I made a big fuss this week, in Scene's Oscar Villarreal cover story
, about not being able to verify whether or not Villarreal, the notorious Clevleand swindler, actually played the piano.
I suggested that, given the extent to which he fabricated information about investments in Mexico, it was at the very least not unreasonable to entertain the notion that his "competitive pianist" luster was bogus as well.
But fear not!
I've received word from a former classmate of Villarreal's that the young Mexican exchange student, who spent his senior year of high school at Highland, in Medina, before matriculating at Baldwin-Wallace, was indeed a gifted piano player.
"One night in the fall of 2002," the former friend and current Cleveland dweller wrote in an email to Scene,
"we had went to dinner with a few other friends and we actually went back to my parents’ house in Hinckley to hang out. My family had an old piano that was mostly just in the house for decoration, very much out of tune.
"As we were walking through the house [Villarreal] walked right over to the piano and started playing some fantastic music," the friend continued. "He played for almost an hour for my friends and eventually my family, who came over to see what was going on since this piano was never used. He would call out which song he was playing and the composer. Again as stated, I am not a music expert by any stretch but it was very, very good."
Oscar's former friend said that he'd mentioned playing competitively in Spain, but he never saw Oscar play in any sort of formal context.
The friend also said that he was pretty sure the polyglot assertion wasn't fabricated either. (Villarreal told Crain's
in 2006 that he spoke four languages fluently). Though he couldn't recall the exact four, he said he knew Oscar spoke Spanish and English fluently and was pretty sure he remembered him carrying a conversation in French with a teacher.
A college acquaintance of Villarreal's reached out to us as well with some interesting information about Oscar's time at BW. This student, who knew Oscar, said that because Baldwin Wallace was a relatively small, intimate college campus, most people who attended the university at that time (especially the Honors College, where Oscar lived), would be familiar with him.
The former BW student said that most people got a "greasy feeling" about the guy, in part because he claimed to be a "day trader."
"My brother [who lived near Oscar in the dorms] once saw a 10K trade," he wrote in an email.
Among other general details — Oscar tended to embellish a bit; he actually wasn't
all that charismatic as a student — our source claimed that Oscar was a treasurer on the BW Student Senate for six months. During that time, he said, there was speculation that Oscar had embezzled money from the organization's account.
"His Facebook showed him visiting random exotic countries," the former student wrote in an email, "and the sense was this guy stole money to go on these trips. But since it could not be proven it just died away."
To sum up his feelings, he said he was surprised that anyone "fell for" Villarreal's investment opportunities.
"My friends and I have no idea how anyone would trust this guy with ten dollars let alone a few million," he said.