A San Francisco man accused of bilking a Marin couple out of $1.6 million by claiming to be the son of the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo pleaded guilty Friday morning to federal wire fraud under a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, a move that has him facing up to 20 years in prison.
Blessed Marvelous Herve, 41, was accused of an elaborate take on the infamous online scams involving phony Nigerian princes who claim to need money transferred to them in order to free up a much larger sum of money to be shared. Facing a host of federal charges, Herve agreed to plead guilty to one of those charges.
"I feel like I should have exercised better judgment," Herve told U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco in an hour-long hearing that was largely procedural. "I want to accept my part of the responsibility here."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hallie Hoffman summarized the case against the stocky Herve, who wore a yellow Alameda County Jail uniform in court and was accompanied by U.S. Marshals.
Herve is accused of telling a Marin real estate agent who focused on the luxury homes market, as well as his girlfriend, that he was the son of Congo president Joseph Kabila and that he needed their help recovering $43 million the U.S. government had supposedly seized from his father so he could buy luxury homes in the Bay Area.
Kabila is one year older than Herve, who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but has lived in the U.S. since March 1992 and became a U.S citizen in March 2013.
Herve had pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in May, shortly after a detention hearing that was delayed after Herve alleged that he had been under a nearly 24-hour lockdown at the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland. That dispute was quickly resolved.
At the detention hearing, Hoffman said Herve has multiple aliases, claimed to have a diplomatic passport, has used his children in other financial scams, had booked a one-way airline ticket to Casablanca and had hidden a "whole mess of cash."
According to an affidavit filed by FBI Agent Brian Weber accompanying the criminal complaint against Herve, he defrauded the unidentified real estate agent, whose initials are KW, and his girlfriend, whose initials are BE, of $1.6 million between 2006 and 2012 by telling them a series of stories.
Herve first told the agent that his father was the president of the Congo and wanted to buy several multimillion-dollar homes in the Bay Area, and later said he needed their help in recovering $43 million the U.S. government had seized from his father.
According to the affidavit filed by Weber, Herve promised the Marin real estate agent more than $1.5 million in bonuses to support his efforts to retrieve the $43 million, and also promised to buy the multi-million dollars homes through the agent, thereby rewarding him with large commissions.
The real estate agent gave Herve $635,000 until he became financially broke in 2009, according to the affidavit. At that point, the agent's girlfriend starting supplying money through bank wire transfers until she had given a total of $970,000 and also became broke in 2012, the affidavit said.
In 2008, the affidavit said, Herve told the real estate agent he was in trial in a federal court case in San Francisco to recover his money. Herve told the agent he couldn't watch the court hearings because they were being held in secret under the authority of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to the affidavit.
Weber wrote that Herve told the real estate agent he lived in the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco and that the agent regularly met him in the hotel lobby to give him rides to the federal courthouse in 2008. But the agent never saw his rooms and the hotel has no record of Herve living there that year, Weber said in the affidavit.
From 2009 to 2012, Herve told the agent and his girlfriend he was in federal custody in connection with the alleged court case and communicated with them only by phone, promising that he would get his funds as soon as he was freed.
Weber wrote that the real estate agent said Herve seemed credible because he had documents including a complimentary letter from a U.S. senator and seemed confident and knowledgeable about the Bay Area real estate market.
The FBI agent wrote that the investigation found that Herve is not the son of a Congolese president, had "no intent or means" to repay his victims, had no court case concerning the alleged seizure of $43 million and was not in federal prison from 2009 to 2012.
Hoffman said investigators were unable to find much of the $1.6 million Herve bilked out of the Marin couple. She said the real estate agent's girlfriend deposited $47,000 into Herve's bank account last October and he immediately had it wired it elsewhere.
At a detention hearing in May, Herve's attorney at the time had argued that his client had booked a one-way ticket to Japan and subsequently changed it to a one-way fare to Casablanca, Morocco, but had so simply as part of his band concert tour. Public defender Edward Hu said Herve is a professional musician and that his Blessed Marvelous Herve Jazz Ochestra had been booked to perform in both countries, on the heels of previous gigs in Mexico in 2007 and Casablanca in 2012.
On Blessed Marvelous Herve's Flickr page, he calls himself a "romantic poet and an accomplished Jazz musician" who "writes romantic greeting cards."
Herve was convicted in the mid-1990s of possession of fraudulent documents – in this case a passport. Hoffman said he did so by getting a Social Security card based on a fraudulent birth certificate that said he was born in Los Angeles. Hoffman said he obtained the birth certificate by presenting fake Los Angeles Unified School District documents listing his mother as LA resident Rose Herve Wright.
Herve has at least three other aliases, Hoffman said, noting that he was granted asylum in the U.S. under the name Herve Rodrigue Nedando, and has used derivations of both names on additional documents.
Hu said Herve was not able to have family members appear in court as an assurance that he wouldn't flee the country because his entire family was murdered in the Congo in May 1993. Herve successfully applied for asylum in the U.S. in the wake of that, Hu said.
Herve is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Tigar on Nov. 22 in U.S. District Court.