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Poughkeepsie couldn't compete, and Manos began running off to New York City, partying alongside the likes of Prince and Madonna, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. "All of a sudden, I was going to events at the Plaza — when the Plaza was really the Plaza," he recalls.
As high as he shot into the glittery world of drag queens and party lights, Manos dug himself into the darker side of the after-hours life, too. His first prison stint stemmed from a conviction — sealed today because he was 17 — for a bank robbery. He says he was roped into the crime by a drag queen named Chicky.
After a few months behind bars, he was back in the party life he'd known. In L.A., he says, he attended a cookout at Elizabeth Taylor's Bel Air estate with Debbie Reynolds and Shirley MacLaine. There were parties with Michael Jackson and Michael J. Fox. His name-dropping from those years seems endless.
Manos then landed in Washington, D.C., where he says he parlayed his personal relationships into jobs running high-dollar escort services. Under the name Jason Michael Manos, he appears in a 1989 Washington Times story connecting Republican insiders to a blackmail ring of gay escorts. The story accuses him of charging thousands of dollars to a Labor Department official's credit card; Manos says there was no fraud because the man consented to all the charges. It's a time he revels in recalling, "running through the halls of the White House" in the Reagan years — accompanied by powerful friends in the Senate with whom he says he is still close.
A former john named Doug Hezlep recalls meeting Manos in the mid-'80s when he was going by the name Jason Wentworth and cruising around in a red sports car. In an angry letter to her son in January 2008, Elizabeth Martin says Manos "robbed several guys in Washington, D.C."; today, Hezlep says he was one of them. By Hezlep's account, Manos told him he was deep in debt, so Hezlep loaned him $30,000 that Manos repaid months later with bounced checks. Manos denies ever getting the loan: "He was in love with me, and he sent me packages in prison," he says. That might explain why Hezlep was willing to join him in Dallas 20 years later.
Bouncing from coast to coast, Manos says he led a double life of extravagant parties and petty crime, relapsing into "stupid little things" in the pits of his manic depression. At a social-services office in New York in 1988, he recognized Robert Wooley from a stint in the Westchester County Jail years before. In a letter to a reporter from prison, Wooley says he was struggling to support his heroin habit, so they teamed up to make some quick money, stealing checks from his housemate and depositing them in Manos' account. They'd counted on the money transferring well before their mark could notice, but Wooley got antsy after a few days, when the money still hadn't gone through. In the early morning of May 16, 1988, Wooley surprised his sleeping housemate and, according to the prosecution, beat him with a baseball bat, stuffed him into the trunk of his car, and drove to Yonkers, where Manos was living.
Wooley kept the man in the trunk for four days, meeting Manos at diners and delis to strategize. With the roommate's ATM card, they withdrew money from his account. Wooley finally let the man go in a Red Lobster parking lot and returned to a friend's apartment, getting high and waiting for the police. Manos says he caught a friend's private plane and flew to L.A., becoming ensconced in a Hollywood scene as glamorous as he'd ever known.
Though on the run, Manos spent nearly a year in L.A., beginning his first event-planning business and becoming close to Bertha Joffrion, a celebrity stylist who did Donna Summer's hair. After taking a careless trip to visit friends in New York, Manos went to Albany and was arrested in his hotel. Convicted for being an accomplice to the kidnapping, and for robbery, grand larceny, and possession of stolen property, he was handed a 15-to-life sentence.
From the day his sentence began in 1989, Manos says his life became a nightmare. Shuttled around the New York prison system, he claims he was repeatedly beaten and raped, though in 1993 he was allowed to marry Joffrion in a Buffalo prison during one of her visits. That relationship didn't stop him from attempting suicide in 1997. The attempt stemmed in part, he would later claim in a 2003 lawsuit, from the prison's failure to protect him when he turned informant against inmates and guards.
In 2004, weeks before he was paroled, Manos says he was crushed to learn that Joffrion had died of a stroke. "I was desolate when I got out," he says. "She was my best friend. I could run down the street in high heels and panties, and she wouldn't have cared."
On the outside, Manos says he became convinced that prison officials would retaliate against him for his lawsuit and revoke his parole. He fled before he could give his deposition. His attorney in the suit, Joel Walter, still sounds frustrated by his client's actions. "Running off from parole is the dumbest thing you're gonna do," he says. "Sooner or later, they're gonna catch you."