Dandy Rotten Scoundrel

Michael Manos was living the same lie that he peddled across the country. But in San Francisco, the truth caught up with him.

Manos began having problems with Bayone, who wasn't pulling her weight, he says, and he grew tired of covering her bills. After he fired her, she retaliated by threatening to report his fugitive status to the police. Former employees say it was clear in the last few months of 2007 that CDM had serious money troubles. Undaunted, Manos threw a grand opening party on March 9 for the new hair salon he partly owned, and a few days later, he was gone.

Manos effectively pulled the plug, changing his e-mail addresses and phone number to avoid all contact, and leaving Vaughn on the hook. Employees stopped receiving paychecks, and tenants who'd been paying rent to CDM were turned out of their homes when the banks foreclosed. Robert Vaughn, the only person whose name was ever on company paperwork, declared bankruptcy in April.

Radamacher and other employees alerted banks and law enforcement when Manos dropped out of sight. "It's destroyed us," Radamacher says. "I could never figure out why, being such a flamboyant person, how much he loved being the center of attention, how nobody could ever find him."


NEW YORK CITY
Elizabeth Thome and Josh Ek 
both worked for Manos in Dallas, and suspected there was more 
to “Mordan Stefanov” than he let on.
Hal Samples
Elizabeth Thome and Josh Ek both worked for Manos in Dallas, and suspected there was more to “Mordan Stefanov” than he let on.

Although he was a wanted man, Manos felt little compunction about returning to New York regularly from Atlanta, living in the Trump Tower, and working to expand CDM's holdings. Even after losing his real-estate company, he maintained a busy social schedule, turning his attention to event planning and looking for a struggling nightclub to take over.

Hugo de Freitas says he met Manos through a friend in April 2008, and got to know him because they frequented the same clubs. Late one night, de Freitas says, he called the friend — who was out with Manos — with an idea for a reality show. The show would feature a few regular guys working and partying hard in New York, alongside a European rich kid living a life of leisure and trying to break into the scene. "Every single idea I had," de Freitas says, "he grabbed it and ran away with it."

Manos moved quickly, assembling a small production crew by July for a show he was calling Pop Life: The Adventures of a de Medici. The production assistant he hired was Trina Rose, a recent New School graduate who was well known in New York's gay nightlife. She says Manos made it easy to get excited about the project. "He was the CEO of CDM Trust, of CDM International, which was also Worldwide Events and Marketing and films and movies and productions and everything," she says. "The business card was 16 lines. Everything was always over the top."

After amassing around 50 hours of footage, Manos announced in October that MTV wanted to pick up the show. "He made me get in contact with the head of MTV programming," Rose says. "Once the guy said, 'Yeah, send over your stuff,' to de Medici it was, 'All right, we're good.' That was often what he did. ... Everything's happening simultaneously, and there's no fruit. It's all talk."

Rose says Manos hired her for just $35 a day, but never paid her. She filed a $500 suit against him, and won when he failed to appear at a November 2008 hearing. Rose says she wasn't the only one cheated out of pay, but she and the crew fed off Manos' enthusiasm. "Even if what he's saying is a lie, there's something that overrides that. You know he believes it himself," she says. "It's not that he wanted to be famous. ... He wanted the experience of being perceived as famous."

Manos still claims the network's interest in Pop Life was real. The show is about a European trust-fund baby hoping to spread his wealth around and make the world a better place, while reveling in the city's nightlife and shopping around a reality television show he's hoping to produce. It's a tangle of semiscripted metareality, like MTV's The Hills taken to a new dimension: a reality show based on the flamboyant alter ego he had invented to avoid capture, capitalizing on the make-believe de Medici backstory.

For the private screening of the pilot on Sept. 25, 2008, Manos staged a huge party at Mansion (now M2 Ultralounge): a fashion show, a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the last big bash he planned before leaving New York. In a red-carpet interview outside the event (which Pop Life's cameras were also shooting), Manos gushed about his show's big message: "We are changing lives, we are having fun, we are being debaucherous." Asked to describe the show, he offered, "My show Pop Life follows my life, which is inspired by real events, and you have to figure out what's real and what's not." Then he looked directly at the camera, holding his gaze for a beat too long, as if daring the audience to separate the real in his life from the fake. "Is it live or is it Memorex, ladies and gentlemen?"


DALLAS

It's no surprise that Manos would flee to Dallas — not the real Dallas of commerce and can-do entrepreneurs, but the TV-series version, the fake, beyond-the-pale '80s product full of audacious wealth, scheming men, and glamorous women. Manos admits the TV show put the city on his radar.

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