My Kafkaesque nightmare with a sociopathic con man

My Kafkaesque nightmare with a sociopathic con man
by Matthew Leddy (@LeddySetGo)

There are people who operate in the shadows, whose entire existence is a fabrication; people who trade in dignity for self-gain and are incapable of empathy; people who never signed the social contract. These people are called sociopaths. They may seem almost human at first, sharing in all the social pleasantries of the civilized world. They will smile, pretend to care and even do you a favor or two. Beware. It’s a trap. I learned this the hard way recently by ignoring my wiser instincts and allowing such a person into my life. If you are wise, you won’t make the same mistake and become another cautionary tale.

Let’s say his name is Marion Maniel. Fifty years old. 5’11”. Bald. Pale. Thin. Frail. A bit evil looking. We met back in Mar Vista among some other shady characters of the loose-cannon hippie variety. He referred me to a tenant attorney when my slumlord refused to treat a black mold infestation. He seemed to take an almost unhealthy interest in the case, examining each legal angle of the situation. He pretended to be generous and would often mention how he could get anything for free because so many people owed him favors even as he asked me for favors. He had sob stories about how he had been screwed over. His apartment seemed strange, as though someone had just moved out suddenly. It was none of my business so I didn’t pay it any mind. But the clues were all there.

Several months passed. I moved. I didn’t hear from him and I was quite relieved by that. After crashing with friends for two months, I finally landed on a sweet sublet through the Facebook marketplace. It was a quaint but ample enough studio apartment in the heart of Silverlake for under $900. The renter, who lived in New York, wanted to keep his rent controlled apartment so he was happy to sublet it without making a profit, even though his lease forbade it. I settled in nicely and enjoyed four months living alone for the first time ever. And then the call came.

It was Marion on the phone. He needed help. He was in a desperate situation. He needed a temporary place to stay. He would be so grateful for any help. I told him I would call him back. After all, I was with my godfather and I hated the undue pressure. But even my godfather was fooled by his theatrics over the speakerphone. He legitimately felt bad for the guy. I thought about my friends who had given me a crashing pad when I needed one. Perhaps this was my chance to pay it forward. I picked up the phone and called Marion back. This is the part of the movie when you should be yelling at the screen, “don’t do it! You fool!” And, so, I did.

Marion arrived later that evening. I made it clear that this was to be a temporary arrangement. He crashed on the couch. I went to work full time. And he remained on the couch. More of his belongings arrived suddenly. Two weeks passed and I gave him some helpful tips to find temporary shelter. In his uniquely vague way, he danced around and evaded the subject. I tried not to stress about it. I have always believed in the best of people. We all need a helping hand sometimes.

A month passed and my birthday was fast approaching. I threw a party to raise funds for Monday Night Mission, a local organization that feeds the homeless living on Skid Row.  I didn’t feel right making a guy homeless at the same time so I allowed Marion to stay on until then. I asked him to DJ at my party and he obliged. Of course, he was a DJ. He loved to tell tales of all the big money shows he had performed and how successful he was. And yet, here he remained. Still on my couch.

My birthday came and went. And the red flags flew at full mast. He would threaten his phone company. He would consume anything that could be consumed. My belongings had become his belongings. My space had become his space. His parasitic tentacles were now firmly lodged into the apartment, leeching off of my naive compassion. I had enabled a freeloader and I had to cut the cord.

My first step was to voice my position and establish clear boundaries. I told him that I wanted my privacy back. I told him he could spend the night there while he looked for a new place to stay during the day. My apartment could no longer be a crashing pad. No sooner had I made this request than I fell ill with a cold and needed bed rest. I locked the main door, the one for which I never gave Marion a key.  He was out of the house and I was grateful. Until he returned and proceeded to attempt to enter the structure by any means necessary. I was half asleep but could see an arm struggling through a hole in the screen window. I heard him make a phone call. He said something about a thirty day rule and left the property. This could not go on.

That evening, before he returned again, I texted him my final position: I would put him up in a hostel for a couple of nights and give him some cash to facilitate his transition. I said this would be the healthiest thing for both of us.  Moments later, he appeared at the door again. I invited him in to discuss my proposal. That’s when he revealed his true sociopathic colors. He said he would not leave and had now gained status as a legal tenant under California law for residing at my dwelling for over thirty days.  This was his sixtieth day, to be precise, and he had no plans to ever leave. Nor could I make him.

DD beware

I stopped trying to reason with the unreasonable. Anything I had to say was met with shameless gaslighting from the trespasser. If you are fuzzy on that term, gaslighting refers to using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief. This is business as usual for a sociopath.

As Marion started tampering with the door lock, I took my energy elsewhere: the police, the DA, my councilman’s office, the city attorney’s office and even the press. None were inclined to help me.  The police would not evict him.  The only DIY advice that made any sense was to lock this bloodsucker out and leave the burden of proof on him. And so I did.

I finally had my chance a few evenings later when the perpetrator was out of the house. I locked the main door. I left two copies of a formal letter at the entrance: one for him and another for the LAPD.  I CC’d several city agencies and sent it via email to all parties. He was no longer welcome in my residence, it said. He was to leave immediately and tell me where to send his belongings. This was me formally cutting the cord. This should have been the end of it.

Alas, Marion returned within minutes and began viciously breaking and entering. I filmed the whole thing. He was able to break open a side window attached to an unused door and began unlocking the door as I yelled at him to stop. I should note at this point that I purchased pepper spray a few days prior, at the height of my fear and uncertainty about living with an unstable sociopath. As he continued advancing, shoving a couch with the opening door and ignoring my cries, you know damn well I used that pepper spray for fear of my life.

This is the Kafkaesque part of the story. I called the police. And so did he. Guess who got charged with a crime that night? Indeed, the police gave me the choice to simply allow the con man back into my home and they would make no arrests. I politely but firmly refused. That’s what this was all about, after all. Possession.  So I was arrested. They said he was to be mentally evaluated. My neighbor locked my doors for me.

I was booked downtown with a felony charge—assault with a chemical agent. I was bailed out by family the next morning and driven back home. Maybe it was finally over. Maybe this nightmare could end here.  Whatever legal ramifications, at least I might finally have my home and my life back. As I soon discovered, I was wrong. Marion Maniel had returned to my apartment, broken back in and was back on the couch, like a hyena ready to pounce. Had the police even taken him in? “How is he still here while I am facing serious legal charges for acting in self defense?,” I wondered. My head was reeling.

My uncle advised me to pack a bag and get the hell out of there.  All of a sudden, I was the one facing homelessness and uncertainty while Marion enjoyed his third month of rent-free squatting.  I had to come clean with the renter.  I told him I was ending my sublease and why. He was surprisingly patient and understanding despite the legal burden of eviction he now faced because I allowed compassion to blind me. My family retrieved my belongings and served the con man restraining order hearing papers on my behalf.  This was his MO and he was winning.

As I tried to get my life back on track while awaiting my arraignment, I pondered a few questions. Why does California law protect a con man over a legitimate tenant in this scenario? What could I have done differently to get rid of the perp and keep my apartment? How come the city refused to help a citizen requesting help? How can he keep getting away with this?

Thanks to the generosity of family and a little bit of luck, I did receive the legal help I needed to get my felony charges diminished and dismissed. At the very least, my future as a criminal was disappearing from view. Meanwhile, the property management company was going to sue the renter unless he could remove the squatter. He had to calculate whether it would be cheaper to counter-sue or accept the credit hit he would get for having an eviction on his record. The waves of destruction created by one man’s greed rippled beyond my expectations.

Finally, the restraining order hearing date arrived and I faced Marion in court. He looked like the devil in a shiny black suit and red brimmed glasses. As it turns out, the suit wasn’t even his but belonged to the renter, one of the few items left behind in the closet. I told the judge my story. She was not convinced that it warranted a restraining order, especially since I had left the property. She allowed the defendant to respond. And he lied with all the confidence and comfort of the devil himself. He professed that he had done one hundred hours of consulting work for me prior to his arrival and that I owed him money and—before he could get much further, the judge cut him off and said she was denying the restraining order against him. I was left aghast but also curious about what other lies he had prepared to tell about me. This willful deceit made me feel ill all over again. A sociopath will play whatever role he needs to play to get what he wants.

I knew the end was near. He may have won temporarily. He may have found the right legal loophole to be a criminal with legal protection. But at least I didn’t have to see him anymore. His days as an un-incarcerated shyster were numbered. That’s when some new information landed on my lap. The court computers revealed he had quite a history: charges of reckless and drunk driving, larceny, a lawsuit against him by a storage facility and, finally, indisputable proof that he had played this scheme before.

I went to visit my chiropractor and he asked me why I was tense. So I told him the story in brief. His jaw dropped. He told me that another patient of his had fallen for the same trick by the same guy. We corroborated facts and I discovered that she was the woman whose apartment Marion had been squatting in when I first met him. He had rented the room but never paid, then claimed tenancy and lied that they had been a couple. She was forced to move out while he played the eviction game there just as he is playing now at my place. And he knows just enough to get away with it, no matter how many people get hurt along the way.

As of this writing, the City Attorney has dropped my charges. I have reached out to Mayor Garcetti and some friends in high places to caution against this individual.  This has taken a toll on me, sure. But I have a new place and I will survive. Marion Maniel, however, needs to be in prison to protect other good people from falling for his evil ways. If he was looking for someone to bring him down, he found him in me. The law cuts both ways and, soon enough, it will cut him down, too.  We all know the quote about the arc of history bending toward justice. I couldn’t agree more. But don’t forget a quote just as relevant to our world today and heed its warning:

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
-Keiser Soze, sociopath
played by Kevin Spacey, sociopath
from The Usual Suspects, 1995
Directed by Bryan Singer, sociopath

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