Exclusive: Fake Checks, Sexual Come-Ons and Now Jail -- The Hipster Grifter Speaks Out

Meet the 22-year-old scammer in her first media interview from behind bars.

September 11, 2009, 6:43 PM

Sept. 14, 2009— -- From the corner of the bar, she was all tattoos and witty come-ons. But get to know Kari Ferrell a bit better and you hear colorful stories about coughing up blood, cancer and unwanted pregnancies.

Ferrell -- dubbed the Hipster Grifter by New York tabloids -- is outgoing, talkative, flirty and makes friends quickly. But she also has a knack for passing bad checks, taking thousands of dollars from her victims.

Today as she sits in a Salt Lake City jail awaiting sentencing, she is unashamed, somewhat regretful and seems to relish the attention.

"As far as this whole story is concerned, I think that the reason it has been such a big deal is because I am pretty intelligent and very well spoken," Ferrell told ABC News in a series of phone interviews from jail. "I am charming and funny."

Ferrell, 22, faces up to 12 years in a Utah prison for forging checks, fraud and theft. But when she is sentenced on Oct. 9 she will probably get less time thanks to a plea agreement made last month.

Ferrell said she regrets her crimes but still doesn't have "a sane, good answer" to why she stole.

"It was stupid because I had a job. I didn't need the money," she said. "I can't really even talk it up to being younger, because even when I was younger, I knew it was wrong. Plus, I've always been intelligent for my age."

Brady Burrows was one of those scammed in Utah by Ferrell -- he says she took $1,350. The scheme was simple: Ferrell said she was locked out of her bank account and asked him to cash some checks. He got the cash and days later the checks bounced. Burrows was on the hook for the money.

"She gave me $50 and told me how grateful she was, which looking back now was hilarious," said Burrows, 26, who has known Ferrell since he was 17.

"She's good at being a friend. She puts herself out as fairly vulnerable in a lot of ways," he added. "But if you're around her long enough, you start to realize that there are way too many dramatic things going on in her life to be realistic by any means."

Her friends later in Brooklyn told similar stories.

She was known for passing guys notes on bar napkins about giving oral sex or needing a man "to toss their hot dog down my hallway."

"She is very aggressively sexually," Burrows said.

Ferrell said she's always had male friends and has heard all the stories.

"I'm just outspoken and I say funny things that are ridiculous and I assumed that people would be able to understand that they're jokes," she said. "Apparently they don't."

After the first reports about her and her crimes, stories surfaced of her telling guys she was pregnant and the baby was theirs -- something she adamantly denies. Bloggers shared their Hipster Grifter stories and sightings. Several said they were also scammed, although no charges have been filed against Ferrell in New York.

"Everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame," she said, adding that people were just repeating stories already out there. "They wanted to be in the media. They wanted to be a victim of the quote-unquote Hipster Grifter."

Ferrell has a vivid recollection of all her press and asked several times how this story would be presented, including what photo of her would be selected. Burrows said she clearly enjoys the attention.

"For once she didn't have to make up stories to have people talking about her," he said. "I think she loves the attention. She's always coming out with her pity stories of surgery and cancer and whatever the flavor of the week is."

Hipster Grifter Kari Ferrell's Early Years

When Ferrell was five months old, Karen and Terry Ferrell adopted her from Korea. A year and a half later, she said, her parents converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and moved from Phoenix to Salt Lake City.

"I grew up in the in the quintessential middle-class, suburban family. I say it's akin to the Cleavers, just a little less Aryan," she said.

Her parents were very supportive of her when she was growing up, she said. She started playing piano at three and a half and participated in gymnastics and dance. She even tried tennis for a while, she said.

"That didn't last long," she said. "I guess I'm not WASPy enough for it."

Ferrell said that she was "a straight-A student" with test scores "off the charts." By second grade she said she was already reading at a college level and had actually skipped the first grade, only moving back because she couldn't handle the older kids.

Friends came easily through life. Asked if she is making friends in jail, Ferrell said: "I would say more acquaintances. I know that I am here as well as them, but I don't necessarily think this is the place for me to be making life-long friends."

Growing up, her favorite book was "To Kill a Mockingbird." These days, she has been reading Douglas Coupland's "JPod" and "All Families Are Psychotic" and said she loves Henry Miller, Proust, Augusten Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Tolstoy.

Recent reads from the jail's library -- "they actually have a pretty good selection," she said -- include books by David Sedaris and Ira Glass.

By the time Ferrell made it to high school things changed. She said she didn't connect with teachers.

"In history I always asked about the war in the Philippines or how Columbus slaughtered millions of people. And that's not what they teach in the public schools in Utah," Ferrell said. "The teachers had no idea what to do with me."

Hipster Grifter Starts Stealing

She dropped out of school, landing a job as a veterinary technician.

"They had me at $11.75 an hour," she said. "At the time that was amazing because all the people I knew still in high school were working at Little Caesars for five bucks an hour."

Eventually, that wasn't enough.

Checks started being forged. Other scams -- taking advantage of the time it takes a check to clear -- were played on banks. She opened a cable account in her ex-boyfriend's name. Several thousand dollars were stolen.

Then there was Western Union.

Ferrell said she borrowed money from her mom and step-dad, Calvin Slaaen, who her mother married after divorcing Ferrell's father and moving back to Arizona.

On June 6, 2008, Calvin Slaaen went to a Western Union counter to pick up an $8,300.72 money order from Ferrell, according to court documents. The Western Union office had received a fax purportedly from another Western Union official stating that such a money order will be sent and should be picked up by Karen or Calvin Slaaen. A fraud investigator for Western Union told police that the letter was fake.

Ferrell told ABC that the whole set-up was done "just to stall my parents."

Instead, the police got involved. Eventually other victims in Utah would come forward -- $1,600 here, $850 there -- because of the publicity of her case.

Ferrell was briefly in jail, before being bailed out by a friend. Then she skipped a court date and decided to move to New York.

"I had a bunch of friends who had moved there and whenever I talked to them, they said: 'You will love it here. This is the city for you,'" Ferrell said.

She had never been to New York before, but she packed a suitcase full of clothes, a suitcase of books and a box of knick knacks and headed east, skipping out on her $60,000 bail. Salt Lake City Police issued a warrant for her arrest.

Welcome to Brooklyn

Ferrell fit right in with Brooklyn's hipster community. She had the tattoos prove it: for instance, a giant phoenix spreads across her chest.

Her first tattoo -- inked at 17 -- is on her right wrist and says: "Live life to the fullest until you die." It's based on Greek mythology's three muses. Ferrell's mom signed for the tattoo and made her promise "that I would never get any more."

The next year, she moved out on her own and got the phoenix. It includes the eyes of her mom, little, brother Kyle and her grandfather. It also includes oleanders, which she said are "beautiful flowers but are poisonous."

Her third and final tattoo, on her back, which carried the message "I Love Beards" in words and images.

"I like guys who dress really, really nicely but have beards," Ferrell said. "Living in New York was great because you have these Wall Street investment bankers that had these nice-fitted suits and then beards. It was amazing."

Ferrell's past finally caught up with her when she started work as assistant to Erik Lavoie, publisher of Vice Magazine. Within her first week, Lavoie put her name into Google and came up with a wanted poster from the Salt Lake Police Department.

Ferrell said he was looking to add her as a Facebook friend. Lavoie did not respond to a request for an interview.

The Salt Lake City police have been posting most-wanted posters and You Tube videos for about a year, which has led to about 100 arrests, according to Sgt. Fred Ross.

"We're trying to stay on the cutting edge," Ross said.

Vice decided to do a story, "We Hired a Grifter," telling people to Google applicants.

The story said that in her week at Vice, Ferrell didn't cause much damage, except for some e-mails to the folks who run guest lists at music venues.

"We think that's because it happened to coincide with the week she came down with a light case of cancer. (It cleared up.)," the story said.

Shortly after that, the New York Observer did a longer story detailing Ferrell's criminal and sexual exploits. The newspaper called her The Hipster Grifter. The name stuck.

Soon stories started appearing on the Web about Ferrell. New York media blog Gawker picked up the story and ran with it.

As the media attention peaked, Ferrell said it was too much. She had lost her job, was being harassed and said it was time to clean up her record. She said she had been talking to the Salt Lake City police and decided in May it was time to turn herself in.

But instead of going to the New York police, she got on a bus and went to Philadelphia.

"I thought it might slow the media down," she said. "But you guys are crazy. You'll go anywhere."

When she gets out of jail, Ferrell hopes -- if her probation allows it -- to eventually return to New York.

"If there is anywhere that can forgive," she said, "it would be New York."

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