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A man who was conned out of almost $100,000 (£74,000) by a sophisticated scammer posing as his best friend helped get her jailed.
Johnathan Walton met Marianne ‘Mair’ Smyth in 2013 after she moved into the same Los Angeles apartment building and they quickly became friends, but little did Johnathan know that Mair was not who she said she was, and in four years time she would have conned him out of tens of thousands prompting him to launch an investigation that revealed she had dozens of victims spanning two continents.
TV producer Johnathan, 45, said he ‘instantly’ hit it off with Mair, who claimed to be an Irish heiress.
Johnathan told LADbible: “She moved into my building and then over the course of several months she wines and dines my husband and me, takes us to fancy restaurants, she buys us gifts.
“We start bonding, I opened up to her and told her my family disowned me for coming out as gay, she said ‘well my family disowned me, too’ and there are tears rolling down her face as she tells this story - which is all fake.”
Eventually, Mair told Johnathan that she was set to land a €25 million (£18m) inheritance but that her family were fighting ‘tooth and nail’ to disinherit her and stop her from getting any of the cash.
A short while after making this revelation, Mair was arrested and charged with stealing money from her workplace - but she told a shocked Johnathan that the whole thing was actually a set up by her family to prevent her getting her hands on her inheritance.
She would show Johnathan angry, explicit-filled text messages, which she claimed were sent by her cousin, but which were actually sent by Mair herself from a secret account.
Her lie was so convincing, Johnathan paid $4,200 ($3,000) to bail her out - which Mair paid back the very next day.
Johnathan believes this quick repayment was actually part of Mair’s con as he now felt that she wasn’t the type of person who would rip him off.
He explained: “Like many con artists, she let me ‘wet my beak’, with this smaller amount that she paid back, strengthening that trust.”
But it wasn’t long after that Mair asked again for cash - a lot more cash. Mair told Johnathan her bank accounts had been frozen so needed to borrow more than $10,000 (£7,000) to cover the cost of her rent and some other bills; $2,000 ($1,400) for lawyer fees; $4,000 (£2,900) to pay an expert witness; and an additional $54,000 ($40,000) to pay off court fees.
She assured him that once this was dealt with, her bank accounts would be unfrozen and after that her inheritance would finally be hers.
Johnathan said he didn’t really think twice about handing over large amounts of money to Mair, believing he was acting altruistically to a friend in need.
He said: “It’s about wanting to help someone - that’s what I was trying to do. I was trying to help an Irish heiress get her inheritance and I feel stupid for saying that out loud.”
But he began to get suspicious when Mair was ordered to spend 30 days in jail and did a little digging where he discovered she was convicted of grand theft.
It was now he realised how many lies Mair had spun - she wasn't Irish, there was no inheritance, her accounts weren’t frozen and she’d actually pleaded guilty to stealing the $200,000 (£147,000) from her employer.
The cash she got from Johnathan was used to pay restitution so she could avoid a much lengthier sentence.
Despite his devastation, Johnathan vowed to make sure Mair faced justice.
And, after initially being brushed off by the police, he launched his own investigation that revealed Mair had used more than 20 different aliases to manipulate and swindle dozens of people out of cash over the years - both in the US and Ireland.
Eventually, Johnathan had gathered so much information he was able to go back to Los Angeles Police and show them how he’d been scammed.
Mair was arrested in 2018 and went to trial in January 2019 - Johnathan admits to being ‘terrified’ after pouring so much time and money into getting it to this point.
However, she was found guilty of grand larceny and sentenced to five years in jail.
Johnathan now helps other people who are at risk of being scammed or who have been scammed and he’s created a podcast about his experiences called Mair Smyth - Queen of the Con.
Johnathan warns that being scammed out of cash can happen to anyone and that con artists are clever with their techniques.
“A lot of people say, ‘oh I could never be conned, I’m too smart for that’. But until you've met a professional con artist, you don’t know,” he said.
“Because con artists don’t ‘outsmart’ you, they ‘out feel’ you - they get into your life, they become your friend, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your co-worker. They become like family and they use that relationship to scam you because when you let someone into your heart, your mind kind of takes a back seat.”
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