No con artist has made his mark on America quite like “Count” Victor Lustig. Boasting an extensive criminal record throughout the early 20th century, his true identity remains a mystery to this day. He had 47 different known aliases, and even when he was locked up in Alcatraz, his name on the paperwork, Robert V. Miller, was a fake. A master of sleight-of-hand tricks and get-rich-quick, Lustig is best remembered as "The man who sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice."
Lustig arrived in Paris in May of that year, according to the memoir of U.S. Secret Service agent James Johnson. There, Lustig commissioned stationary carrying the official French government seal. Next, he presented himself at the front desk of the Hôtel de Crillon, a stone palace on the Place de la Concorde. From there, pretending to be a French government official, Lustig wrote to the top people in the French scrap metal industry, inviting them to the hotel for a meeting.
“Because of engineering faults, costly repairs, and political problems I cannot discuss, the tearing down of the Eiffel Tower has become mandatory,” he reportedly told them in a quiet hotel room. The tower would be sold to the highest bidder, he announced. His audience was captivated, and their bids flowed in. It was a scam Lustig pulled off more than once, sources said.
Jump over to Smithsonian to read Lustig's "Ten Commandments of the Con" and how he escaped from the ‘inescapable’ Federal Detention Center in Manhattan.