LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors in Los Angeles have hit the defendant they call the “Dine-and-Dash Dater” with four new felony counts of extortion.
Paul Guadalupe Gonzales, 45, is accused of 11 counts of extortion and two counts of attempted extortion for allegedly luring women to nice restaurants, ordering food and vanishing — sticking his victims with the bill.
The public defender’s office has not returned calls for comment.
“It was humiliating,” said an alleged victim, who asked CNN in an exclusive phone interview to identify her only with the pseudonym Jane. “I was frustrated. It just left me in a bad place.”
Jane said she wrote a check for $218 to Houston’s restaurant in Pasadena after Gonzales walked out on the bill. She recalled how they met on the dating site Bumble. “We just chatted back and forth. He was charming,” Jane continued. “He said, ‘Why not meet somewhere?'”
Jane said Gonzales ordered drinks and the most expensive item on Houston’s menu. The Houston’s website lists its top item as a steak for $48. Jane said Gonzales told her when he first sat down for dinner he would have to make a phone call later to check on his aunt, who was hospitalized.
After the meal, Gonzales made his call and disappeared, she recalled. “He left after most of his food was gone,” she said. “I’ve never seen anybody eat so fast.” It didn’t occur to her that someone would walk out on her. “That just never came to mind,” Jane said. “What is he benefiting from it, really? Is that all you want, is a free meal?”
‘A lot of scammers out there’
Gonzales is accused of repeating his alleged dine-and-dash crimes throughout the Los Angeles area, from Pasadena to Burbank to Long Beach.
Carol Meredith got left with the bill at Mercado in Pasadena, but managers picked up her tab. Meredith also met Gonzales on Bumble. “I’ve had friends who’ve been very successful with online dating, I’ve had some not so good experiences,” Meredith told CNN. “I just kind of feel like maybe online dating might not be for me. I mean there are a lot of scammers out there.”
Psychologist Lisa Strohman, who specializes in treating patients suffering from social media and technology-related problems, says the internet allows dating predators to cast a wide net.
The explosion of dating sites “puts it on overdrive,” Strohman explains. “Predators can use technology now to manipulate, groom, lure and get people where they want them without any risk to themselves.”
The alleged victims we spoke with in the Gonzales case said the online Romeo said the right things, including talking about the importance of family.
“I’m walking to have dinner with my mom,” a text allegedly from Gonzales read on Meredith’s phone. “I feel like any man who loves his mother is probably going to love me in the right way,” Meredith said.
Prosecutors said the spree occurred from May 2016 through April.
“In short, the defendant’s wrongful conduct induced innocent third parties to pay for his meal, using the implied threat of public humiliation or being viewed as an accomplice,” a criminal complaint says. But Gonzales isn’t only accused of crimes of the heart linked to all the purported serial dine and dashing. He also is a suspected “dye and dasher.”
Burbank authorities and two hair salons told CNN that Gonzales got his hair colored and skipped out on the bills — in one instance still wearing a towel around his neck.
LA County authorities are also charging Gonzales, who is currently jailed, with petty theft for another alleged dye and dash incident.
The suspect is scheduled to be in court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing, the district attorney said. His bail was set at $315,000.
Meredith expects to testify about her ordeal with courtship that started with a swipe right and took a left turn during the date. “You just have to be careful out there,” Meredith said. “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” If convicted, Gonzales faces a possible maximum penalty of 16 years and 10 months in county prison, according to authorities.