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How I Lost Everything to a Con Artist
Friday, 09 August 2013

Well, not exactly everything, but pretty darn close. It was everything that mattered to me – everything I’d held dear. And it wasn’t much, either. But as a poor college student (at a local two year school, mind you) those possessions were my world – my very life. (I didn’t have much of a life back then, as you can see.)

For the record, this story takes place in Hollis, Queens.

I first met this person during my senior year in high school. He knew who I was, but I knew nothing about him. He approached me as I was waiting for a bus on my way home from school and introduced himself as my new neighbor down the hall. He also claimed to be a police officer – a detective at a Staten Island precinct. (He wasn’t really a cop – but I didn’t find that out until much later.) He even showed me a badge and bragged about being there to help take care of the landlord’s drug problem. (The building I lived in was a former crack haven.) He seemed very friendly, outgoing, and was quite neighborly in the building. Over the next three years, he became friends with me and my mother – or so I thought. We would spend time with him at his place and she would even make food for him sometimes.

I had no clue as to what this guy’s true intentions were, as I was quite naïve. I should have realized that something didn’t add up when I heard about him being frightened about some people coming after him, and keeping a machete by his door for a few weeks in case they showed up. Or the time I asked him if he worked at the place written on the t-shirt he was wearing one day. He said yes - it was some kind of school for transient students on Staten Island. But I just assumed the best case scenario – that he worked with kids in addition to being a cop.

Let’s call this guy Mr. Mountebank.

I’m going to sidetrack here just a bit: my mother owed back rent – lots of it. (There’s another story behind that.) But for some reason, the landlady let it slide. Then the landlady’s brother took over the building and started renovating all of the empty apartments. (Out of 65 units, only 3 or 4 were occupied, including ours.) People slowly started to move in. (including Mr. Mountebank) And, after almost three or four years, the landlord apparently discovered my mother’s rent issue. He demanded all of the owed rent money, or we would have to leave. Since my mother didn’t have a cent to her name, she went to the welfare department to request financial assistance. They refused – obviously, since they had already been sending her checks for the rent for many, many years.

So we had to find a new place to live.

My mother went to a real estate broker to find a new place. I packed my things. I set aside my most valuable possessions and packed them separately: my anime collection, music collection, Sega CD, Sega Genesis, Nintendo Entertainment System, plus the respective games for each console, my Sony VCR, Technics stereo, my martial arts weapons, BB gun, my art filled binder, (most of my art including my best works) and much more.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering something: how did I afford all this stuff while on welfare? Well, that’s just it – I couldn’t – at least not all at once. I bought what I could, one piece at a time, over many, many years. Plus when I started college, I was able to get a low limit credit card. Also, my mother had actually gotten off welfare and had a job for a couple of years, and her tax refunds really helped. Unfortunately, her mental illness got worse and she couldn’t continue working. (She had untreated paranoid schizophrenia.) So it was back to welfare for us. But I digress.

When Mr. Mountebank heard from my mother that we were moving, he offered his assistance – well, sort of. He offered to let me store my things at his place. Then he said that when landlords have tenants that owe back rent, they usually try to steal the possessions of the tenants to recoup some of the loss. Now that really scared me, as I’d been ripped off before – as a child. (Now that’s another story in and of itself.) He also went on in detail about other dirty tricks landlords use to force tenants out – like changing the locks, using “break away keys” to make the lock unusable, and the like.

Now, I’d considered leaving my prized items with some friends, but reconsidered when I realized that they would use them in the meantime. (Video games are irresistibly fun!) For some reason that bothered me. So I decided to take up Mr. Mountebank up on his offer. He appeared to be quite well off, with high end electronics and a 100 gallon salt water aquarium in his apartment. He also bragged about how he and his buddies could raise ten-thousand dollars in one day if they had to. I initially assumed that he had no reason to rip me off because compared to me, he was a rich man.

So, I left my things in his care, thinking I’d get to retrieve them on my moving day.

The realtor eventually found a spot in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The rent was at least double ($600 a month!) what we were already paying, but according to my mother, it was the cheapest rent that could be found, anywhere – in Queens or Brooklyn . We would have to split the rent. I really, really hated this idea, but my mother repeatedly insisted that it was our only available option. At least I would finally have my own room, as our current apartment was a studio.

The moving day arrived. The movers took forever to show up, but they finally did, late in the evening. Mr. Mountebank and my mother were talking about it, and my mother seemed almost giddy. “They’re here! They’re finally here!” Then Mr. Mountebank went to his apartment. A few minutes later, I heard a door slam down the hall – it was Mr. Mountebank’s door. He was leaving! I thought he was coming right back, but he didn’t. I assumed that maybe he had an emergency of some kind to attend to. Later, as the movers were nearly done loading the truck, I knocked on Mr. Mountebank’s door to see if he’d returned.

There was no answer.

So the move happened. The next day I called Mr. Mountebank about my things. He changed the subject to something about how my mother ruined his name in the building by making up stories about him. That made no sense to me, as my mother was not a social person – she didn’t even have friends! Well, not besides him, anyway. He also accused my mother of not paying off her credit line at the corner bodega, and that it was f**ked up. Then he said he’d let me know when I could pick up my things.

Confused, I spoke to my mother about what Mr. Mountebank had said. She denied defaming him, and said that she’d made arrangements to pay off her bodega credit line in installments.

About two weeks passed, and I still didn’t hear from him.

Then I called him. He told me to come over at a certain a date and time.

There was no answer when I got there.

This continued for another couple of weeks. But I wasn’t about to give up. I tried coming over at different times to catch him, and I did a few times. But every time he fed me excuses and gave me another time to come back. One of those times, he rattled on about how now wasn’t a good time because his girlfriend was over, and she was pissed at him. He even gave me back my BB gun and some of my martial arts gear in a J&R Music World bag.

But I wanted all of my property back - every last bit of it. He told me to come the next day in the afternoon. I arrived in the morning, about three or four hours earlier, and he answered on the intercom. But when he heard that it was me, nothing but silence followed.

So I waited outside – for about an hour. Or so.

He emerged from the building’s other entrance down the block. I watched in disbelief as he crossed the street, got into a dollar cab, and left.

I was shocked, disappointed, sickened, and enraged, all at the same time. I wanted to be optimistic, to believe his excuses, but this was undeniable. I finally realized that he had no intention of ever returning my property. (It was about time!)

I was so angry that it was actually hard to think straight. I devised a plan with some friends to break into his apartment to get my stuff back.

My mother overheard us planning this and begged me to go to the police instead. I didn’t really want to go, or think that they would even help us, but eventually I went to them because of her insistence.

And of course, they wouldn’t help. “You need to go to court for that,” and “You gave it to him,” they said.

My anger returned. I didn’t want to go to court – Mr. Mountebank was well spoken, I wasn’t. Plus my anxiety didn’t help, either. I didn’t think I had any chance of winning in court, even though I was in the right. So again, I planned to retake my property by force.

And so, to dissuade me from going that route, my mother devised a story to get the police to take action: she would claim that she saw him enter our apartment without permission and take my boxed items, making several trips. We went to another precinct and filed the complaint. They called him in. And actually arrested him! “I can’t believe she’s doing this to me!” he cried.

After seeing him get arrested, I started to become hopeful. The police might actually search his apartment and get my things back!

Some days later, maybe a week, I got a call from an assistant district attorney. She said that they were happy to get him on the criminal trespass charge. I asked “What about my things? Was his apartment searched? Did you recover my property?”

“No, you’ll have to take him to court if you want your things back.”

My hope vanished and was quickly replaced with anger. “Then what good are you?!?” I exclaimed and hung up. I couldn’t care less about any charges, I just wanted my property returned.

Frustrated, I finally went and did the small claims court song and dance.

Mr. Mountebank didn’t show up. I got a judgment in my favor and arranged to have the county sheriff/marshal enforce the judgment. Okay, I got some hope again! Maybe I can finally get my stuff back! Since it was a monetary award, I’d hoped that Mr. Mountebank would finally return my stuff in return for me dropping the case. I had no interest in the money – all I wanted was the return of my property.

But then I got a letter in the mail. The small claims court case has been reopened, with a new court date and everything. Boy, was I pissed. Why can’t I just get my damn stuff back already? I mean, come on! It is MY property! Sigh. Anyway…

So I show up at the court with my mother, and lo and behold, Mr. Mountebank is there this time!

He greeted us glibly, with a smile, as though he did nothing wrong. It turned my stomach. We ignored him.

But my initial fears about being in court were spot on – he was well spoken and calm. I was nervous, anxious, and had a hard time expressing myself. I was also very frustrated and angry. But I still had some hope that justice would prevail.

The arbitrator said that he would mail us his decision.

When I opened the letter, which arrived almost a week later, I exploded into a rage and tore the letter.

“Case dismissed”

Injustice was served.

It was at this point that I lost any faith I had in the justice system. I failed to see why it was okay for me to have no access to justice simply because I was poor, had anxiety issues, and had difficulty expressing myself. I taped the letter together and kept it as “proof” of the system’s failure.

With no more legal recourse at my disposal, I continued to pester Mr. Mountebank for my property. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with my friends. One of the last times I tried to get my things back with my friends, he actually called the police on us. But we left before they arrived. My frustration and anger continued to grow.

So me and a friend went over to Mr. Mountebank’s building, my old building, to try once again. And we waited for him outside.

But this time, I had a heavy metal pipe hidden in my coat sleeve.

We waited for quite some time. A police cruiser actually stopped right by us – I guess we looked suspicious. I couldn’t care less because I was so determined to get my “life” back from this crook. Ironically, I was actually quite calm. (In a hyped up sort of way, if that makes any sense.) I pretended to get ready to light a cigarette, (I couldn’t stand cigarettes then, and I still can’t now.) and the police car left after a few minutes. We continued to wait for a while.

Also ironically, my friend, who was no stranger to juvenile detention centers, prisons, and trouble in general, started to get a bit nervous and said to me, “Come on man, let’s go. He’s not coming.” I couldn’t believe those words were coming out of his mouth. At first, I was determined to stay, but my friend persisted.

Hey, I was always the “Goody Two-Shoes!” I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t use drugs, I never got into trouble! And now HE’s saying we should leave. Yeah, that’s some irony.

I finally gave in – we both went back home, empty handed. In all honesty, he probably saved my life that night. And I am grateful to him for that. That was the last time I tried to recover my property.

Alas, due to the severe stress I had to endure during this ordeal, I was dismissed from school for the resulting bad grades. (Strangely, my mother was pleased by this, but that’s yet another story.) I was already struggling with the advanced math classes, but this, well… this was just too much for me to handle.

I also lost my desire to create art - because I lost most of my artwork to Mr. Mountebank, including my best works. All of the time and effort I put into that art ended up being for nothing. All of my hard work – just… just gone! That’s what hurt the most, I guess. I mean, what’s the point in spending so much time and effort on art when someone can just come along and take it? Well, that’s how I felt at the time. So ended my journey as an artist. (Until recent years.)

And that, as they say, was that.

However, I’ve still wanted to get back at Mr. Mountebank for a very long time. That’s a lot of years of anger and bitterness. And even when I finally decided to let it go and actually forgive him, deep down, a small part of me still hoped for the opportunity to get even some day – if the chance ever presented itself. I actually wanted to write this article years ago, but didn’t – because I was still holding on to the possibility of revenge. And only a fool publicizes their desire for revenge while biding their time, right?

And guess what? I actually saw Mr. Mountebank somewhere in Manhattan last year. I don’t think he noticed me, but I definitely saw him. And seeing him reawakened my old hatred. I still wanted to punish him for his crime against me – I still wanted revenge.

Later I told myself: “Come on, it’s been nearly sixteen years! Let it go already.” I have no interest in harboring this… this ridiculous grudge any longer.

I’m making this account public to get it “out there” and off my chest for good. Because I don’t want the anger and bitterness from this event to affect my present or future. So I won’t ever be tempted to take advantage of any opportunity to get even.

If Mr. Mountebank ever reads this, I’m sure he’ll take great pleasure in knowing the pain, suffering, and other damage he’s caused me. And there are also others like him who will enjoy the fact that I have suffered. I do not understand their logic, for I have caused them no harm, nor have I harmed anyone else. But know that this was not written and published for your pleasure, but solely for my own benefit. That’s right, it’s all for me.

Sadly, I’m sure Mr. Mountebank continues to prey on others to this very day. I doubt I was the first, and I’m sure I wasn’t the last.

But that’s no longer any of my business.

They say the best revenge is living well.

I do intend to live well, but no longer for the sake of revenge, but simply because I want to enjoy life and all of the wondrous fruits it has to offer – free of bitterness.

Clichéd? Definitely. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Because of this experience, and others like it, (Yes, there's more!) I'd always seen myself as a victim. But no longer.

I'm a survivor.

Live free.

 
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