Saturday, August 27, 2005

Oh, Those Pesky Nigerians

MSNBC News Services
Updated: 3:07 a.m. ET Aug. 27, 2005
LOS ANGELES - The nearly weeklong search for a Grammy-nominated producer ended Friday after a resident spotted the man sitting naked in a backyard creek, washing his jeans.

The Topanga Canyon resident found a distraught Christian Julian Irwin saying he feared he was being pursued by Nigerians who had contacted him in an Internet scam, sheriff’s Capt. Ray Peavy said.

Peavy said there was no evidence anyone was actually pursuing the 48-year-old producer, who has worked with Carly Simon and David Bowie, among others.

Irwin was taken into custody because he was deemed mentally incompetent and possibly dangerous to himself, Peavy said. He was found at about 4:30 p.m. and agreed to go with police about two hours later after negotiations in which authorities, at Irwin’s request, located his sister to help calm him.

Irwin was questioned by medical and mental health workers and taken to a hospital to make sure he was in good physical health. He was to be transferred to another hospital for observation.

Mysterious call launches search
Authorities began looking for Irwin on Sunday after he made a panicked phone call to a friend, saying he was being pursued by people with dogs. He told his friend he was running through water and had lost his glasses and shoes in a creek.

Julian’s disappearance had all the elements of one of the Hollywood thrillers that he scored: a frantic, pre-dawn phone call; an Internet scam; and police searches in Topanga Canyon, a rustic, mountainous area about 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles that has long been a favorite with artists and musicians.

Julian vanished Sunday after calling a friend via cell phone to say he was being chased down a ravine near his home by pursuers who were out to kill him. The call was made at 3:45 a.m. and no one had heard from Irwin since. One of the few clues that police had was a pair of the missing man’s glasses, “found halfway down the hill behind his house, where it is believed that they fell as he ran,” the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

Friends and relatives said the most bizarre element in the case is Irwin's recent involvement in a “Nigerian” Internet scam. The swindle involves e-mailed appeals for advance money to help move large sums out of Nigeria. Victims are told they’ll get a big chunk of the fortune in exchange for their help.

Los Angeles County Deputy Luis Castro, a sheriff’s spokesman, declined to comment on the Internet scam angle.

But Irwin’s friend and former business partner Fortunato Procopio, 47, told the Times that Irwin said had been drawn into some kind of Internet fraud and threatened by the con artists.

According to the Times, Procopio "told him it was clearly a scam — don't be silly." But other friends and relatives told the newspaper that Irwin later received a mysterious $50,000 check and became increasingly concerned.

Tale of a frantic chase
According to the Times: “On Sunday morning, Procopio said, he was awakened in his Venice home by a phone call that was picked up by his answering machine. When he played the recording, he heard Irwin asking for help. Irwin said he was in hiding and someone was in close pursuit.

Procopio tried calling Irwin but couldn't reach him, the paper said. Then, he and his girlfriend began driving to Irwin's Topanga home. On the way, Procopio got another call from Irwin, saying that “he had been chased from his house down a ravine in back by people and possibly dogs. He told Procopio he was barefoot, having lost his shoes, and feared for his life.”

According to Irwin's brother-in-law, John Riolo of Carlsbad, sheriff's dogs tracked Julian's scent from his home to a business on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The dogs then tracked the scent into another small canyon and lost the trail, Riolo told the Times.

According to his Web site, Irwin is “an independent record producer and engineer whose work has brought three Grammy Nominations, over 50 Gold and Platinum albums and an Emmy Award.” He has worked with David Bowie, Jimmy Webb, Vanessa Williams, David Crosby, Chaka Khan, Don Was, Art Garfunkel, Carly Simon, Queen Latifa, Isaac Hayes and Lisa Stansfield.

Film credits
His film credits include "The Big Red One," "The Kid and I," "Benji 2," "Silent Partner," "Crash Landing" and "Moscow Heat."

Friends and relatives describe Irwin as stable, mature and living a healthy lifestyle. The mission statement on his online resume says: "I support, encourage and nurture unique, creative expression in the music and motion picture industries. I believe in the power of these mediums to change and enrich lives on both sides of the camera and microphone. I am committed to the process and grateful for how it has changed me. I will live and do business in honor and with integrity; striving for excellence. In all of this I will seek, find and celebrate the best in you."

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