A Marietta science fiction writer was arraigned in federal court in Atlanta on Thursday after being indicted for wire fraud and money laundering.
But the plot to this tale might have been more convincing than the storylines of any of his six published books.
Mitchell Gross, 61, whose pen name is Mitchell Graham, has been accused of stealing nearly $3 million from one woman he contacted on a Jewish online dating service.
Gross, whom The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported is a disbarred attorney, pleaded not guilty to seven counts of wire fraud and seven counts of money laundering. He is being held without bond and faces up to 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count and 10 years for each money laundering count, as well as $250,000 each for all 14 charges.
As in his writing, Gross used fictional names for himself and a fake investment company to gain the trust of the women. According to federal prosecutors, he identified himself as "Michael Johnson" and said that he was the financially wealthy head of "The Merrill Company."
According to the indictment released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta, "Michael Johnson" is an alias and "The Merrill Company" does not exist.
The indictment alleges Gross began a romantic relationship in 2006 with a woman he met via the online dating service named "R.J." She eventually called a number Gross gave her, thinking she was speaking to Johnson, and had $2.9 million wired to his account.
Gross converted some of those funds to his own bank account to purchase artwork, a luxury automobile and a golf club membership, according to the indictment.
He also used some of the money to repay a former girlfriend, identified as "J.S.," and who also placed money -- $1.4 million of it -- in his phony investment firm, federal prosecutors said.
"This defendant allegedly met women through an online dating service and posed as someone who wanted a committed romantic relationship, but who in fact was interested in luring them into investing their savings with a phony company," Atlanta U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said.
"The unsuspecting victims transferred millions of dollars into bank accounts controlled by the defendant, who allegedly depleted the funds to pay back previous victims and enrich himself.”
The U.S. Attorney's Office is asking anyone who believes they may have been a victim of the scam to contact the Internal Revenue Service in Atlanta at 404-338-7512.
Graham has published a science fiction trilogy and more recently turned to writing legal thrillers, with an Atlanta attorney he named "Katherine Adams" as the protagonist.
His most recent book, "Dead Docket," was published in 2009. In a thumbnail review on Amazon.com, Publishers Weekly calls the book "muddled," saying that Graham employs "improbable action sequences" and "unconvincing court scenes."