Caught at last, a brazen Jo’burg

For years it seemed to all those peo­ple caught in Tracy Mor­ri­son’s in­tri­cate webs of de­ceit that she would never be called to ac­count

Mail & Guardian - - News - Hazel Fried­man

Tracy Mor­ri­son boasts that she is the bi­o­log­i­cal daugh­ter of Al Pa­cino and has ei­ther wed or bed­ded Hol­ly­wood’s A-lis­ters. In South Africa she has hung out with Jo’burg’s mink-and-ma­nure set, even per­suad­ing some to in­vest in her movies. She sup­pos­edly se­duced cricket leg­ends such as the late Han­sie Cronje and stalked for­mer Idols pre­sen­ter Colin Moss un­der the guise of launch­ing his Hol­ly­wood ca­reer. At one point, she even claimed she was mar­ried to Stan Katz, the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Ra­dio 702.

If it sounds un­be­liev­able, it is prob­a­bly be­cause it is.

Fraud, stalk­ing, ID theft, forgery and child ab­duc­tion are just a few of the crimes she has been ac­cused of per­pe­trat­ing over three decades, ap­par­ently with im­punity.

Now 57, for most of her life the South African born and bred Mor­ri­son has ap­par­ently con­structed a star-span­gled fan­tasy in which she is the lead­ing char­ac­ter. Jo’burg’s af­flu­ent sub­urbs have been her hunt­ing ground, with her al­legedly con­ning scores of vic­tims who be­came un­wit­ting char­ac­ters in her bizarre scams.

She was fi­nally ar­rested on Septem­ber 14 and will reap­pear at the Rand­burg mag­is­trate’s court on mul­ti­ple charges. She has been de­nied bail and is be­ing held in the Jo­han­nes­burg Women’s Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre, oth­er­wise known as Sun City. Iron­i­cally, Mor­ri­son re­cently bragged about a bo­gus ren­o­va­tion project she was un­der­tak­ing at a pop­u­lar Pi­lanes­berg re­sort.

I first ex­posed Mor­ri­son in this news­pa­per 20 years ago. Back then, I be­lieved she was just a delu­sional, two-bit hus­tler — a fake stargazer — whose fa­cade crum­pled as rapidly as her pseudo-Amer­i­can twang when she was un­cov­ered as an im­poster. I thought she had learnt her les­son. It seems I was wrong.

Twenty years later, her al­leged scams have evolved into much more so­phis­ti­cated, bizarre, sin­is­ter and down­right cruel crimes. She has be­come an equal op­por­tu­nity crim­i­nal, al­legedly tar­get­ing rich, poor, old, young, white and black alike.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, Spe­cial As­sign­ment was con­tacted by Ja­nine*, a pri­mary school teacher and the dis­traught mother of one of her more re­cent vic­tims. Ja­nine’s son, a young pro­fes­sional, had an­swered an ad on Gumtree for a house­mate in Sand­ton. “It looked like the ideal en­vi­ron­ment for my son be­cause it seemed to of­fer a warm, nur­tur­ing home,” she rue­fully re­calls. Mor­ri­son sup­pos­edly owned the house and lived there with her daugh­ter, Gina Latham.

“She said she was Amer­i­can and that Clint East­wood was her neigh­bour. She owned sev­eral prop­er­ties and, to­gether with her daugh­ter, she was flip­ping [re­fur­bish­ing and then sell­ing] them.”

Ja­nine said her son paid the de­posit but be­came sus­pi­cious about his “land­lady’s” bona fides, es­pe­cially when she showed him the web­site of her in­te­rior de­sign com­pany called Pur­ple Chair In­te­ri­ors.

He dis­cov­ered the web­site was com­prised of stock im­ages ap­pro­pri­ated from Google. He de­clined to move in but his de­posit was never re­im­bursed and he was sub­jected to a bar­rage of What­sApp and email in­sults from Latham, the daugh­ter he had never met.

Ja­nine said she dis­cov­ered that Latham was one of sev­eral aliases Mor­ri­son used to de­fraud her house­mates and her land­lords. Pre­tend­ing to be the owner of dozens of man­sions, she would pocket her house­mates’ de­posits and rentals.

Spe­cial As­sign­ment has in­ter­viewed more than 10 for­mer house­mates and land­lords and has seen doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence al­leg­ing that she owes her land­lords mil­lions in un­paid rent and has fleeced house­mates of thou­sands of rands in de­posits.

She is also ac­cused of be­friend­ing or em­ploy­ing at­trac­tive young (mostly) women as sales con­sul­tants for her bo­gus in­te­rior de­sign busi­nesses, even co­erc­ing them to in­vest in fur­ni­ture that never ar­rives or form­ing fake joint ven­tures cost­ing them hun­dreds of thou­sands of rands.

One of her re­cent al­leged vic­tims, Bri­ony*, who has laid charges of fraud against her, ex­plains: “She lives this lav­ish life­style and she wants you to see that she has all this money. What you don’t re­alise un­til it’s too late is that this is your money she’s spend­ing.”

Bri­ony and her hus­band in­vested R350 000 in Mor­ri­son’s bo­gus busi­ness.

Spe­cial As­sign­ment

is in pos­ses­sion of af­fi­davits and doc­u­ments from more than 15 peo­ple de­tail­ing Mor­ri­son’s al­leged crime sprees. The show has also un­cov­ered that, from about 2005 to 2010, Mor­ri­son im­per­son­ated an FBI of­fi­cer, and on this ba­sis was con­tracted to con­duct “pri­vate” in­ves­ti­ga­tions into rob­beries at com­pa­nies, such as the Wyn­berg branch of Cum­mins, a global cor­po­ra­tion that man­u­fac­ture engine parts. The in­ves­ti­ga­tions were bo­gus.

“The for­mer com­pany MD [man­ag­ing di­rec­tor] Mike Holtham in­sisted on em­ploy­ing her ser­vices, even though we told him there are no FBI of­fi­cers ac­tively op­er­at­ing in South Africa,” says a for­mer em­ployee who re­quested anonymity. “She was ul­ti­mately ex­posed as a fake but not be­fore she had pock­eted about R350 000 and falsely ar­rested four of my col­leagues for the rob­bery.”

Ger­ald Emery, one of the falsely ar­rested em­ploy­ees, an­grily re­calls be­ing man­han­dled by Sand­ton po­lice of­fi­cers and kept in soli­tary con­fine­ment for sev­eral days, be­fore ap­pear­ing in shack­les in the Rand­burg mag­is­trate’s court, where the case was im­me­di­ately dis­missed.

That was in 2006. In 2007, Mor­ri­son al­legedly scammed an­other com­pany, PPE Tech­nolo­gies, in Nel­spruit, to con­duct an­other fake in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a theft at the com­pany.

But the most brazen crime she is ac­cused of was the ab­duc­tion of a seven-year-old from within the Sand­ton po­lice sta­tion in 2006.

The child was caught up in a messy cus­tody bat­tle. Her mother had falsely ac­cused her fa­ther of child abuse and had con­fided in Mor­ri­son, her friend at the time. Be­cause the child had a United States pass­port, Mor­ri­son al­legedly hatched a plan to trick the child’s fa­ther into re­lin­quish­ing cus­tody.

Spe­cial As­sign­ment has the tele­phone record­ing in which, us­ing her fake Amer­i­can ac­cent, Mor­ri­son called the fa­ther from Sand­ton po­lice sta­tion, as­sur­ing him of his in­no­cence but de­scrib­ing the child as a “patho­log­i­cal liar” in need of in­ten­sive ther­apy. Mor­ri­son then asked the fa­ther to meet her in­side the po­lice sta­tion, where she gave him an un­en­vi­able choice: ei­ther he would be ar­rested for child abuse (al­though she be­lieved in his in­no­cence) and de­nied bail, or Mor­ri­son would per-

Bam­boo­zled: For 30 years Tracy Mor­ri­son al­legedly conned peo­ple out of their cash and in one in­stance ab­ducted a child

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