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By Joe Eskenazi
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Most afternoons, Kevin Yaeger could be found nursing a hangover from the night before with a glass of cinnamon schnapps, his favorite drink. He'd be wearing only his boxer shorts, unashamed of the unfurled rolls of flesh that liposuction had been unable to tame. Surrounded by piles of dirty laundry, scattered papers, condom boxes, and half-empty bottles of lube and beer, Yaeger would sprawl belly-down on his queen-size bed, chatting up venture capitalists on his cell phone. "This is gonna be big -- really big," he'd say. "I'll have my secretary get back to you."
There was no secretary in the nearly $4,000-a-month house Yaeger rented in the tony San Jose suburb of Los Gatos. There was a hot tub, though; a giant one that seated 12. A baby blue BMW convertible sat in the driveway. And every night, a party raged at 116 Old Adobe Rd. as rebellious teenagers from all over the Bay Area came to get drunk, get laid, and trash the place. Yaeger, who had a penchant for young gay men, went to 18-and-over nightclubs and handed out fliers to the cutest patrons -- the pretty, blue-eyed boys from the in-crowd, all wearing baseball caps and the latest Abercrombie & Fitch polo -- inviting them to private soirees that promised free booze and party favors like Ecstasy. As word spread, Yaeger's home was soon filled with the very people he'd always found attractive, yet had never before had a chance with. For Yaeger, it was the realization of the Silicon Valley dream.
At 27, he'd struck it rich in the dot-com gold rush. He had the monster house, the expensive car. He had been CEO of two lucrative Web-based companies even though he'd never gotten a college degree and had no experience in computers. In fact, a minimum-wage stint at McDonald's and operating a paper route for the San Jose Mercury News were his only credentials. Yet now he was wealthy, and cute guys wanted to be around him. Money was his confidence-builder. With it, he could play out a delayed adolescence and afford the trappings of what he always thought was the good life.
The only problem was that none of it was real.
In Santa Barbara, the über-rich Central Coast town where L.A.'s elite go to sunbathe, Yaeger was raised shamefully blue-collar. His mother, Stella Ray, worked payroll for a plumbing company and was a single mom to four kids by three fathers. Yaeger was the youngest, the result of an affair with a delivery truck driver. Life with his half-siblings wasn't easy. One of his brothers was physically abusive, Yaeger claims, using the guise of roughhousing to break his arm and inflict countless black eyes. That brother teased Yaeger about not having the same father, telling their friends they weren't really related.
Yaeger also says a family friend sexually molested him when he was a young boy. He didn't tell anyone, but blamed his absent father for it. "I thought if he was around, maybe it wouldn't have happened."
Yaeger's mom worked a lot and didn't have much time to spend with her children. They struggled financially, and at 11, Yaeger started earning his own money with a paper route. "I had to support myself for things I wanted as a kid," he says. "I grew up poor and promised I would never live like that again."
When he was 14, Yaeger's family left Santa Barbara when his mom was laid off. They lived a few years in various East Bay cities before settling in San Jose. Yaeger bounced between schools. Socially, he was a loner. "I never fit in, and wasn't happy. Between being a heavy kid and stuttering, I was used to being made fun of. I hated school," he says. "I always had a hard time making friends and dating when I was young. I wasn't even sure if I was gay or straight."
As Yaeger was finishing high school, his older sister announced to the family that she was a lesbian. It was a shock to everyone, especially Yaeger, who was thinking of coming out, too. Their mother did not take the news well, which bothered him. "She just flipped out and had a really hard time dealing with it," he says. "So I kept quiet."
But for the first time ever, Yaeger was beginning to find friends -- other young gay and questioning men like himself -- through computer bulletin boards that, in the early 1990s, were the precursor to the Internet. They formed a coffee club that met at a cafe near DeAnza Community College in Cupertino where many in the group, including Yaeger, took classes.
Yaeger tried hard to impress his new friends. He was a big spender compared with those living on student budgets; he'd insist on picking up the tab for everyone's meals and drinks. He drove the fashionable car of the time, a new, sporty Honda del Sol. His apartment had real furniture, not milk crates, and he always had the latest and most expensive stereo, TV, and computer equipment. "The big question was, "How does Kevin get his money?'" says original coffee club member Mark Schwab. "He was very secretive and never answered any personal questions."