**As an opinion editorial piece, Tales From The Emperor does not reflect the views or opinions of Vital VOICE **
I’ve written extensively about the most prolific conman in the history of St. Louis, and while we hadn’t met face-to-face we’d still developed what I refer to as a Hannibal Lecter – Clarice Starling style relationship. There were times he became furious with me, sending angry tirades and a Cease & Desist (written on his own letterhead, no less) but he’d soon return to his charming and collected baseline.
I essentially became his biographer and though I constantly called him out on his scams I made it clear that I had nothing personal against him.
Last May I moved to St. Louis after years in the Bay Area and a brief stint in Manhattan in order to finish my book of short stories, Delusions of Grandeur , which will be released this summer. I’d written one piece about the conman when I was in California, after he was arrested for practicing law without a license, but was surprised to learn he was still up to the same shenanigans, and more surprised that people were still doing business with him.
I posted an update about it that garnered nearly seven thousand comments, and a team of investigators/debunkers was born from that infamous thread.
Aside from lawsuits involving a pyramid scheme, he’d kept a low profile for months until reclaiming the spotlight with a dramatic hostage standoff at his longtime North County home. A call was placed to 911 claiming one man had been stabbed and another was tied up. The news anchor reported:
“The suspect is well known to police and faces a variety of charges, and police say he stabbed a cab driver last year…”
“Anyone aware of the whereabouts of the suspect is asked to call…”
He was never named, but his home was shown from the hovering helicopters above. I emailed the conman, delicately asking if he was aware of the situation. He said he wasn’t, and that he now lived in a loft downtown.
Later it was confirmed the call was a hoax.
I emailed him the latest news clip.
“I’m talking to the police right now. I told them I wasn’t aware of this until you brought it to my attention. They want to speak with you.” he wrote.
Since I was the first to message him, it seemed I was an alibi of sorts.
After spilling so much ink over the conman I regretted having never sat down with him face to face, and thought it might be now or never if he was getting ready to go down. He jumped on the invitation and suggested a restaurant near his Washington Avenue loft in forty minutes.
My boyfriend was on the sofa and as I hurriedly got myself ready I gave him instructions.
“Message the War Room,” I began, in reference to my team of investigators. “Tell them I’m meeting the conman at Rosalita’s in forty. Ask them to notify police and the media.”
“What if something goes really wrong?” he asked, thinking about the man’s unpredictable nature.
“If something happens see to it that Brawny gets to Ben & Norah.”
Brawny is my dog, and Ben is my oldest friend in St. Louis.
The conman met me at the entrance and was taller than I expected. He carried himself confidently as if we were business associates, and his open collar revealed his Star of David pendant. One his many claims is that he’s Jewish, although he was born Baptist and according to sources in the Jewish community he never converted, although he is widely known.
We exchanged pleasantries and ordered drinks. He discussed the defamation lawsuit against him by the multi-level marketing company where, according to him, he’d served as Senior Executive Vice President. During his tenure he claims the Boca Raton based CEO stole thousands of dollars from him and made threats. The conman filed for an order of protection against the CEO, which somehow was granted.
The CEO said he’d never met the conman, the conman had never been a member of his corporate staff, nor had he even paid the simple fee to become a member of the organization.
The conman responded by saying the CEO’s statement was just a ploy to get leverage.
“They’re after me for fifteen million” he lamented, as if he had fifteen million to lose.
“So my friends tell me I haven’t been mentioned in a while,” the conman said.
“I’ve been bogged down covering some unsavory characters. It’s actually refreshing to focus on you again,” I began, which he found highly amusing.
I had realistic expectations from the start. I knew he wasn’t going to admit anything and he didn’t. According to him there’s a logical explanation for his entire history, which makes for boring conversation.
“You know of all the people who say I’ve scammed them, none have proof, right?” he confidently asked.
“They have civil judgments to prove it,” I replied. “You owe a lot of people a lot of money. The limo driver you used to usher politicians around Jefferson City, the thousands in printing for your magazine…”
“Well, I was talking about the gay people who made claims,” he dismissed, before rattling off his excuses for the bad debts and claiming he’s settled up now.
Regarding the hostage hoax, he claimed someone set him up.
He said he moved out of the house some time ago, but needed to maintain the address for probation reasons.
About half a dozen officers arrived and huddled inside the doorway of the restaurant. He glanced their way but never broke a sweat or lost his train of thought. A manager walked over to ask what they needed and I could hear fragments that included “earlier today” and “hostage.” Two officers walked right past our table and still he was completely at ease, almost amused. Then they all just left.
When the check arrived he grabbed it and placed two crisp fifties on the table, which surprised me.
“I’ve asked all the questions,” I said. “Do you have anything you’d like to ask me?”
“No” he replied. “Just let me know if you learn anything about who was behind the hoax.”
There was a good reason the conman was so relaxed at the restaurant. The police weren’t there to see him. They were there to see me.
Shortly before dinner he met with detectives and told them I was a jilted ex-lover, and that I should be the prime suspect. The following day I was questioned.
“He said you’ve got an obsession with him,” the detective said.
“As far as being obsessed, I guess that’s fair. I’ve told him he’s my muse,” I confessed, regaling the detective with my “Best of the Conman Highlight Reel,” excitedly going over the laundry list of scams and hardly letting him get a word in.
As I dined with the infamous conman each of us was prepared to see the other arrested, which makes the evening all the more interesting.
I kept this to myself for a week until a respected reporter in town told me police seemed to be ruling out the conman as a suspect, and I learned my publisher and others had been contacted regarding my potential involvement in the hoax. The story was leaking so I decided to go public.
I never get upset when crazy shit happens in St. Louis because I moved here for the crazy shit. This haunted old river city never ceases to keep me entertained, and if I wind up in jail at least it’ll make for a good story. V
Written by Chris Andoe