Con man operating in the Algarve

On December 5 2004, my wife was by her stall at Fuseta market and, standing in front of our advertising board for horse safaris, was a short bald man wearing spectacles and carrying a huge rucksack, who was accompanied by a large grey, shaggy dog, named ‘Leonardo’. The man asked my wife about our horses and seemed a jovial and engaging person. He caught my wife’s attention when he mentioned that he had recently completed the pilgrimage from Italy to Santiago de Compostela in the north of Spain – a dream of hers is to one day complete the pilgrimage on horseback.

He introduced himself as Isaac Schiffman, a naturalised Italian, originating from Israel. He was looking for a place where he could pitch up his tent and rest for a few days. As he claimed he was a veterinarian, my wife thought he would be able to help out at our ranch in lieu of payment and subsequently she offered him lodging in our farmhouse.

That evening the stories came fast and furious, regarding his prowess as a horseman and world traveller. He went straight to our hearts by telling us that he embarked on his pilgrimage six months previously, leaving all his worldly goods behind him (house, horses, staff, clinics in both Belgium and Italy, and so on), because of the death of his nine-year-old son due to a brain tumor.

Over the following days, he helped out on the ranch and offered advice to my wife on how she could improve her horse business and the general wellbeing of her horses.

Then came the idea that he would contact one of his closest friends in Italy, a Marco Falco, whom he was sure would be interested in a week’s trek at our ranch in the new year, as he and his friends had done so regularly all over the world. The response was positive and not only would he come, but would also bring six of his friends.

My wife thought she had found her guardian angel. He stated that he had arranged with Marco to forward by Western Union a deposit of 20 per cent. A couple of days later, we went to the Western Union office to collect the transfer, but could not collect it because Isaac’s ID card had miraculously disappeared – Isaac duly reported his document missing to the GNR.

On his recommendation in preparation for the week-long trek, my wife arranged for the blacksmith to re-shoe all the horses at a cost of 450 euros. But still no sign of the money! When you consider the story of his son’s passing, it seemed impossible that someone would go to such lengths to deceive!

Christmas was upon us. Isaac kept remarking on how embarrassed he was by the delay and how he felt humbled by our kindness towards him. On December 28, Isaac came rushing from his room, phone at ear, apparently in animated conversation with Marco. Hardly a word of this call was discernable as it all took place in quick-fire Italian. Positive progress at last, we dared to surmise. But the look on Isaac’s face told a different story, not to mention the surreal looking crocodile tear perched on his cheek. Entering the kitchen he said: “You won’t believe what has happened.” His friend Marco had just informed him that his father had died that morning of a “massive heart attack”.

But Isaac wasn’t all that shook up over the sad news. Isaac had told us of his hatred for his brutal father who, according to Isaac, was once a high-ranking founder member of MOSSAD.

Taking pen and paper, he proceeded to write down his father’s name (Hebrew) and a list of companies in which he had considerable amounts of shares. As he was an only son, according to Israeli law and himself, he would inherit his father’s fortune. Then he asked me if I would be interested in accompanying him to Tel Aviv, around January 17, to help him through the maze of lawyers that he was sure would be eager to speak to him. I agreed and with that decided to go to bed. Isaac then asked me if I had three candles and a glass of red wine, which he placed on the mantelpiece, saying it was (I think) some form of offering to the passing of his father, or a Jewish ritual. We said our goodnights – the time was 2am, on the morning of December 29.

As my two-year-old daughter has a habit of wanting to play in the early hours, I took her downstairs and thought it was strange that the kitchen and lounge lights were on. One of the candles was still burning and the glass of wine was empty. Curiosity got the better of me and I peered around Isaac’s bedroom door.

Surprise, surprise, the room was empty, no rucksack, no Leonardo, no Isaac. Not only had he gone, but he also didn’t leave empty-handed. 550 euros, my wife’s hard earned horse feed money had vanished and my father’s new digital camera was also missing. Funny enough, it contained the only photo we had of our guest. He even took an unopened pack of Samson tobacco and 12 cans of beer from the fridge. He didn’t forget to take the piece of paper with his father’s details.

I wondered how far could a man laden with a heavy rucksack and with a large dog in tow get in the short time he had been gone? The time was 7.30am. I checked out Loulé train station, bus terminal and exit routes – all to no avail, he was long gone!

I am sending you this story in the hope that it may be published. We feel that your readers should be warned and made aware of this callous con man/thief. Although our financial loss was not that great, his next unfortunate victim may not be so lucky.

If anyone has seen or knows of the whereabouts of Mr. Isaac Schiffman, I would very much appreciate your information and will treat it with the strictest of confidence.

Stephen G. Roffe

By email