Couple busted in wacky, ‘Da Vinci Code’-like scam of oil heir

The heir to an oil-industry fortune was scammed out of at least $6 million by a couple who convinced him a computer virus contained proof that his life was in danger, officials said. Westchester prosecutors charged Vickram Bedi, 36, and girlfriend Helga Invarsdottir, 39, with bilking the great-grandson of oil-services tycoon Conrad Schlumberger over a six-year span. "These two defendants preyed upon, duped and exploited the fears of this victim with cold calculation and callousness," Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore said Monday. Prosecutors said they can only prove $6 million was extorted, but Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini said the take may have been as much as $20 million. Officials would not release the victim's name. But the Journal News identified him as jazz pianist and composer Roger Davidson, 58, an heir to the Schlumberger empire. Bedi and Invarsdottir run a Mount Kisco computer repair business where Davidson took his virus-infected computer in August 2004. The suspects, who live in Chappaqua, concocted a wild story that they had tracked the computer virus to a village in Honduras and determined Davidson's life was in jeopardy. Bedi claimed his uncle was an Indian military officer who was sent on a reconnaissance mission to Honduras and seized the hard drive of the computer virus culprits, prosecutors said. He claimed his uncle uncovered a plot that sounded like a scene in the "The Da Vinci Code." "Bedi further related that his uncle obtained information that Polish priests affiliated with Opus Dei were attempting to possibly harm the victim," prosecutors said. Bedi told Davidson that the CIA had contracted him to prevent the priests from infiltrating the U.S. government. The suspects got the victim to pay them up to $160,000 a month for physical protection. Harrison cops uncovered the scam in July and alerted Davidson. Bedi and Invarsdottir, the daughter of a wealthy businessman from Iceland, were arrested Continue Reading

Dan Brown said to finish first book since ‘The Da Vinci Code’

Oh my God, Dan Brown has finally gone and done it. Finished his long awaited novel to follow the international bestseller, "The Da Vinci Code," that is. Or so director Ron Howard told the television show "Entertainment Tonight." Howard directed the 2006 box office smash, "The Da Vinci Code" starring Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. E.T.'s Mark Steines interviewed Howard on the Geneva set of "Angels and Demons," the movie based on Brown's first book featuring Langdon. Due out May 16, Tom Hanks will again star. "The Da Vinci Code" became an international phenomenon when it was published in 2003. To date there are 80 million copies in print and it has been translated into 48 languages. Fans have been ravenous for the new book. It is said to have the working title "The Solomon Key" and delve into the mysteries of the Freemasons. Howard said he had not yet read the new book but that the author was very excited about it. Rumors began swirling earlier in the year at the Frankfurt Book Fair that the manuscript was completed. But the spokesman for Doubleday, Brown's publisher, refuses to confirm or deny the status of the book. "We are pleased to report that Dan Brown is making great progress with his novel. We do not yet have a title or publication date to share," said Suzanne Herz. "The Da Vinci Code," infuriated the Vatican and many in the international Catholic community with its religious conspiracy. What remains to be seen is how the Freemasons will react to the surefire international bestseller. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

HOLY WOW !. ‘ Da Vinci ‘ powers to $77M opening

That which did not kill "The Da Vinci Code" apparently made it stronger. The movie version of the controversial Dan Brown novel about Jesus being a married father survived theological protests and weak reviews to rack up a powerful $77 million in opening-weekend ticket sales. In Italy, where the Vatican had called on Catholics to boycott the film because of the suggestion Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene, "Da Vinci" notched the highest grossing weekend ever, with $11. 5 million. The Ron Howard-Tom Hanks flick had the 13th-highest opening weekend in U. S. history - and earned $147 million more overseas, an all-time record. Neither the protests of Catholic groups nor the warning by critics that the film is tedious deterred the fans or the curious. "This movie became an event," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the trade group Exhibitor Relations. "All the protests and the negative reviews only seem to have helped raise awareness. It made people want to see it for themselves. " Most critics warned them not to, with many calling Howard's direction flat and even Hanks' lead performance uninspiring. "But you have to remember this already had a built-in audience of 40 or 50 million people who had read the book," said Dergarabedian. The Vatican and other Christian groups called it blasphemous that the characters played by Hanks and Audrey Tautou spend the film on a dangerous search for this alleged alternative origin to Christianity. A Catholic lay organization, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, asked worshipers to stage prayer vigils outside theaters. They did - in New York and elsewhere. Outside the AMC Empire 25 on W. 42nd St., about two dozen protesters prayed and waved signs declaring the movie an anti-Catholic "hate crime. " "It's blasphemous, it's sacrilegious, it's slanderous and offensive to us as Christians and Catholics," said Michael Mangan, 47, of Queens, the president of Continue Reading

THE ‘DA VINCI’ DIVIDE. Religious groups take on new film

CHRISTIANS WHO mostly turned the other cheek as "The Da Vinci Code" climbed the best-seller list are launching a counteroffensive now that Dan Brown's novel is set to hit the big screen. As the movie's May 19 opening draws nearer, Roman Catholic and other Christian leaders are unveiling new Web sites, taking out full-page ads to "debunk" the work's claims and speaking out in the media and from the pulpit. Even during Holy Week, the upcoming film was on the minds of prominent clerics worldwide. The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, denounced the book's controversial premise that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children, calling it "the stuff of imagination. " "It's almost that we'd prefer to believe something like this instead of the prosaic reality," Williams, head of the worldwide Anglican Church, said a week ago on Easter Sunday. In a Good Friday sermon at the Vatican, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, Pope Benedict's personal priest, was more blunt. "Christ is still being sold for 30 pieces of silver . . . this time to publishers and filmmakers," he said. The reclusive author, Dan Brown, denies his writing is anti-Christian. "This book is not anti-anything. It's a novel," he writes on his Web site. "I wrote this story in an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history that interest me. The vast majority of devout Christians understand this fact and consider 'The Da Vinci Code' an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate. " Pat Ryan Garcia, a spokeswoman for the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the organization has sought to provide "proper Catholic answers" to questions the book raised for the faithful. But she said the conference decided to "ramp up its efforts" when the first movie trailer for "The Da Vinci Code" declared: "Seek the truth. " "He wants to play both sides of it," Garcia said of Brown. Though the author stresses the book is fiction, she noted he also Continue Reading


IT MIGHT ALREADY be a blockbuster of biblical proportions, but a leading Catholic claims "The Da Vinci Code" is too bad to even watch. Catholic League President Bill Donohue turned movie critic after viewing the controversial film, starring Tom Hanks. "This was one of the most inane films I have ever seen," Donohue said. "There are too many symbols and too many arcane codes, but the real reason the movie fails is because it lacks suspense, is hopelessly melodramatic and is way too long. "The few times the audience laughed was due to a quip made by one of the characters: these moments were much appreciated - it broke the boredom." "Had the movie been a success, the effect would have been troubling. But because it fails to persuade, this is one movie practicing Christians have nothing to worry about." The movie, which opened to packed theatres on Friday, has prompted protests because it questions the divinity of Jesus. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

IT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME. Ron Howard’s ‘Da Vinci’ is paint-by-numbers

'THE DA VINCI CODE.' With Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany. PG-13: Disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content. (2:27) At area theaters. 2.5 Stars. The religious sect that recently advised parishioners to "fast unto death" to protest "The Da Vinci Code" can start eating again. This "Code" isn't all it's cracked up to be. That won't stop the stampede to the box office. It's the must-see movie of the summer, if only because of the religious protests akin to the uproar over the Danish political cartoons. We're living in dangerous times when a merely okay summer movie can make everyone forget the golden rule: It's only a movie, folks. Director Ron Howard's adequate adaptation of the book everyone's talking about isn't nearly as thrilling as Dan Brown's best seller about murder and revisionist Christianity. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou give cautious, uninspired performances as puzzle solvers and Holy Grail seekers on the run from an albino killer monk and what's billed as the biggest coverup in history. It opens on a spectacularly creepy note. A curator at the Louvre uses his dying moments to leave elaborate clues scrawled in his own blood. It's up to Robert Langdon (Hanks), a Harvard symbologist, and French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Tautou) to crack the code. Then there are more codes. There are so many, in fact, it's like that "I Love Lucy" episode in which the chocolates rumbled down the conveyor belt too fast to box them all. This is more of a mental thriller than an action movie. That worked in the book's favor, but film is a visual medium. Floating-anagram techniques borrowed from the spelling-bee documentary "Spellbound" aren't heart-pumping enough in a movie where characters furrow their brows or launch into mind-numbing flights of exposition. The movie is so nervous about offending anyone that it's hardly any fun. Hanks delivers a few solemn speeches meant Continue Reading

THE TELL-TALE ART. Book or movie, ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is the picture of sensation

There are classic dangers to face and unknown elements at every turn - but in the right hands, a blockbuster book can still become a must-see movie that stands on its own. The latest - and perhaps biggest - case of this kind of cross-media ­rapture is "The Da Vinci Code," opening Friday. Yet is anyone worried that ­director Ron Howard's film of Dan Brown's fiction phenomenon will be an unholy flop? Of course not. "Da Vinci" fans have been praying for the ­movie to arrive, and even minor contro­versies - involving worries from the Catholic Church about "fiction­ versus facts" and its ooh-we're-spooky secret ­society Opus Dei - may only increase interest in a story that more than 45 million readers have already lapped up. Add Tom Hanks as the star and its box-office ­outcome isn't a mystery. And while success in the ­bookstore doesn't always equal massive box ­office, there's a history of ­properties that ­accomplished both (including the granddaddy of them all, "Gone With the Wind"). A year after being a ­hardcover hit in 1969, Mario ­Puzo's "The ­God­father" sold 8 million paperback copies - and ­director Francis Coppola's Oscar-winning­ 1972 adaptation became an instant ­classic. Not long after, Peter Benchley's "Jaws," the page-turner of 1974, became Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," the monster hit of 1975. Recent publishing power­houses made into popular ­movies include John Grisham's "The Firm" (its 1993 film made $160 million in the U. S.), "Bridget Jones's Diary" (the 2001 film earned $280 million worldwide) and, of course, "Harry Potter" and the super-magical print run. The young wizard's four films thus far have conjured up over $1 billion in U. S. ­ticket sales alone. And, as "Da Vinci's" Harvard symbol­ogist hero Robert Langdon might ­deduce, there's a pattern to this. Just as most adventure tales have the same DNA (the quest, the Continue Reading


No self-respecting New Yorkers ever let on that they're not up to speed on the latest big buzz. Take "The Da Vinci Code. " The movie, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, blasts into movie theaters tomorrow, and it's expected to be the biggest thing since "Titanic. " How could it miss? The best-selling book by Dan Brown that the film is based on has already sold more than 40 million copies. That said, the book's vast popularity is precisely what has turned some people off to its allure. Invest time and money in something embraced by everyone? Phooey. Snooty, maybe. But that's life in the big city. (Admit it, we've got you pegged.) So if you're not a devoted "Code" follower, arm yourself with these basic facts and a knowing smile that would make Lisa proud, and you'll be able to navigate your way through any "Da Vinci" discourse. YOU HEAR: "It's so cool when Sophie unscrambles the clue 'so dark the con of man' into an anagram for 'The Madonna of the Rocks,' the name of a famous painting. Then she uses it as a shield in the hopes nobody would shoot up a Da Vinci. " YOU SAY: "Yeah, French women rock. Sophie could really kick butt in sudoku. But here's a puzzle for the Crypto Queen: What's Dan Brown doing having a modern Parisian mademoiselle running around Paris in a sweater dress and leggings? Hello? That look is so 1980. " EXIT LINE: "Love your outfit. " YOU HEAR: "When Silas, the albino monk, lashes himself silly with that knotted cord, I couldn't stand it. " YOU SAY: "I'm thinking about getting one of those thingamajigs for my boss. " FOLLOW UP WITH: "That dude is paler than Julianne Moore. " YOU HEAR: "Dan Brown stirred up a lot of controversy with his assertion that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. " YOU SAY: "Yeah. That's something. I wonder if she ever got him to put the toilet seat down. " CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION WITH: "Did Bob and Harry invite you to Continue Reading

SAVORY ‘SUPPER.’ New Da Vinci novel is an entrée to a mysterious world

THE SECRET SUPPER By Javier Sierra Atria, $25.95 He was a painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, astrologist, theatrical set designer, anatomist, zoologist, costume maker, engineer, inventor, geographer and musician - a one-man Renaissance whose idiosyncrasies included writing backward, thus forcing readers to use mirrors to decipher his notes. Oh, and lately, he has become the star of a dozen esoteric thrillers. He is, of course, Leonardo da Vinci, born in 1452, died in 1519 and resurrected most profitably in "The Da Vinci Code," that Dan Brown novel. Javier Sierra's take on Da Vinci is much sharper, more focused and more rewarding. This is partly because Sierra is a better writer and largely because his story makes more sense. Sure, it's farfetched - and how! - but at the end it's possible to say that maybe, just maybe, Sierra is onto something. The subject is "The Last Supper," the mural Da Vinci began painting in 1495 in the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. The plot concerns a secret message he may or may not have planted in it, and the story is told in an atmosphere of intrigue, codes, prophecies, superstition and fanaticism. The story is related by Father Agostino Leyre, an expert in cryptography and theology and agent with the Vatican's office for the enforcement of doctrinal purity. Leyre is deployed to Milan because of troubling reports sent to Rome by a mysterious informer who identifies himself as "The Soothsayer." Among charges by the mystery informant is that the Cathars, a heretical sect that figures in other current esoteric thrillers, have influenced Da Vinci's masterpiece. The Cathar movement, which argued that Christians did not need any of the worldly trappings and rituals of the Roman church, was supposedly annihilated in the early 13th century on orders of Pope Innocent III. But some members reportedly escaped to Milan, where their beliefs supposedly influenced Da Vinci. Leyre stumbles Continue Reading


"THE DA VINCI CODE," this year's most hotly anticipated flick, failed to catch fire with critics at the Cannes Film Festival last night. Most offered only lukewarm praise or shrugs of indifference. Others laughed or jeered at parts of the nearly 2 1/2-hour thriller and dumped on star Tom Hanks' performance as well as what they called a potboiler script. The movie, based on Dan Brown's monster best-selling novel about a coverup of secrets surrounding Christianity's roots, will have its world premiere at Cannes today. It opens here Friday. Variety, the movie industry's bible, called the film " a stodgy, grim thing" in a review posted on its Web site last night. Peter Brunette, critic for The Boston Globe, described Hanks as "a zombie" but praised co-star Ian McKellen. "It was really disappointing. The dialogue was cheesy. The acting wasn't too bad, but the film is not as good as the book," chimed in Lina Hamchaoui, from British radio IRN. "Nothing really works. It's not suspenseful. It's not romantic. It's certainly not fun," according to Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald. The Cannes audience of critics - arguably the toughest in the world - clearly grew restless as the movie dragged on to a long sequence of anticlimactic revelations. "I kept thinking of the Energizer Bunny, because it kept going and going and going, and not in a good way," said James Rocchi, a film critic for CBS 5 television in San Francisco. One especially melodramatic line uttered by Hanks drew prolonged laughter and some catcalls, and the audience continued to titter for much of the film's remainder. Some people walked out during the movie's closing minutes, and while credits rolled, there were a few whistles and hisses - but none of the scattered applause even bad movies sometimes receive at Cannes. Still, Fox News movie reviewer Roger Friedman said the movie was mostly "enticing" and predicted McKellen nailed himself an Oscar nomination for his performance. The Continue Reading