Catching a Craigslist Criminal

This is a true story (and now available as Episode 5 of Season 2's Karma’s a B*tch). He may someday read this and remember where I live, so I tell this story with a non-zero risk to my personal safety. That said, it’s a story worth telling because it may be the closest I will come to being a detective/super-hero in my lifetime.

The Meet

In the late summer of 2007, my relationship was well-past the point of coming apart at the seams, and just a few weekends past his move-out date. It was clear to me that an all-encompassing project was just the cure for heartbreak. One of the main frustrations had been my partner’s disinterest in home improvement projects. I decided I would take an ambitious, independent leap in that direction.

First off, and least recommended, I did not ask my coworkers or friends for recommendations. My home-owning friends were (are?) generally wealthier people with more valuable homes and gardens. I was willing to cut a few corners if it meant being able to get all the renovations completed with the newly approved loan.

Craigslist, where you can find anything

Instead, I kept an eye out in local newspapers and scraped the Craigslist “skill’d trade” section for options. Several bidders projected costs where I would have to make choices between knocking out the wall and replacing the countertops. The final bidder was an Irish-American Southern gentleman who offered intelligent reasons to skip the wall-knocking in favor of other small projects which would add greater value to my modest condo. He spoke as only a carpenter would. His contractor’s license number checked out as clean.

There were subtle warning signs I chose to ignore. He didn’t take exact measurements. His proposal for addressing my full wishlist came in just under my budget. Any day could be the first day of this new project. My excitement stifled my concerns. I signed the contract and gave him a standard 10% retainer or $2,500.

We started shopping for kitchen cabinets and hardwood flooring together. He would tour me from store to store patiently explaining the pros and cons between different materials. At each stop he would open the door for me as we entered a shop (not so strange), but then he would also open the truck door when we returned as only a Southern Gentleman would. I wasn’t about to get in a huff over a polite gesture. On perhaps the third weekend of such excursions, I found the bamboo cabinets of my dreams. The problem was of course, the price. Coincidently, the store offered contractors a significantly discounted price. He offered so kindly to purchase the cabinets for me with the steep discount. I eagerly signed over $6000.

My Dream Bamboo Cabs

The Con

“Lets get dinner to celebrate finding the cabinets! We can go over the upcoming plans for installation and the rest of the construction.” he said. I imagined a pizza, and our evening spent etching possibilities all over the cardboard box. He arrived on Sunday evening dressed in a button-up shirt, presenting flowers in one hand and wine in a gift bag in the other. I began to panic, but realized quickly a feigned romantic interest was the better option.Over a few glasses of wine, and a few over-shares on his part, I realized there was a part of me that felt sympathetic towards his abusive childhood. However, I made no offer to pay, and when he dropped me home he thankfully played the gentleman’s part by leaving.

I waited to hear from him. On Tuesday evening he texts, “Would you like to go to San Diego with me?”. I reply “Let me have the night to think about it.” A day later I write him an email explaining that I am unprepared to consider any sort of romantic involvement and would like to keep the relationship professional. I receive no reply.

refund me, please

A day later, I gingerly crafted another note attempting to assure him I intended no embarrassment. It’s interesting how written language becomes far more placating when the reader has significant leverage. I hoped we could go our separate ways if he agreed to return the money. No reply.

With that dreaded sense of forced confrontation, I call the next morning. The number is no longer connected. I reverse-look-up the address for his company only to discover it is a church. The company existed but the man I was in contract with did not have any affiliation with the company. The smoke, the mirrors. I spent a pretty-penny tracing phone numbers and possible relatives across a handful of find-anyone sites. Each trickle of a lead led to a dead end. It became clear I had been duped for $8500.

The Chase

As I came to face the reality that I would be on the hook for repaying the loan to the bank for the next couple of years, I started looking for ways to seek justice. I had no budget for a lawyer, and no family members who qualified. The police would not help for lack of a criminal mugging, theft or something of a physical altercation. I filed all the necessary paperwork to prosecute in small claims court, but the system relies on being able to serve the accused a copy via a 3rd party courier— an impossible task for the Ghost I was chasing. Finally, there existed a sliver of a possibility my case would be chosen by the Contractor’s License Board for representation by the SF District Attorney’s office.

Six months passed. My small claims documents lay unserved, and the Contractor’s license board remained undecided. All fronts were at a stalemate.

The Lead

By chance, and a bit of loneliness, I found myself browsing the Craigslist personals. I had long since given up the fantasy of meeting anyone of high caliber, but browsing continued to prove an entertaining pasttime. Dolores Park, complicated, and exploring the city were all classic ad mentions, but “Southern gentleman” and a photo of the Target sporting a grown-in beard gave it away. This was my chance.

A snippet from the actual m4w advertisement

I bought a “burner”. Yes, it was around this time I had blown through all 5 seasons of The Wire. Six of my male friends of largest stature were invited to join me at a bar across from Farley’s in Potrero Hill. The fake photos I sent of myself, and the short conversation delivered in a higher pitch seemed to entice the Con Artist enough to enjoy a coffee. We practiced the serving of papers, alongside rehearsing our best ‘You’ve been served’ acts. Beers were drunk. Necks were craned. Calls were made. More beers were drunk. At some point, Goat Hill Pizza seemed the sensible end to such a disappointing night.

The Lineup

Another few months rolled by without incidence. My floors had since been installed and the place repainted. A lesser choice of installed cabinets reminded me daily of my first choice.

the lineup

A phone rings. The woman who heard my case from the Contractor’s License Board is interested in gathering more details. In a blink, I’m in the office identifying Romeo from a lineup of driver’s licenses. I stack my paper trail on her desk complete with every text and correspondence (or attempt), his dating profile and the even more recent ad for tennis partners. She casually mentions this sly Crim has ripped off a number of folks in the Bay Area over the years, but they have never had enough evidence to prosecute.

The prospect is confirmed just weeks later. The case will be officially represented by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. I receive a 50ft. restraining order in the post; apparently this man has a bit of a violent streak. Within weeks I receive a call from Attorney Evan Ackiron informing me of the good fortune; Our suspect was picked up on other (domestic violence) charges in Marin and was officially charged for misrepresenting himself as a licensed Contractor. As a first-time offender, he received the option of posting bail for $60,000.

Bail 101: Man receives option of bail, Bondsman agrees Man is an acceptable risk, Bondsman promises Court to pay Man’s bail. If Man appears in Court, Court does not collect on Bondsman’s promise, Man pays Bondsman a cut. If Man does not appear in court, Bondsman pays full amount to court, then embarks on a bounty hunt. Our Accused managed to post bail immediately with a co-signer posting her property as collateral. I’ll give you a hint: a bounty hunt ensues.

The Disappearance

It was just a month before the hearing. It was just a month and day until I heard he hadn’t appeared for the hearing. Prior to this bail-skipping, the D.A. was convinced our Thief was a bit of a novice who would receive lenient sentencing, given his lack of a previous record. Now that the Slime had managed to slither away, he would face harsher judgement, though the chance of finding him was drastically diminished. Police enforcement for Californian matters ended at the California border.

Searching for virtual breadcrumbs became my part-time tick. A google here, a sweep of Craigslist there, a few D.N.S. lookups of suspicious construction sites when time allowed. Every few months I would find a blip on the radar, but typically it lead to nothing. Except, when it did.

I discovered two key pieces of the puzzle around the same time. The first was a new alias he had begun to adopt. A domain surfaced as registered to his real driver’s license name, but he would portray himself under a specific pseudonym offering construction services with the same old pitches. I dutifully reported this new information to the District Attorney’s office, but without a lead on a location, they were loathe to spend more time and resources on the case.

ripoff report proved a valuable resource

The second was a handful of personal accounts on RipoffReport from others he had victimized. The stories were almost identical to mine, although in some cases he had begun the demolition and left homeowners in a less livable situation. There were no more clues here, but one thing caught my eye. The company that posted his bail left a comment voicing their interest in any information related to this case.

The Hunt

My meticulous collection of breadcrumbs now provided useful background to the fresh eyes of this Bounty Hunter. Together we reviewed all the interactions and the recent possibility he was masquerading as a new persona. It seemed this new alias led back to a man who was a good friend of our Criminal. The Friend realized an old driver’s license had gone missing recently. Bounty Hunter’s notes, combined with my evidence of his name being exercised unknowingly, made the Friend aware that the Thief didn’t share the same definition of friendship he understood.

With only the slightest persuasion, the Friend was convinced to make a call under the pretense of wanting to pay a visit. Arizona was the answer.

The Bounty Hunter rings me. He had driven out to Arizona overnight. He had camped outside the home all-day awaiting movement. A vehicle pulled up to the address just after workday hours. A petite Asian woman greets the Man at the door. The Man matches the photos. My voyeuristic side wishes I could have watched the confrontation unfold. The Bounty Hunter is greeted at the door by the Asian woman, wearing a wedding ring. It becomes clear she speaks not a word of English. Once the Crim understands the situation he calls for his wife to calm down (unsuccessfully) in English. The Bounty Hunter is calling me en route back to San Francisco with our Escapist secured in the back of the van.

The Sentence

In the time since San Francisco, our Antagonist had commited a Federal crime in Nevada, 3 distinct cases of scamming reached the courts in Saratoga, and finally another case from San Francisco. Federal court received priority, Saratoga followed, and San Francisco would be last. I had the opportunity to attend his hearing, but dreaded the idea of connecting eyes across a court room. He would have years in jail to wonder whether I had anything to do with being found. As it turns out, if you are planning to commit several crimes, it’s best to commit them all before you stand trial to face the accusations all at once. This way, it is more likely you’ll receive a deal for time served. Each of the five cases similar to mine would have cost him two years each. In total, a deal was struck to serve 5 years, including his federal offense which remains a mystery. It crossed my mind there was a woman in Arizona who would be quite lost in the world for at least 5 years.

The Aftermath

He’s been released for just under a year now. One of the Ripoff reports has been updated to include a lengthy personal reply claiming the incident was an exception to his typically high standard of professionalism. The con seems it will continue.

I have a debt owed with compounding interest due anytime he cleans up his act and attempts to earn taxable income. Yes, I’ll be waiting for the day the Bastard tires of the chase and finds the honest, hard-working lifestyle suits him. Unless, of course, I can find proof he owns assets that may be liquidated. The superhero in me would like to see justice fully served.

If I do ever tire of start-up T-shirts, the tights-and-cape option exists. At the conclusion of the sentencing 6 years ago, Evan Ackiron personally extended an open-ended offer to explore career possibilities with the SF District Attorney’s office. I recall the opportunity each time I browse the “ETC” jobs section.

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