Master Con Artist Began as a Teenage Stowaway

Juan Carlos Guzman Betancur went on to steal from ritzy hotel guests by impersonating them
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 1, 2020 8:33 AM CDT
Gifted Con Artist Got His Start as a Famous Stowaway
One of the most gifted con artists in the world got things started as a teenage stowaway.   (Getty/Umenie)

(Newser) – In his native Colombia, locals know him as the "polizon," or stowaway. But as a story at Medium explains, Juan Carlos Guzman Betancur is known to detectives in the US and around the world as something else—"one of the most gifted conmen in the world," writes Matthew Bremner. Guzman's MO is to stake out ritzy hotels, assume the identity of a rich guest, and then steal from the guest's room (often the room safe) with this inside access. Now in his mid-40s, Guzman is very, very good at his craft—"he 'became' the person he was stealing from," writes Bremner—though not good enough to avoid arrest all the time. He has been imprisoned a number of times, most recently in France in 2019. But he's free again, whereabouts unknown, with no sign he's about to change his ways.

Guzman's story begins with a remarkable stowaway he pulled off at age 17, when he emerged, nearly frozen to death, from the wheel well of a plane that flew into Miami from Colombia. Using a fake name, he passed himself off as a 13-year-old impoverished orphan (his mother was still alive) and gained national attention in the US. A family took him in. The deception lasted several weeks until he was deported back to Colombia, and his international life of crime began in earnest soon afterward. "Most of us grow up, we get jobs, we work hard, we care for the people around us," says now-retired Vegas detective Kirk Sullivan, one of those who followed Guzman's trail. "But it’s just kind of like he’s still that little kid that crawled into the wheel well of that airplane.” (Read the full story.)

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