How I got conned, how I hunted down my con artist and put her in jail and how I discovered 45 other victims of hers all over the world in the process.
Below are the first two chapters. Whatever you think you know about con artist Marianne Smyth, it's only just the tip of the iceberg...
Enjoy reading the first two chapters below FOR FREE.
And then shoot me an email if you want me to let you know when the entire book will be available. ConArtistMarianneSmyth@gmail.com
“What a fucking idiot!” one comment read.
“Why did he keep giving her money?” another wrote.
“Irish royalty, really? This guy is not too bright. Now he is determined to let the entire world know that.” added someone else.
The first news stories chronicling how I got scammed out of almost $100,000 by a professional con artist were hitting the internet.
And I felt like I was getting punked.
“This guy comes off as the most naive person imaginable. All the whining. I was rooting for the con artist.” wrote one reader.
”You deserved to get scammed.” wrote another.
“She didn’t steal your money, you willingly gave it to her! There is no actual crime!” thoughtfully scribed another.
Tons of people I never even knew were sharing their opinions about me and what a dumb fuck I was - because I had been scammed by a professional con artist on the run who masqueraded as my best friend for 4 years; while hiding from authorities in my apartment building - disguising herself as a new neighbor.
The reactions were harsh. They were hurtful. They were hard to reconcile. Here I was, 14 months into my exhaustive and expensive quest for justice and I’m the one being attacked in the court of public opinion?
It was victim shaming of the highest order.
After all, I’m not stupid. I’ve got a 142 IQ. A college degree in journalism. And I know what the capital of Honduras is.
That was one of the questions on the IQ test.
But jeez, people hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard can be cruel and very prolific.
I also received a really disturbing email from a man named Christopher Martinez, who was eerily connected to my con artist case.
“My brother works for LAPD he’s a Captain at HQ and he’s very familiar with you. He doesn’t feel sorry for you… You’re creepy and not someone I’d want to know personally. You’ll never have any friends in life. How can you? You’re a sad miserable person who needs medical treatment ASAP.”
HE’S the one sending me THIS email and he calls ME creepy?
It’s no wonder the vast majority of victims of con artists never tell a living soul about what happened to them. Much less go to police and pursue the matter through the criminal justice system. It’s embarrassing. It’s demeaning. Instead of compassion and understanding from people, you get disdain and ridicule from mouth-breathers like the brother of the captain of the LAPD.
But, like a Kenyan marathon runner ignoring jet lag, muscle cramps and a cold drizzle - I ended up winning this race.
Being an openly gay man for the past 13 years, I had learned to cast aside people’s potentially harmful opinions about me and my life. And that honed indifference enabled me to persevere where others might have given up and succumbed to the humiliation of it all. I’d dealt with “smear the queer” campaigns much worse than this. And I’d been unceremoniously disowned by part of my family.
I also grew up on the island of Jamaica - where as a fat, white kid, I was teased and ridiculed mercilessly.
“Big, fat, sour, white boy!” was the colorful, pejorative phrase groups of total strangers would yell at me as I walked on the street. Jamaicans are notorious for saying (yelling) exactly what’s on their minds. It’s a cultural thing. I didn’t develop a thick skin so much as a titanium Iron Man suit to weather the slings and arrows (and hurled petrified mango seeds) of that austere, third-world adolescent taunting.
So strangers online making fun of me for getting scammed? It barely even registered on my run-away-and-hide meter. It just surprised me is all. I really didn’t anticipate it.
Whenever I tell people I was born and raised in Jamaica, they immediately do a double take and say suspiciously, “You don’t look Jamaican.”
“I do below the waist.” I reply.
It usually gets a laugh.
Or it’ll make the cop go ahead and write the ticket.
Back in the early 1900’s, my great grandparents in Lebanon and hundreds of other Lebanese families all hopped on boats and set sail for a better life. By some accounts, they were heading to America and got lost at sea for 6 months. My grandfather’s mother actually died of a miscarriage on that voyage. So when they landed on dry land in Jamaica - they were thrilled. And they stayed.
“I can get you to America!” the captain probably assured them at that point. But if you were them, would you get back on that boat?
So that’s how my family got started in Jamaica.
Being gay in Jamaica is a crime. Like an actual crime. Like, it’s illegal. ‘Buggery’ is the charge: a crime against nature. But I left that Caribbean island when I was 17 years old to go to college in Florida and I never looked back. I wasn’t openly gay when I lived in Jamaica. The culture there wouldn’t tolerate it. Pop songs on the radio at that time actually celebrated killing gay people. “Batty-man… hah fi dead!” was the chorus of a popular Beenie Man number in particular. Which loosely translated means: Gays must be killed.
It’s been a real challenge trying to square the love I have for my homeland with the hate it has for me. But that’s another book entirely.
One of the most insane occurrences that still baffles me to this day is, exactly 10 years before I was getting conned by Marianne Smyth in Los Angeles, my entire family in Jamaica was getting conned out of millions of dollars by a con artist with the same last name!
Were they related?
More on that later.
It’s interesting. Out of all the victims of my con artist, I was the only gay man she fleeced. Up until she scammed me, she had demonstrated a penchant for targeting mostly married men. She even had a profile on a website called “SugarDaddyForMe.com" where she’d enter into financial arrangements with these men, who’d pay her a monthly fee for sex. Then she'd blackmail them when they tried to end the relationship. She also targeted women with wealthy husbands or sensitive jobs or otherwise something embarrassing to hide.
It’s not hard to imagine why these victims never even entertained the idea of reporting her to police. And that enabled her to continue scamming people, unabated, for years.
Of course, bringing my con artist to justice seems like a forgone conclusion now. A no brainer. But that was hardly the case at all I assure you.
The day I realized I was conned and lost all my money, I was devastated. I went home and collapsed into my husbands arms. I didn’t cry. I wailed. The pain and regret washed over me like a slow-moving hurricane.
“How could I let this happen to us?” I sobbed over and over again. My tears drenched his shirt. I was inconsolable.
I felt forsaken by God.
‘I’m a good person.’ I thought. Kind. Generous. I had always gone out of my way to help people my entire life. Why was this happening to me? I didn’t deserve it.
Months later, after I started my maddening mission of bringing my con artist to justice, I realized why it had happened to me. The answer came in a quiet whisper, “It was meant to.” Because out of all of Marianne’s Smyth’s victims, and there were many, I was the only one who stopped her. I was the only one who exposed her to the world. I was the only one who put her in jail. This whole crazy and painful thing happened to me because the Universe chose me to take her down - and save untold numbers of people from falling victim to her in the years to come. As a former TV news reporter. As a slick wordsmith. As a reality TV producer. As a fearless gay man with little regard for ‘What people think.’ Who was better equipped than me to do this job?
I thank God everyday now for giving me the strength, the wisdom and the perseverance to rise to the challenge presented. It revealed a ferocious warrior within me I could have never imagined existed. I am grateful.
After going public with my story, I started getting contacted by hundreds of victims of other con artists all over the world. Telling me I inspired them. Asking me for help and advice on how to bring their con artists to justice. So I started purposefully using what I learned putting my con artist in jail - to help others.
Scamming me would turn out to be the biggest mistake Marianne Smyth ever made. And it was certainly the beginning of her end. Because I had no shame. And I knew how to put her on television!
Even though I had been pitching and pitching and pitching my story to newspapers and TV stations for an entire year, trying to get some news coverage - nothing was happening. That all changed on May 25th 2018.
It was one day before my birthday - and boy did the powers-that-be have a transcendent gift.
My con artist had just come to court for her preliminary hearing. I had pushed this giant boulder of a “grand theft by inducement” charge up the steep hill of the criminal justice system for fourteen months (and more than a dozen court appearances) at this point. And today was the day a judge, an actual judge, was going to hear all the evidence I had against her and decide if it was enough to go to trial. If the judge felt it wasn’t - he’d dismiss the case outright.
I had a lot riding on today. I felt numb by the weight of it all. And numb by the actual weight I had put on during the past year. Twenty pounds. Stress eating was getting the best of me. And my two friends, Ben & Jerry, weren’t helping.
It was 8:30 in the morning. Not a cloud in the sky. And the southern California sun shone bright, casting a glow on the insanity taking place below. I’m sure even God himself must’ve done a double take when he saw my con artist show up to court that day - on crutches.
Luckily, the local “Eyewitness News” station was there to do a story about my case. All my pitching and pitching had finally paid off.
“What happened to your foot?” KABC-TV reporter Rob Hayes asked my con artist, incredulously, as she hobbled along outside the courthouse.
Surprisingly, she said nothing in response. She just stared off into space. It looked as if she was doing long division in her head. Or trying to spot a Red Fox Sparrow hiding in the trees for her ornithological club.
Her long, black, stringy hair sloppily framed her pale face. An oversized gray sweater and jeans made her look like a bag lady. It was a complete 180 from the quaffed, Jimmy Choo wearing Irish Heiress she portrayed herself to be during our friendship. Or rather, during her long con of me.
Was she hoping the judge would take pity on her because she now looked like a homeless woman - and completely ignore all her marauding exploits?
Even the way she walked on those crutches looked suspect. At times putting most of her weight on her right foot. Then ten minutes later, shifting most of her weight to her left.
I’d like to think even her own legs were as sick and tired of all her cons as I was and were protesting the only way they knew how: by betraying her in broad daylight. And on television to boot.
“A lot of people are accusing you of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from them. Do you have any comment on that?” asked TV reporter Rob Hayes, while shoving a news camera in her face.
And again, she said nothing.
Her silence perplexed me.
I mean, here was a woman, who told the tallest of tall tales to scam money out of me and many others. Here was a woman who’d cry rivers of tears at the drop of a hat while unpacking her many and varied sob stories to sell her cons. Yet, when it really mattered, when potentially millions of people were watching the news on TV in Los Angeles that day, she had nothing to say? No farfetched explanation? No dramatic story? No tears? No reaction whatsoever? Just a vacant stare that made her look guilty as all hell.
An innocent person would be screaming at the top of their lungs, “I didn’t steal any money! This is a big misunderstanding! I didn’t do it!”
How could a sophisticated and inveterate con artist like Marianne Elizabeth Smyth - who at that point had deftly scammed more than a million dollars from dozens and dozens of victims all over the world - suddenly be at a loss for words?
Here she was at 49 years old; she’d successfully played a theatrical armada of splashy characters to con people over the years. She knew how to act like a doctor, a lawyer, a cancer patient, an Irish heiress, a psychic, a witch (Yes witch! More on that later) a travel agent, a mortgage broker, a professional hockey team manager, she even impersonated Jennifer freaking Aniston… and yet, when it really mattered, when the glare of TV news cameras was trained on her masterful mug - she shockingly didn’t seem to know how to ‘act’ like an innocent person.
I guess she’d never been outed as a con artist before and had no practice dealing with the sudden and intense onslaught of it all. But you’d think, someone with such a rich history of being quick on her feet and spinning countless believable yarns would have something in the neighborhood of -convincing- to say to news cameras.
Yet… she did not.
I on the other hand, did.
“We knew she was going to pull something today. But to show up to court in crutches?” I rhetorically asked reporter Rob Hayes during my TV news interview.
“I want justice. I want her to go to jail for a long, long time.” I added with indignation.
I explained to the reporter how I became the victim of an international con artist. And how I found dozens of other victims she scammed. And how, after starting a blog about what happened to me, I got a call from a police detective in Northern Ireland who told me he’d been looking for Marianne Smyth for the past ten years - in connection with a slew of elaborate cons she pulled in Europe. And now that he knew where she was (thanks to my blog) he planned to extradite her to face charges.
I quickly discovered, after I made the evening news, that in the same way wooden stakes kill vampires and silver bullets kill werewolves: publicity kills con artists. And the more publicity I got for my con artist, the more I destroyed her ability to con new victims. I felt like I was doing a public service at this point. And I reveled in it.
Don’t get me wrong, It was an uphill battle to be sure. My husband, my friends and family all saw the toll this “fight” was taking on me early on and begged me, over and over again, to let it go. To give up. To move on.
“We need to get on with our lives.” my husband would frequently urge. “We have each other and that’s all we need. We will make the money she stole back.”
I knew he was right. And I was grateful to have such an amazingly loving and optimistic man in my life and by my side. But this crime was like a loose thread on an itchy blanket that barely covered me. And I just couldn’t stop pulling at it.
“I don’t like what this is doing to you man.” one of my best friends, Evan Goldstein, said to me.
I’d been having detailed murder fantasies for the first time in my life. Every damn day. And every damn night. For months. And Evan looked terrified when I told him about them. We were both working for the same company at the time. Evan went outside for a smoke break. He wanted to talk to me. So I followed close behind for a secondhand smoke break. And he earnestly expressed grave concern for what I was becoming by this ordeal.
“You’re letting it dull your shine man.” he said. “You’re letting it turn you into something you’re not. You need to let it go. And learn to how move on with your life. I’m worried about you.”
But I was like a junkyard dog with a bone at that point. And I just couldn’t let it go. It became an unrelenting obsession. As I harnessed every imaginable resource at my disposal for two and a half years straight to ferret out the elaborate cons of Marianne Smyth. I hired six private investigators in multiple states and countries. I spent countless hours on the phone and online with law enforcement officials across the country and the world. I went to courthouse after courthouse pulling records. And I’m glad I did. Because my insatiable crusade for justice uncovered 45 other victims of my con artist and connected the criminal dots, that for the past 30 years, had been completely - unconnected.
I’m a reality TV producer. I’ve worked on shows like American Ninja Warrior for NBC and Shark Tank for ABC. But the most spectacular reality show I’ve ever been a part of had no cameras shooting it. And no network airing it. And no viewers watching it. Just a devious con artist secretly plying her craft in the shadows. And dozens of unsuspecting victims like myself, quietly falling prey. A Hollywood costume designer. A FOX movie studio executive. A Los Angeles politician. A Newport Beach engineer. A New York City real estate developer. An immigration attorney. A wealthy Palm Beach housewife. A strip club manager. (Sing it now.) And a partridge in a pear tree.
Even my damned landlord got taken to the cleaners by this cruel and conniving woman.
Marianne Smyth was like a money-grubbing disease that spread fast and wide on the accelerant of social graces and promises of “help”. That’s how she weaseled her way into her victims lives. She offered to help them. Or at least, that’s what they all initially thought. Myself included.
Today, Marianne Smyth is sitting in a Los Angeles jail cell, wondering how on earth she became the victim - of one of her own victims. Wondering how someone like me, who she bankrupted and discarded in her duplicitous wake, could have bounced back and morphed into a ravenous vigilante who’d bring her, kicking and screaming, to justice. Wondering how the elaborate house of cards she painstakingly built to trick dozens and dozens of people all over the world could have all come crashing down so quickly and so publicly.
How did I get the best of Marianne Smyth?
Allow me to explain…
It’s Friday evening on May 10th 2013. I’m sitting on my couch watching TV.
Like most winners do on a Friday night.
Shark Tank was on.
I story produced on this particular season of Shark Tank and I enjoyed watching the episodes I worked on air.
Yup. I’m a total dork.
Story producing on Shark Tank was such an amazing experience. It was hands-down the biggest show I had ever worked on. They shot on a huge soundstage at Sony Studios; formerly known as MGM Studios - where the likes of ‘The Wizard of Oz' and ‘Singing in the Rain’ were filmed on giant sound stages (that are still there!) scattered across 44 storied acres in the bustling heart of Culver City, California.
Going to work every day on Shark Tank was a dream come true. I’d run into movie star after movie star on the Sony lot. Will Smith was actually editing his movie “After Earth” in a bay down the hall from my office. I bumped into him frequently. In the hallway. In the kitchen. At the urinals.
Yes I did. Is the answer to your question.
And… substantial. Is the answer to your follow up.
Will was actually a very nice guy. We chitchatted a few times. But his movie “After Earth” turned out to be a bomb.
Not “the bomb” just “a bomb.”
It scored a whopping 11% on rotten tomatoes. Looking back, I guess I could have predicted it would tank.
During the edit he sat over the shoulder of his editor and called out every shot. He’d leave the edit bay door open so I could hear him from down the hall - all day, every day. “Let’s start here and end here” he’d suggest to his editor as my eavesdropping ears tuned in.
“Can you switch that shot for the one before?” he’d ask.
“What about using this here?” he’d passive aggressively order - as his editor quickly acquiesced.
The process he was engaged in is called “frame fucking” in our business. And it’s never a good sign. When you’re editing a movie or a TV show or even a commercial for that matter, a good rule of thumb is: Hire a talented editor… and let them do their job.
Don’t frame fuck.
As for Shark Tank… it was a total fluke how I even got hired on Season 4 of that show to begin with. Shark Tank producers are a close-knit family. And the same producers have been working on it from the very beginning. And they get hired back season after season. So there are NEVER any producer openings on Shark Tank. But on Season 4, that suddenly changed. Long story short: I was having brunch with a producer I had worked with on American Ninja Warrior. And she’d been producing on Shark Tank from its very first season and was about to start working on Season 4.
Somewhere between our avocado frittatas and our green tea milk bobas, she gets a text from her boss (one of Shark Tank's co-EPs) telling her that one of their Season 4 story producers just dropped out to take a Supervising Producer gig on America’s Next Top Model with Tyra Banks (big mistake) and was asking her if she knew any good story producers she could recommend to fill that slot. So she suddenly looks up at me and asks, “Would you want to work on Shark Tank?”
“Heck yeah!” I replied.
As a story producer on Shark Tank, my job was to sit in the control room during the live tapings of the various entrepreneurs pitching their business to the sharks (each pitch could last an hour or two) and take copious notes about how every pitch went down. Then quickly come up with clever ways for the sharks to drop out when they were’t interested; so our executive producer could whisper pithy “outs” into the sharks ear pieces. (Yup. They all wore tiny, wireless earpieces.) So if an entrepreneur was pitching a new mop for instance and Kevin aka “Mr Wonderful” was not interested in investing in the new mop… we’d come up with suggestions for what he can say to drop out - and whisper them into his ear. Stuff like…
“A wise man once said there’s no mess that can’t be cleaned up. Well that man never tried your mop. I’m out.”
After all the shooting was over, I’d go through the hours and hours and hours of footage and script out each pitch into a succinct 4-7 minute segment for an editor to work on. And I’d never frame fuck it. There was no need. The editors on Shark Tank were so talented, they could make a 2 hour pitch look like it really only lasted 5 minutes. Seamlessly.
Three months later, I’m sitting on my couch at home watching the fruits of my labor air on ABC. But I can’t seem to tear myself away from my laptop. An email chain is growing quickly, 28 back-and-forths deep.
Mair Smyth, a new neighbor, had emailed me days earlier offering to help with an issue that had cast a dark and disheartening pall over the quality of life for me and the residents in my apartment building: The loss of our swimming pool.
This wasn’t just any swimming pool. This was a gargantuan resort-style swimming pool - as large as 10 regular pools combined. It had olympic swimming lanes. Huge indented nooks and crannies to congregate in with friends. It included a 20-person jacuzzi. A clubhouse with ping pong and pool tables. A BBQ area. Tennis courts. It was indeed the Disney World of apartment amenities; a revered and opulent oasis in the nucleated concrete jungle that is Downtown Los Angeles. And the residents of our apartment building, myself included, were mad as hell it got taken away.
We lost the pool, through no fault of our own, because of a legal spat that had sprung up out of nowhere and embroiled the giant corporation that was our landlord. A year prior, a major repair was performed in the pool area - which necessitated digging up the entire pool and a bunch of tile to fix and replace an aging network of underground leaky and disintegrating pipes. Since we shared the pool with a neighboring building, our landlord was responsible for $400,000 worth of the repairs.
But they didn’t want to pay.
Our corporate overlord claimed that since a nicer type of tile was used in the retile when the work was completed, this repair actually constituted an “upgrade” and not a bonafide “repair” and in their myopic legal-cheapskate view - they were not contractually obligated to pay for “upgrades” as per the agreement they signed decades earlier. So they refused to pay anything at all. And the other building got mad. And vengeful. And sued to block access of the pool to residents in our building.
WE. WERE. PISSED.
My anger and annoyance at the situation spurred me into acton. I figured if all the 700 plus residents in our building banded together we could broker some kind of agreement to get the pool back. We’d have strength in numbers. The challenge would be getting everyone on the same page. So I posted flyers at various places around our 400 unit apartment building. In the elevators. In the parking garage. In the courtyard. The flyers basically read, “Miss the pool? Want it back? Let’s meet and do something about it!” And it included my email address.
That flyer would end up attracting a couple hundred neighbors from all walks of life to my email inbox. From engineers to police officers. Film editors to registered nurses. Car salesmen to graphic designers.
And of course, one international con artist on the run from authorities hiding out in my building posing as a helpful, friendly and benevolent woman.
“I think we need to meet.” Mair Smyth’s 29th email to me read.
We’d been discussing our pool situation in the 28 preceding email exchanges. And she REALLY wanted to help. She was by far the most motivated neighbor I had heard from.
Looking back, that should have been my first warning.
“You available now?” my phone suddenly pinged with the arrival of a new text.
It was Mair. I had given her my number. This was the precise beginning of me inviting her into my life. And into my home. Con artists work like vampires that way. They need to be invited in to exert their power.
She was a thirsty bloodsucker to be sure. And I, plump and unwitting prey.
As I was leaving my apartment to meet her she suddenly changed her mind and texted, “Crap. Something came up. Rain check?”
We eventually agreed to meet face-to-face for the first time the next day, a warm Saturday afternoon in mid-May 2013, outside the wrought iron gates separating our Club Med style swimming pool area from the residents in our apartment building. The gates were locked. We were not allowed in.
“The scene of the crime.” I jokingly texted her.
What a painfully profound harbinger that text would turn out to be.
I got to the gate of the pool area 10 minutes early. It’s the TV producer in me. In production, if you’re on time, you’re considered late.
The pool glistened in the LA sunshine that day. The sky was as blue as I ever saw it. The whole scene looked like a Corona beer commercial. But I was not allowed in to enjoy. I could only leer at it through the giant foreboding gates.
Suddenly in the distance, I see a figure slowly approaching. As my eyes focus, I can tell it’s a woman. A limping woman. Laboring in my direction. “Could that be Mair?” I think to myself.
“Hello Johnathan. It’s so nice to finally put a face to the name. How are you dear?” she said as she got closer.
It was Mair alright. I was taken aback. Both her legs were completely covered with bandages and white surgical stockings.
She also had a strange accent that was unplaceable to me. Being married to an Argentinian with an accent, I learned that people with accents hate it when you ask them where they’re from upon first meeting them based on the sound of their accent. So I bit my tongue.
“I’m well. Nice to meet you. Are you ok?” I asked with a tone of concern, referencing all the bandaging on her legs.
“I’m fine.” she said confidently. “I just had surgery last week. I have lupus. But I’ll be fine.” she added.
Of course 4 years later, after I unmasked her as a bonafide con artist, I learned Mair did NOT have lupus. And those bandages I saw up and down her legs when we first met were really the result of an expensive visit to a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon’s office a week earlier.
But the lupus scam elicited tremendous sympathy from me almost immediately. And that was certainly her goal. In hindsight, it was the first of a hundred different lies I’d fall for and it poured the foundation for the “Tower of Babel” of cons she’d construct during the course of our four year relationship.
When someone you first meet tells you they have lupus… you believe them.
We shot the breeze for a few minutes. Mair told me she moved into our building downtown from the valley to be closer to her boyfriend, Andrew. He was a partner in a huge, well-know law firm downtown. He was also the mayor of one the most affluent cities in Los Angeles County.
And he was married with kids.
But Mair said that was fine with her. “I’m not looking for a full-time relationship. I’m not looking for a husband. Been there done that.” She quipped. “I just want someone to be with every now and then. And that’s Andrew. I see him once a week. And it’s enough for me. Really. It is.”
Mair said she had actually spoken to her big-time-lawyer-mayor boyfriend about our pool situation. And about me in particular. Which I found equally unsettling and intriguing.
“He’s impressed by you.” she said matter-of-factly. “The way you put up all those flyers and started organizing all the residents. He wants to meet you. He wants to help you.”
As I type these words now it suddenly occurs to me. The way I bristled at the injustice of our pool being wrongfully taken away. The way I diligently used my own time and resources to plaster flyers everywhere to get the word out. The way I meticulously organized and galvanized the residents of our building to act in an effort to get our pool back. THAT should have been a warning sign to her - not to fuck with me.
But it wasn’t
Of course the irony of ironies is: while the possibility of getting scammed by Mair Smyth was the furthest thing from my mind when we met… I’m sure the possibility of me putting her in jail had to be the furthest thing from her mind too.
I’d like to think that makes us equal. But the idea makes me sick to my stomach.
The next time I saw her was two weeks later. In my apartment. Holding court.
“We need to form a tenants association to get the pool back!” she said, Norma Rae-style, to the rapt crowd of two dozen angry neighbors gathered in my living room that Tuesday evening on May 28th 2013.
Her dazzling blue eyes sparkled with hope and optimism as she spoke. She had shorn jet-black hair. Alabaster skin. The bandages on her legs were now gone. And she cut a confident swagger in her slick, high-heeled Jimmy Choos.
She introduced herself to everyone as Mair Smyth. A transplant from the Republic of Ireland. “That explains the weird accent.” I thought.
I knew so little about Ireland at the time. And apparently so did everyone else there that night. I mean, when a new neighbor tells you they’re from Ireland, you just believe them.
I never thought to question her authenticity.
That would become the most expensive mistake I ever made.
“My boyfriend Andrew is a lawyer and he’s sued this building twice already and won BIG. They are so scared of him here. If I can get him to incorporate us as a tenant’s association we’ll have the pool back before the summer is over!” Mair confidently declared.
She embodied the charisma of Eva Peron, on the balcony of the Casa Rosada addressing her fervent descamisados in the streets.
I liked her immediately. We all did.
And that was her plan.
After Mair’s impromptu stump speech, my neighbors and I started socializing that night. Getting to know each other. Drinking wine. Eating cheese. Hanging out.
I soon met Tina, an out-of-work attorney who lived 10 floors above me. She had recently passed the bar and was looking to get her foot in the door at a law firm somewhere. Anywhere. She was in her late 20’s. Ambitious. Outspoken. And well-dressed.
“Send me your resume ASAP. I think my boyfriend’s firm is hiring. I’ll try and get you an interview.” Mair said to Tina.
Mair was always offering to help people. That’s one of the things I immediately liked about her.
Another neighbor I met that night was Mary. Early 50’s. No-nonsense. A broad’s broad in the best sense. And she had the most fascinating job. She managed a strip club.
Being a reality TV producer, I immediately pounced, “Has anyone approached you about doing a show?” I asked.
“No. What do you mean?” Mary replied.
“It’s just, I’ve never seen a reality show set in a real-life strip club. I think it’s a fascinating and provocative world.” I said. “I bet those strippers all have compelling personalities and would be great on camera.”
“Oh my God!” Mary exclaimed. “You have no idea. The drama and the craziness my girls get up to would blow your mind.”
“Yeah? How so?” I asked curiously.
“They’re like children!” Mary exclaimed. “They throw tantrums every five minutes. And they have so much money they don’t know what to do with it. I tell them to invest it. They don’t know how. I tell them to take an exotic vacation somewhere. They don’t know where to go or how to get there. They’ve got more boobs than brains.”
“Maybe I can help.” Mair interjected. (Are you sensing a pattern here?)
Mair explained that she worked for a luxury travel agency in Los Angeles specializing in high-end vacations to far-flung places like Tahiti and Bora Bora.
“I can get them a great deal on a vacation package.” she offered.
Mair said she was the number one selling agent at her company and sold the most vacations to the Pacific Islands by far, compared to anyone else in the United States. She said she was good friends with Jean-Pierre Laflaquière, the High Commissioner of French Polynesia, and she traveled there, all expenses paid, once every two months to do surprise inspections of all the 5-star hotels to make sure they were up to snuff for the well-heeled customers who bought vacations from her. These weren’t just any vacations by the way. They were luxury vacations costing 10 to 20 grand per person. So the cash-rich strippers that worked at Mary’s club were in for a real treat.
“They want to go someplace where men won’t hit on them all day. They want a break from men!” Mary explained. “Do you know of a place like that? With a beach?”
“Absolutely.” Mair said as she extended her hand holding out her business card. “I can arrange a group vacation for them. So it’s just them in a bungalow on the Pacific Ocean. The only men there are the local servants bringing them baked lobster and cocktails all day.”
We all laughed as Mary took Mair's card.
If first impressions were money, then Mair was a billionaire. Racking in adoration and trust like lawn fulls of colored leaves on a Fall day.
That night my living room became the real life Shark Tank. But in place of investors - ‘marks’ waiting to be shaken down. And in place of an entrepreneur - an inveterate con artist, licking her chops at her prospects.
Mair would end up scamming all three of us who were there that night.
Quite a disparate set indeed.
The producer. The attorney. And the strip club manager.
It was a C.S. Lewis sequel waiting to be written.
Minus the lion.
And the wardrobe.
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