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NY feds: Calif. woman arrested in Guggenheim scam

A woman sought by federal authorities in New York in connection with a scheme to cheat investors by pretending to be part of the Guggenheim family has been arrested in California.

Catarina Pietra Toumei, who is accused of pretending to be a countess and falsely saying she was married to a "Toy Story" actor, surrendered to federal authorities on Wednesday, the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan said.

Toumei, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., made an initial appearance in federal court in San Diego, U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman Ellen Davis said.

Toumei didn't enter a plea. She was released on $200,000 bond secured by property owned by her parents.

As part of her pitch, authorities say, Toumei told one potential investor that she was married to John Ratzenberger, who played know-it-all postman Cliff Clavin in the classic sitcom "Cheers" and was the voice of Hamm the piggy bank in "Toy Story 3."

Ratzenberger had "a short-lived relationship" with Toumei, his publicist said, but he was "unaware of this alleged criminal activity and is saddened that her life has taken this turn."

Two men, David Birnbaum and Vladimir Zuravel, also have been charged in the failed scheme to profit from the name of the Guggenheim family, which is famous for making a fortune in mining and smelting and for its philanthropic contributions to aviation and art, including several museums around the world.

The defendants are alleged to have used the prominent name to promote phony investment opportunities including the sale of $1 billion in diamonds and a vodka distribution venture.

Birnbaum and Zuravel, accused of trying to pass themselves off as Guggenheim descendants, were released on bond following a brief appearance Monday in federal court in Manhattan.

Outside court, Zuravel insisted that Birnbaum was a legitimate billionaire heir of the Guggenheim family. He said Birnbaum considered him a son, taught him about finance and allowed him to use the Guggenheim name for business.

Birnbaum "is an extremely honest person," he said. "It's just a simple mixup."

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