Jazz pianist Cecil Taylor conned out of $500,000 prize: authorities

(Reuters) - Jazz pianist Cecil Taylor was swindled out of a prize worth about $500,000 by a general contractor who befriended him while working on the house next door to Taylor's in New York City, the prosecutor's office said on Tuesday.

Noel Muir of Uniondale on New York's Long Island, was awaiting arraignment on a charge of grand larceny in Brooklyn's criminal court on Tuesday morning, and could not be reached for comment. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Taylor, who is known for his improvisational, percussive style at the keyboard, was awarded a prestigious Kyoto Prize by Japan's Inamori Foundation in 2013 and was invited to Japan to collect his prize at a ceremony last November.

Noel Muir, a contractor who had done work for Taylor's neighbor, came with him, according to a statement by the district attorney in Brooklyn.

While in Japan with the 85-year-old pianist, Muir, 54, provided the Inamori Foundation with the details of a bank account to which it could wire the prize money, the statement said.

Muir said the name on the account was The Cecil Taylor Foundation. A wire for $492,722.55 arrived in the account two weeks after the ceremony.

In fact, the account was under the name MCAI Construction, Muir's company, the prosecutor's statement said, and since then the account has been depleted.

"The defendant befriended Mr. Taylor and won his trust," Kenneth Thompson, the district attorney, said in a statement, "which later made it easier for him to allegedly swindle this vulnerable, elderly and great jazz musician."

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Trott)