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A fugitive, Manos says he then crossed the Atlantic on his wealthy European boyfriend's private plane, landing on private airstrips where he wouldn't need a passport. He spent time with friends in Miami, where he saw a hotel named Medici, and the name stuck with him. He liked the sound — rich and European — and took the name as his own. "I had to create an identity. And it wasn't an identity created to scam people, but once you tell one lie, the lie gets bigger," he says.
In mid-2005, Christian Michael de Medici arrived in Houston, where he began throwing parties and movie premieres at gay clubs around town. One day, he picked out a black Lab puppy from a litter belonging to an acquaintance. He named the dog Mimi, and from then on the two were seldom apart.
Manos met a skinny 20-year-old named Jamal Alexander behind a bank counter one day, and handed him a flyer for his next party. The two hit it off, and two months later, Alexander moved in with Manos. While the two traveled and lived together for more than two years, their relationship did not end well. Today, each accuses the other of drug abuse, cheating, and prostitution — and serial lying.
Manos was looking for the right place to establish himself and settled on Atlanta, but not before living in Chicago for a few weeks. Alexander recalls they left that city in a hurry. There wasn't even time to pack up their apartment.
It was boom time in Atlanta's real estate market, a first-rate sandbox for house-flippers making a run at big money. For someone long on ambition but short on cash, experience, and scruples, this was the place to be.
Manos arrived in early 2006 with a five-year plan, he says, determined to build an honest cash base to support the lifestyle he'd enjoyed before prison. He had an idea for a turnkey real estate operation: buying neglected homes in up-and-coming neighborhoods, renovating them, and renting them out. He named his company CDM International, and built it up with bank loans and cash from small-time investors.
Even if he hadn't assumed the phony identity of Christian Michael de Medici, as a convicted felon on the run, there was no way Manos could apply for bank loans or file the paperwork to start a business. For that, he enlisted the help of Robert Vaughn, an acquaintance who bought into the business plan and put his name on the company records.
An audit commissioned by CDM months before its collapse painted a rosy picture of the company books. At the end of 2007, it held real-estate assets of $13.2 million against $9.6 million in debt, and had $2.5 million in revenue across its rental, construction, and media businesses. Reed says banks aren't making loans today like they did for Manos and CDM: "People were flipping houses; they were not getting proper appraisals. Atlanta's been a hotbed of mortgage fraud."
This was the man Sona Chambers remembers blowing into her office one day: a seemingly accomplished business owner decked out in jewelry and furs, attended by a bodyguard, with a limo waiting outside. At the time, Chambers worked at the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP), a prominent Atlanta charity founded by Jane Fonda. Manos helped sponsor events with the charity, although Chambers had reservations. A background check, however, turned up nothing.
Manos threw a lavish party and donated $21,000 to sponsor three girls in the G-CAPP program. After his appearance at a 70th birthday party for Fonda, society magazines ran news of Manos' gift to her: a house in a high-risk neighborhood for use in the program. Chambers remained suspicious, contacting law enforcement to check up on Manos' real identity, but he made good on his donations.
Manos hadn't been in touch with his mother since he jumped parole, but now that he was established in Atlanta, he invited her to visit. She says she couldn't believe what her son had made of himself. When he wasn't taking a limo, he drove one of three Mercedes leased under the company name. She accompanied him to a Monte Carlo–themed benefit he threw for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and he showed her some of his nearly 40 properties.
In what would prove to be a fateful decision, he invited his cousin, Tracy Bayone, to move from Poughkeepsie to Atlanta and work for him. Manos says he paid her rent and her son's private-school tuition, and bought them both cars.
But at least two former employees charge that the business was rife with fraud. One of them was Andrea Radamacher, then an events planner, who says that Manos offered her the opportunity to invest $35,000 to rehab a CDM house, but that only $15,000 was ever spent. Radamacher maintains that the company pocketed the rest. Manos also offered her the chance to invest in the company directly. She gave him $225,000, her family's life savings, and in exchange, he agreed to pay her $6,500 a month plus a generous rate of interest, and return the balance at the end of 12 months. "That went on for about five months when he paid me, and then that's when he disappeared," she says.