Man Charged With Theft, Extortion In Bizarre Drug Scam
An Auburn private investigator and sometime federal drug informant was charged with theft and extortion yesterday in a bizarre scam that prosecutors say bilked a Bellevue couple out of nearly $70,000.
Robert Neil Hassen, 41, for months successfully deceived the couple into believing their daughter was in danger of being killed by drug lords, according to documents filed in King County Superior Court.
Hassen even went so far as to have the couple, Eleanor and Vern Egenes, meet a supervisor in the federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in Seattle to help persuade them to pay for protection, the charges contend.
The supervisor was unaware at the brief meeting that he was being used in the scheme, according to authorities.
Hassen, who is being sought by Bellevue police, was charged with two counts of first-degree theft and one count of extortion.
His sister, Sherrie L. Curtis, 44, of Palm Springs, Calif., and her son, Jerry Curtis, 24, of Auburn, were charged with two counts of first-degree theft in connection with the case. Jerry Curtis also is missing.
Deputy Prosecutor Kate Flack said Eleanor Egenes had known Hassen for several years and had conducted real estate transactions for him. Her daughter, Rondi Holm, also knew Hassen.
Authorities said Eleanor Egenes knew Hassen as having an extremely secret government job because he hinted about being involved with the Central Intelligence Agency and an organization more secret than the CIA.
Flack said the scam took shape after Rondi Holm told Hassen in early 1988 that she and her husband, Geoffrey Holm, had experimented with drugs when they were young but that she had a strong aversion to them.
Hassen then volunteered to find out if Geoffrey Holm appeared on a DEA ``list of drug users,'' although Rondi Holm said her husband did not use drugs. From there, Hassen began the fraudulent campaign of fear, according to the court records.
In November 1988, Eleanor Egenes met with Hassen, who told her that the DEA had been investigating Geoffrey Holm for four years. The DEA had proof that Holm was heavily into drugs and owed $100,000 to a drug dealer, Hassen maintained.
Hassen told Egenes that because of the drug debt, her daughter's life was in danger.
The prosecutor said there is nothing to collaborate any involvement by either of the Holms in narcotics. Rondi Holm only cooperated with Hassen because she believed he could put her in touch with the DEA agent who had the erroneous information about her husband, Flack said.
At a subsequent meeting in a restaurant, the Egeneses met with Hassen and Sherrie Curtis, who said she was having ``operatives flown in'' to watch the Holms' home and protect Rondi Holm 24 hours a day.
The Egeneses signed a contract for protection on Dec. 7, 1988, after which the couple paid off with a $45,000 cashier's check.
Hassen asked for more money and the Egeneses remained convinced that Hassen was working for the DEA, Flack said. She said the couple bought a $29,000 cashier's check for further protection of their daughter. Jerry Curtis - who recently paid $25,000 cash for a home in Snohomish County - picked up the check, authorities said.
The scheme began to fall apart in January 1989, when Hassen told Eleanor Egenes that some real estate documents would be coming to her from San Francisco. When the paperwork was faxed to her, Egenes noticed that it did not come from San Francisco. Rondi Holm was present and told her mother, ``this man is a crook,'' Flack said. The two women then began talking and realized they had been duped, according to the documents.
The DEA supervisor who was used in the scam said Hassen worked on only two cases for the DEA in Seattle, authorities say.
Hassen has embarrassed officials from the DEA to the state attorney general's office. In January 1989, Attorney General Ken Eikenberry offered Hassen an unprecedented fee of $50,000 to hunt down a wheeler-dealer who had bilked hundreds of Washington residents out of their life savings.
Hassen reportedly handcuffed the man and threatened him with a syringe of brown liquid, although Hassen insists it was a bag of snakes.
All Hassen recovered from his prey was a handful of gold jewelry, a worthless car and a bad check. The attorney general then fired Hassen, and after his antics were leaked to the press, the DEA did not deal with him again.
-- Times staff reporter Eric Nalder contributed to this report.
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