Durban - Prominent Durban businessmen, literally caught with their pants down, are at the centre of a multi-million-rand extortion racket operated by sex-workers and crooked private investigators.
This week, PI Brad Nathanson lifted the lid on the scam and, speaking exclusively to the Sunday Tribune, told of how the con has been operating for years, with scores of victims paying hush money totalling more than R1 million to make salacious photographs of their trysts disappear. If they refuse to pay, racketeers threaten to send the incriminating photos or video footage to their wives.
Two weeks ago a Durban businessman fell victim to the scam after paying for a “massage” at a Morningside hotel.
His attorney, who asked not to be named, said the man had contacted him after scam artists demanded R20 000 to prevent them showing pictures of the encounter to his wife.
“Normally he would get a massage at this woman’s house but because she had family there, they decided to meet at a lodge. He had a massage and before he got home a guy called him and said that he had my client’s details and said that if he did not pay by close of business that day, he would disclose this to his wife and employer,” the attorney said.
“Before he had spoken to me, my client offered to pay them R6 000. I met with him and the extortionist phoned again while we were sitting together. I told him I was a lawyer and I said that the police and the press were onto the issue and we would under no circumstances bow to demands,” the attorney said.
He enlisted the services of Nathanson, who started on the case immediately.
“Two days before Christmas he received another threat and since then there has been no word,” the lawyer added.
Nathanson said that he had identified the scam’s ring leader, a Durban-based private investigator, whose alias “Bullocks” had cropped up in many of the extortion cases that had landed on his desk.
“I first learned about this scam about four years ago. I had a resident of the upper Highway area call me in a state saying he had been scammed and needed help. My client’s wife was going away for the weekend and he decided to… find a prostitute to entertain him while she was away,” Nathanson said.
“He made several mistakes and one of them was bringing this woman back to his own house.
“When she arrived this fee had changed and was exponentially more than… he had organised on the phone. At that point he should have picked up that something was amiss, but he entertained it because she was already there and he paid the inflated rate,” he said.
“The prostitute then refused to ‘get down to business’ until she had had cocaine and insisted that my client buy her drugs. He then negotiated a fee with her driver for cocaine and its delivery which also went up in price considerably when it arrived.
“They had sex and afterwards, while he was using the bathroom, she allegedly used her cameraphone to take pictures of his bedroom. The driver returned and there was another fee to remove this woman. This man was handled right from the get-go.”
Nathanson said that days later, a man calling himself “Bullocks” phoned his client and threatened to send the pictures to his wife unless he paid R5 000.
“My client (paid)… When they called him back demanding another payment he came to me, fearing that this would not stop.”
“We asked to see the pictures… a risk we were willing to take because we knew they were going to bleed him dry. The photographs never materialised and the issue went away.”
Since then, he has handled more than 30 cases in which businessmen were swindled out of money after their encounters were exposed.
“With my cases alone, businessmen have been extorted out of over a million rand,” he said, adding that scam artists always threaten men with pictures or videos they don’t have.
“These guys know where women do massages. They… get your vehicle registration number. Once they have that, they run an ITC (credit trace) check on you they have all the information they need, where you work, your spouse’s details. In this latest case, I don’t think the masseur was involved.”
He advised men targeted in such scams:
“Don’t pay and don’t engage these guys at all. Rather contact me or another private investigator to act on your behalf. These are not men of their word. After the ‘once-off’ payment this issue will never just go away,” he warned.
Police spokesman Colonel Vincent Mdunge said the scam was news to him. “If men find themselves in that situation, they must report the matter to the police,” he said.