TAMPA — One day last month, a young woman walked into a Tampa Amscot branch and tried to cash a $1 million cashier’s check.
Lin Helena Halfon, 26, told employees there that she was going to use the money to buy a yacht in Miami with her husband, 77-year-old Tampa businessman Richard Rappaport, court records show. Rappaport’s name was also on the check and because he wasn’t there, Amscot employees refused to cash it or three other checks Halfon brought in later that day.
The eyebrow-raising attempts sparked a criminal investigation that resulted in Halfon’s arrest last week on charges of money laundering, organized fraud and exploitation of an elderly person. During her first court appearance, a judge set her bail at $1 million.
When investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Tampa Police Department first contacted him about the checks, Rappaport said he wanted to give his wife the benefit of the doubt, according to a warrant affidavit. He said he didn’t want her to be deported to her native Israel.
But then a month passed and not only had Halfon not returned the checks, two of them totaling $666,666had been cashed in a city more than a thousand miles away.
Asked by investigators on Dec. 10 if he felt he was the victim of fraud and theft, Rappaport conceded.
"Yes," he replied.
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Rappaport is president of Panther Medical, a Tampa-based company that distributes braces, electrotherapy devices and other medical equipment, records show.
Halfon doesn’t have much of a paper trail in the United States and does not have a prior criminal record in Florida. Where and when she and Rappaport met is unclear. He declined through his daughter Dayna Titus to comment for this story.
In February, Halfon and Rappaport attended a benefit for the Florida Holocaust Museum at the Vinoy Renaissance hotel in St. Petersburg. They posed arm-in-arm for a photograph published by the Tampa Bay Times.
Rappaport and Halfon got their marriage license in Hillsborough County about four months later, on June 24, records show. The license lists the date and location of the marriage as Aug. 21 at a county clerk’s office in Sarasota.
When investigators started asking questions last month, Titus told them that neither she nor anyone else in the family knew her father had married Halfon, according to the warrant affidavit.
"Titus believed that Halfon was 'conning' Rappaport due to his age," FDLE Special Agent Victoria Morris wrote in the affidavit.
When Amscot employees refused to cash the $1 million Wells Fargo cashier’s check on Nov. 7, Halfon offered to pay the company $100,000 to do the transaction, more than twice the company’s standard fee, the affidavit states.
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When that didn’t work, she returned a few hours later with three checks, each for $333,333. Amscot employees again refused to cash the checks but made copies of them and Halfon’s Israeli passport, which she used as identification along with a U.S. visa. When asked about Rappaport’s whereabouts, Halfon said he was out of the country. An Amscot employee contacted authorities.
The next day, investigators interviewed Rappaport and Titus at his home. Rappaport said he believed it was a mistake and he’d asked Halfon to return the check. Titus told the investigators Halfon “berated Rappaport on the phone when he asked for the check back,” the affidavit states. The investigators told Rappaport that Halfon had broken the $1 million check into three checks.
On Nov. 12, investigators visited Halfon at her apartment, which the affidavit notes is different than Rappaport’s residence. Halfon told them she mailed the checks in a care package to her sister in Israel to hide them after she and Rappaport had a fight. She said Rappaport’s family had been pressuring him not to give her money and that she would ask her sister to mail back the checks.
"Halfon further advised that she does not work, and Rappaport pays all her expenses, like a normal married couple," the affidavit states.
About 20 minutes after the investigators left Halfon’s apartment, one of them got a call from Rappaport.
"Rappaport stated he appreciated the investigators' diligence, but that Halfon was going to give him back the checks," the affidavit says. "Rappaport stated that he did not want Halfon bothered or deported."
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On Nov. 22, a man with an Orlando address cashed one of the $333,333 checks at a business called CheckPros in Carteret, N.J., according to the affidavit. Five days later, the same man cashed a second check for the same amount at the same place.
The Tampa Bay Times is not publishing the man’s name because it is unclear if he has been charged in the case. Citing an active investigation, FDLE spokeswoman Jessica Cary said the department cannot answer any questions about the case.
Contacted by an investigator on Dec. 6, Rappaport said he’d made arrangements with Halfon to get the checks back the following week. Rappaport confirmed he’d never signed any of the three checks.
The next day, investigators got a warrant ordering Wells Fargo to freeze the third check.
On Dec. 10, investigators met with an Amscot branch manager who told them an unidentified male called on Nov. 7 asking if the company could cash a $1 million cashier’s check. The man, whom the manager described as young-sounding and outgoing, said his wife would bring the check to Amscot. Halfon showed up with the check an hour later, the affidavit states. The manager said she asked Halfon why she didn’t do a wire transfer instead and Halfon responded that there would be a hold on the check and she needed cash.
Investigators met with Rappaport again on Dec. 10. He said Halfon told him a friend was bringing the checks back from Israel but was landing in Boston, so Halfon was flying to New York on Dec. 15. He said he never called Amscot.
Morris asked Rappaport if he felt he was the victim of fraud and theft, and he said yes.
The next day, on Dec. 11, investigators learned that Halfon had changed her plans and flown to New York that morning. Morris secured the arrest warrant two days later, and police arrested Halfon on Dec. 16 at Tampa International Airport. Her home address listed in the jail log is a condo Rappaport owns in a tower on Bayshore Boulevard.
Halfon has hired Tampa attorney Todd Foster, who specializes in defendants accused of white-collar crime.
“There’s a valid marriage between this couple and we look forward to bringing forward additional facts to bring clarity to this situation,” Foster said.
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.