaroff.

It wasn't.

Authorities say Demoody, 48, had constructed an elaborate ruse. She wasn't an heiress or a doctor or an arts benefactor, they say, but a middle-class widow who had exhausted her life insurance money and wanted more. Authorities say Demoody had no intention of making good on the loan.

Demoody, arrested March 1 at her modest Philadelphia rowhouse and charged with theft, was arraigned in a full-length mink coat.

"Usually, when someone is assuming an identity, they assume it on paper only. But she had some kind of need to play dress-up," said Laurel Grass, chief of the fraud unit at the Montgomery County district attorney's office.

Demoody denied all charges in a telephone interview, saying: "The legal question is, 'Did I rip anybody off?' No." She also denied ever claiming to be an heiress or physician, although she said she is an "N.D.," a doctor of naturopathy. Naturopaths use natural substances and therapies to treat disease instead of drugs.

Sklaroff says he just wants his money back. So do a number of others who claim to have been tricked. Demoody allegedly owes $32,000 to her limousine driver and $52,000 to the Ritz-Carlton, where she stayed in a $3,500-per-night suite. Demoody has run into financial trouble many times over the past 15 years, fending off creditors' lawsuits and declaring bankruptcy at least twice, court records indicate.

Sklaroff, 52, said Demoody was a supremely talented actress.

"This was brilliant. She knew exactly what she was doing. It was a very smooth, well-calculated scheme to take money that didn't belong to her," he said.

Demoody's husband, David Demoody, died two years ago. According to prosecutors, she received a $120,000 life insurance payout, but the account was drained in little more than three months.

Demoody evidently used some of the money on limousine rides, hiring driver Art Skill in December 2000.

Skill said Demoody told him she was heiress to the $47 million family fortune -- a fortune amassed by Haym Salomon, a Polish-born Jew who helped bankroll the American Revolution. Skill didn't know it at the time, but Salomon died penniless.

"I never used the word heiress," Demoody said. "I said descendant."

Skill, 55, said Demoody's checks to him had bounced and he was unable to pay his bills. The bank repossessed his 14-seat passenger van.

"I thought we became friends, and she was just a farce," he said.

Demoody said her financial troubles started when a relative failed to repay a large loan on time, causing her to bounce some checks. But she said she has since made good on most of them.

Demoody has been charged with theft, receiving stolen property and writing bad checks. Police said a total of $450,000 in checks were written out of Demoody's closed life insurance account. Prosecutors are looking for more alleged victims.

"I felt sorry for her, foolishly," Sklaroff said. "It was a perfect illusion."

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Associated Press Writer Maryclaire Dale contributed to this report.


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