By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
In his five years of running from the law, Michael Manos never kept a low profile. Under one alias or another, he'd turned up on red carpets decked out in Alexander McQueen couture, in society pages next to celebrities like Billy Zane and Jane Fonda at charity events, and in more than one reality show pilot centered on the fascinating and glamorous life he led. He wanted his freedom, but needed the fame.
Through it all, as he ran from a return to prison, he'd never been as close to capture as he was now, in the lobby of the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf Hotel, asking for towels at the front desk.
From Atlanta to New York to Dallas, he'd lived in the best penthouses, partied in the most exclusive clubs, and risen to the highest social circles — and he'd run away every time, leaving behind a small mob of unpaid employees and investors crying fraud in each city. Manos decided he'd make his last stand in San Francisco, either by rebuilding the international media conglomerate he'd just abandoned in Texas or letting himself get caught and shipped back to prison.
"I look back on it now," he says, "and I think part of me wanted to get caught."
Not that he'd have much choice in the matter. Surrounded by nautical accents in blue, green, and white, the slight, flamboyant 46-year-old was a fish in the barrel of the cozy hotel lobby. He happened to be standing just a few feet from the plainclothes U.S. marshal sent to haul him away. Behind the counter, the hotel manager was on the phone with the private investigator who had tracked Manos while gathering stories about his shadowy past: his alleged real estate and charity scams, a violent kidnapping, late-night romps in the White House.
When the marshals did move in to arrest Manos in his hotel room, law enforcement in at least four states — California, Georgia, New York, and Texas — competed to prosecute him first before he was extradited to New York, the state that maintained jurisdiction over his parole. He would be skewered in the press in Dallas and Atlanta, condemned as a con artist who had used multiple aliases to hide his true identity, a "glam scammer" who defrauded the gay community, the rich and famous, by gaining their confidence with the glow of his phony celebrity. He would milk their generosity with appeals for local charities and, the stories went, lived large on all he could pocket for himself.
But in a jailhouse phone interview, Manos paints a different picture of his many selves. He would argue that his celebrity was real, if a little dated, cultivated over years in the nation's top party scenes. As he sees it, his only crime was jumping parole so he could seek a new life, to pursue his big ambitions of wealth, glamour, and fame unshackled to his past mistakes.
"I did everything right. I gave to charity, I was a good, productive member of society," he says. "I mean, what'd I do? I failed to report to parole."
In Michael Manos' world, silence may be the most dangerous thing of all, the space where doubt and reality leak in. When he is talking, though, his world is the shining place where you want to be, a semireality of glitter and booze and all the right answers.
"He'd just go a thousand miles a minute, and by the time it was over, you wouldn't know which way was up," says Evan Batt, a liquor distributor he worked with in Dallas.
"I didn't even know what his real name was," recalls Trina Rose, a production designer he worked with in New York. "I was just in this tornado of feeling screwed over."
From city to city, details changed, except for this: At the middle of all the turningwas Manos.
Even today, locked up without the couture, the Botox, or his expensive hairpiece, Manos plays the victim in his own life story, the target of a years-long personal vendetta on the part of a cousin and an ex-boyfriend. Convincingly, he offers excuses for bad behavior, providing long-winded, difficult-to-corroborate answers, a mixture of facts, opinions, and celebrity encounters that find him in just the right places at just the right times.
He was born in 1963 in Poughkeepsie, north of New York City. In a backstory he frequently told, his father was a rich Greek philanthropist who'd given him a trust fund for his education, but otherwise disowned him when he learned his son was gay. According to Manos' mother, Elizabeth Martin, while the family was Greek, the rest was pure invention, and his father died years ago.
Manos grew up as Michael Martin. He was picked on for being small, and struggled with his schoolwork. His mother says he was diagnosed as dyslexic and hyperactive, and even before he knew he was gay, he just didn't fit in: "He would act out, try and fit in different places, and it just didn't work."
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."
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.
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."
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?"
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.
From past visits, he knew the Ashton, a swanky apartment building. In August 2009, he negotiated a one-year lease on a 17th-floor apartment with the first three months free. In October, he moved to the 21st-floor penthouse, a more appropriate place for his parties, and sublet the other apartment. According to a complaint later filed with police, his lease agreement for the first apartment was one of the few documents Manos signed under one of his pseudonyms.
Armed with a new five-year plan, Manos went to work creating a fashion, news, and entertainment media company he named SFR, and a new persona he adopted, based on an international driver's license he had acquired from a Bulgarian man in the name of Mordan Stefanov.
Even though Manos had yet to publish a single issue of his company's magazine, he parlayed his role as its publisher into an invitation to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's annual VIP fundraiser. Trailed by a photographer he'd hired for the night, Manos made new contacts. "He showed up late, but he tried to be in all the pictures with the famous people at the very beginning," the photographer, Brett Vander, recalls. "I've been to these things with the millionaires and the famous people, but this was the billionaires' club."
Women accustomed to more staid fundraising affairs were putty in the hands of a seasoned cruiser like Manos. "I was amazed seeing how people reacted to him — he really drew these society women out," Vander says.
Manos found a close friend in Abbe Mandel, who runs a high-profile promotional business and who drove Manos to Southfork Ranch so he could see the Dallas mansion up close. "He was like nobody I'd ever met. He just was funny to me; I just got a little kick out of him," says Mandel, who learned early on about his new friend's fake identity. "When I found out that he didn't report to his parole, it didn't even faze me. A lot of people have backstories. We never know."
Others who worked with Manos weren't as taken by him. "Did I think his name was Mordan? Hell, no. Come on," says Sean McGinty, who chauffeured Manos and other business partners around Dallas a few times. "He was good with the B.S., man, but most promoters are."
Manos prepared to launch SFR with an elaborate gala and charity auction, and moved quickly to line up vendors and partners. "He established himself pretty quick once he'd gotten in through someone's contacts," says Darren McCulley, the bodyguard Manos hired. "He doesn't push. He lets people get involved just enough. Once he got in two or three deep into someone's contacts, it was like he's in."
Liquor distributor Batt, whose company sponsored Manos' parties, says he did well with Manos' first events, even if he didn't buy everything Manos promised about the global potential of his business. "It was unbelievable, his dedication to his fantasy," Batt says. "He clearly knew what he was doing." And for those who were taken in, Batt says, "This guy was so non-Dallas, they thought it was going to be big and wanted to latch on, and couldn't see through his phoniness."
The Oct. 30 Monte Carlo de Casino party was a reboot of the Atlanta event. Actor Billy Zane was there to speak about the charity tie-ins, and Manos enlisted the Croatian-born model Jasmina Hdagha to interview arrivals on the red carpet at the Ashton.
The party was a fundraiser for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Children's Medical Center, and Vogel Alcove, a homeless children's nonprofit. Manos told Children's they'd get $75,000 from the event, development director Lori Waggoner says, but the night's total was $4,045 from the charity auction. Make-a-Wish took in about $3,000 from three auction items, says vice president of development and services Billie Milner — a fourth item, she says, "was not legitimate," and they returned the money. Vogel Alcove collected $2,000 in direct donations, plus a $1,000 check that was to cover its cut of the bar tab that night.
The party set off a flurry of others in rapid succession. Manos threw three more between Nov. 19 and 21."You can't have a damn red carpet event every Friday night," McGinty — who provided the red carpet for the Monte Carlo party — recalls telling him. "It has to have some luster. What makes it special if you have one every night?"
Manos was a workaholic, and expected his staff to keep up. SFR's three employees worked long hours in a cramped office, editing video and toiling away at what he tried to convince them would become a media empire.
His video producer, Elizabeth Thome, recalls she wasn't enthusiastic about what she first saw. "The Web sites, they all looked like crap. It was just shit put together," she says. The board of directors included one "R. Murdoch," and its corporate headquarters, according to its Web site, was at a Rome address near the Spanish Steps. "His first magazine was crap. ... The pictures are pixelated. I mean, he spelled Miley Cyrus' name wrong."
If Manos needed a copy editor, he needed a business partner even more. He found Hezlep, his ex-john from D.C., on Facebook, and after recounting his path to success — and sharing a photo of himself alongside Fonda — Manos enlisted his help.
Hezlep was living with his parents in Southern California, and had settled into a sales job he didn't like. So he couldn't say no when Manos offered him the editor's job at SFR, especially when Manos set him up with his own apartment.
Hezlep says he and Manos had planned to file together for a joint business partnership at the county clerk's office, but Manos didn't show and asked Hezlep to sign the paperwork, which he did. "I'm really surprised that I was not able to find some of this stuff to be odd, to the point that it raised red flags," Hezlep says.
Manos began to use Dallas restaurant Bella as his go-to venue, teaming up with the owners to start an event-planning business. "This guy came in for a consulting gig one day, sat in the corner booth, and just really never left," recalls Will Larsen, then a short-order cook in Bella's kitchen.
As Manos prepared to debut his new show about the restaurant, Bella Boyz, his and Thome's relationship grew strained. "He yelled at me all the time. He never appreciated all I did for him," she says. She remembers venting to her friend Josh Ek, who'd done contract work for Manos. "'Who the hell is he? Where did he come from? How come he has no friends?' I just started going off, and Josh was like, 'Well, do you want me to dig anything up on him?' And I was like, 'Yeah, actually, I do.'"
It was the kind of night Mordan Stefanov lived for: red-carpet treatment, limos, high fashion, and free-flowing drinks — an A-list of moneyed guests, society and business types, and the poseurs who needed to be seen at the hottest party in town.
The Jan. 8 celebration would mark the pinnacle of all he had accomplished in the four short months since he arrived in Dallas. It was billed as the grand reopening of Bella, which had been remodeled and bore the brand of Stefanov's own flamboyant design — the sort of place where a jet-setting European party lover like himself would feel at home. Attendees would have a chance to meet the "stars" of his new Dallas-based reality show, Bella Boyz, featuring Robert "Peach" Petrie and Anthony "Tony" Porcaro, co-owners of the restaurant, as well as Stefanov himself. They would be treated to the premiere of the promotional trailer for the series, which was being produced by Stefanov's SFR Television ("The World's First Online Television Network with Original Programming"), which was part of his global media empire, SFR International. Another of his subsidiaries, SFR magazine, would be debuting its spring issue to guests.
Working the crowd with his bursts of "I love everybody" enthusiasm uttered with hints of a European accent, Manos himself could have been the night's main entertainment. He wore a sweater, scarf, and vest — all Alexander McQueen — with David Yurman jewelry as cameras caught his every prowl. He ensured that photographers snapped him with only the best-dressed and the most interesting of his hundreds of guests, only the few who could hold their own beside him in the frame. He had an orange-blonde hair weave, unlike any color in nature, swooping down across his forehead. He could have been 30 or 40, but who could tell? He seemed to make a point of keeping people guessing.
Inside this world, the night belonged to Manos. The name of his media conglomerate, SFR — Society Fashion Report — lit up the walls, and screens around the room flashed highlights from the dozen parties he'd thrown over the last two months in Dallas: celebrity appearances, mostly by Zane, and auctions for children's charities. The same screens played the Bella Boyz trailer as the voice-over montage announced "television's hottest new reality series." "Two successful business owners ... One magazine publisher — Mordan, the deal breaker. ... It's Entourage meets Hell's Kitchen. ... The money. One restaurant. The Nightlife. The Brotherhood. The Power. ... Hang with the Boyz, Spring 2010."
Turns out, the "Boyz" couldn't hang together that long.
As his guests drank in the production, they were unaware of the darker drama unfolding around them. Mordan Stefanov was not who he appeared. He was Michael Manos, convicted felon and fugitive from justice, a parole violator who had, for the last five years, fled from New York to Atlanta to Dallas under a series of fake identities.
Manos knew that his time in Dallas had come to an end. And so did four other people at the party, employees who wondered why they could find hardly any trace of him on the Internet, why he seemed to be a man with no history.
After the New Year's Eve masquerade ball he threw in a tent in Bella's parking lot, Manos began preparing for the debut of Bella Boyz.
Manos thought Thome and Ek had looked at his hard drive, which would have led them to the Facebook page his estranged friend Alexander had created, "Stop Michael de Medici," detailing the kidnapping and other lurid stories. Manos says he hired a private investigator, confirming through phone records that Thome and Ek had been in touch with Bayone and Alexander. He hesitated to run from Dallas with the party so close, so he stuck around for the big event on Friday night — but on Sunday afternoon, he cut out.
On Jan. 13, Manos returned to Dallas to gather his belongings and met Hezlep to discuss restarting SFR in San Francisco or Los Angeles, where there were greater opportunities, he said. Besides, with his cousin, Thome, and Ek on his trail, they had to leave right away. As Hezlep recalls, "He said that this was heating up to the point that he would rather move the business to L.A. or San Francisco, where the opportunities were greater than in Dallas." They mulled the two options during the long drive west. "We ultimately decided on San Francisco because it's more his style in terms of being a quasi-European city than L.A., and it's easier to get around without wheels," Hezlep says.
Thome says that Manos began sending her threatening texts. "He kept telling me that he was in town, that he was watching me, that he was pulling my phone records," she says. Word circulated among Manos' business partners that he'd left Dallas, and McCulley, a private investigator, began piecing together details of Manos' unseemly past.
As McCulley recalls it, the night of Manos' arrest played out in high Hollywood drama. Thome had been in touch with Hezlep's parents, and learned he was in a San Francisco hotel with his friend "Mike." Thome passed the details to McCulley, who immediately began looking up hotels online. He phoned several, asking if anyone had checked in with a black Lab that night, and after confirming that the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf had a guest named Doug Hezlep, he warned the hotel manager that he had a guest who was running from the law.
In the hotel room half an hour later, Hezlep opened the door to six U.S. marshals and a corrections official, who entered the room and handcuffed the pair but shortly released Hezlep. Although the marshals had shut Mimi on the balcony, where she barked as they searched the room, Manos persuaded them to let her in. He kissed her goodbye as they led him away.
Manos was questioned by the Secret Service, and after five years running from the specter of prison, he was returned to a life behind bars in the San Francisco County Jail, where he spent nearly a month before his extradition to New York.
On Jan. 22, The Dallas Morning News broke the story that con artist Michael Manos had been caught in San Francisco after trying to steal from celebrities and charities in Dallas. Petrie filed a complaint against Manos for $70,000 in unauthorized charges to his credit card, though he now says he has settled the issue with American Express and is not interested in pressing charges.
Rumors swirled across Alexander's Facebook page, where Manos' business partners in Dallas, Atlanta, and New York united to share stories. Thome and Ek were among those posting updates, detailing what had driven Manos out of their city.
Manos maintains the stories about him are all overblown, the product of Bayone and Alexander feeding speculation about his true identity. Now that he's been caught, he says, "I gained my freedom and my life back."
Still, the law may not be done with Michael Manos. Dallas detectives may still pursue credit-card abuse charges based on Petrie's complaint, plus a felony charge arising from Manos' use of a false name on the Ashton rental form. In San Francisco, where impersonation charges were brought against Manos and then dropped, the district attorney's office might still pick up charges if it can find the real Mordan Stefanov. In Atlanta, perhaps most seriously, ongoing investigations into CDM International's finances could spoil Manos' plans to live freely under his real name. If the authorities want to question him now, they know where to find him. He currently resides in the Dutchess County jail, back home in Poughkeepsie.
He's working on a book, he says, and has an agent shopping it around. "Think Jackie Collins with a mixture of reality," he says. Manos says he finished the first chapter about getting arrested in San Francisco the night of his parole hearing. And for busting parole, which sparked the cross-country cons, aliases, and a fugitive life of glamour, Manos received only a 12-month sentence.
He awaits a move upstate where he'll spend the rest of the year in prison, but is already making plans for the parties he'll throw once he gets out. Mordan Stefanov may be finished in Dallas, but Michael Manos is looking forward to returning and picking up where he left off.