Fraud Files: Will an Extortion Plot Hurt Cindy Crawford's Brand?

Edis "Eddie" Kayalar was sentenced March 9 to two years in prison for his attempt to extort 100,000 euros (about $137,000) from model Cindy Crawford and her husband Rande Gerber using a picture of their then 7-year-old daughter bound and gagged on a chair. The photo was allegedly shot by the girl's nanny while they were playing a game of "cops and robbers" and later stolen by Kayalar.

Gerber initially gave $1,000 to the former model Kayalar in exchange for the picture of his daughter, but when Kayalar began demanding more money and said he had copies of the picture, he was deported to Germany. He blamed Gerber for the deportation and began demanding 100,000 euros. He said if Gerber and Crawford didn't meet his demands, he'd sell the creepy picture of their daughter to the press, figuring he could get $500,000 for it. Kayalar reportedly planning to use the money to bring his American girlfriend to Germany.

The case was prosecuted by the German courts because the extortion attempt happened while he was there. Kayalar could have gotten up to five years for the attempted extortion, but got a reduced sentence of two years in prison because he confessed.

Beyond the Creepiness

As a fraud-fighter, just about any kind of scam bothers me, but blackmail involving innocent children is the worst imaginable. The child wasn't nude or in a suggestive position, but that won't stop some sickos from taking the bondage fascination to the next level in their minds, and I don't want anyone's child to be part of that. To try to make a buck (or a few thousand) from an unfortunate and embarrassing picture of a young child is disgusting.

Beyond the creepiness of such a photo and extortion plot, you have to wonder whether a weird story like this could damage Crawford's marketability and earning potential. We all know how Tiger Woods' sexual indiscretions have cost him endorsements and sponsorships. This is a bit different, and although there's something equally creepy about the stories, this was completely out of Crawford's control.

If you're a company looking to get the most bang for your marketing buck in a tight economy, do you want to take a chance that the face of your product is associated with creepy child bondage games in the minds of consumers? Perhaps it's a stretch, but it's possible some more conservative companies may shy away from Crawford at least temporarily as they exercise an abundance of caution.

For the sake of the little girl, I hope this is a case where consumers have short memories. Thankfully, I wasn't able to find any copies of the creepy picture on the Internet, and I hope it stays that way. Gossip site TMZ reported being offered the photo for sale in September of last year and turned it down. Let's hope that news of Kayalar's prison sentence deters the next creep who wants to try something like this.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE, CFF is a fraud examiner and forensic accountant who investigates corporate fraud and consumer scams and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud and Expert Fraud Investigation: A Step-by-Step Guide