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Lawyer Helps Blow the Whistle on Alleged Cruise Ship Scammers

Posted Jan 25, 2012 8:36 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A personal injury lawyer from New York called police after he became suspicious of would-be clients who claimed their daughter and granddaughter died aboard the Costa Concordia.

With lawyer Peter Ronai’s help, police arrested three Hungarians in the suspected scam, UPI reports. The New York Post and the New York Daily News have stories based on interviews with the attorney.

Ronai, who speaks Hungarian, was in Budapest representing six survivors from the sunken ship when he got a call from a woman who said her daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter were missing. The woman said her missing relatives were on the sunken ship, though they weren’t on the manifest.

“She’s shaking, she's doing an Oscar performance,” Ronai told the Daily News. “She had me fooled until she asked for money. She wanted to know, ‘How much money do you think this is worth?’ ”

“That was [a] red flag. In 20 years of doing this, never once have I experienced a situation where someone loses a relative and they talk about money. Every family just wants to know: What happened? How did it happen?”

Still, Ronai hired investigators to search for the missing mother and child. But he became even more suspicious after the family’s story started changing. The missing child wasn’t on the ship after all, he was told, and the missing mom had survived.

Ronai brought plainclothes police officers with him to meet with the family members, who ended up confessing. The initial caller turned out to be a neighbor.

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