Longform

Michael Manos Was Living the Same Lie in Dallas That He Peddled Across the Country. Only Here, the Truth Caught Up with Him.

It was the kind of night Mordan Stefanov lived for: red-carpet treatment, limos, high fashion and free-flowing drinks—an A-list of moneyed guests, society and business types, and the poseurs who needed to be seen at the hottest party in town.

The January 8 celebration would mark the pinnacle of all he had accomplished in the four short glamorous months since he arrived in Dallas. It was billed as the grand reopening of the Uptown restaurant Bella, which had been remodeled and bore the brand of Stefanov's own flamboyant design—the sort of place where a jet-setting European party lover like himself would feel at home. Partygoers would have a chance to meet the "stars" of his new Dallas-based reality show, Bella Boyz, featuring Robert "Peach" Petrie and Anthony "Tony" Porcaro, co-owners of the restaurant, as well as Mordan Stefanov himself. They would be treated to the premiere of the promotional trailer for the series, which was being produced by Stefanov's production company, SFR Television ("The World's First Online Television Network with Original Programming"), which was part of his global media empire, SFR International. Another of his subsidiaries, SFR magazine, would be debuting its spring issue to guests.

Working the crowd with his bursts of "I love everybody" enthusiasm uttered with hints of a European accent, Stefanov himself could have been the night's main entertainment. He wore a sweater, scarf and vest—all the finest Alexander McQueen couture—with David Yurman jewelry as cameras caught his every prowl. He made certain photographers snapped him with only the best dressed, the most interesting of his hundreds of guests, only the few who could hold their own beside him in the frame. He was slightly built with an orange-blonde hair weave unlike any color in nature, swooping down across his forehead. He could have been 30 or 40, but who could tell? He seemed to make a point of keeping people guessing.

Inside this world, the night belonged to Stefanov. The name of his new media conglomerate, SFR—"Society Fashion Report"—lit up the walls, and screens around the room flashed highlights from the dozen parties he'd thrown in the last two months in Dallas: celebrity appearances, mostly by actor Billy Zane, and auctions for children's charities. And these same screens played the Bella Boyz trailer, as the voiced-over montage announced "television's hottest new reality series." "Two successful business owners...One magazine publisher—Mordan, the deal breaker...It's Entourage meets Hell's Kitchen...The money. One restaurant. The Nightlife. The Brotherhood. The Power....Hang with the 'Boyz,' Spring 2010."

Turns out, the "Boyz" couldn't hang together that long.

As his guests drank up the production, they were unaware of the darker drama unfolding around them. Mordan Stefanov was not who he appeared. He was Michael Manos, a convicted felon, a fugitive from justice, a parole violator who had, for the last five years, fled from New York to Atlanta to Dallas under a series of fake identities.

Manos knew that his time here had come to an end. And so did four other people at the party, employees who wondered why they could find hardly any trace of him on the Internet, why he seemed to be a man with no history.

It took time and ingenuity to connect the dots, but they soon learned about Manos' shadowy past: his alleged real-estate and charity scams, a violent kidnapping, late-night romps in the White House and others who'd been trying for years to send him back to prison. He had risked the same unmasking in Atlanta and New York, and like before, he ran.

A 10-day manhunt followed, ending with Manos' arrest in a San Francisco hotel room. With law enforcement in at least four states—Texas, Georgia, New York and California—competing to prosecute him first, he was extradited to New York, the state that maintained jurisdiction over his parole.

He would be skewered in the local press, condemned as a con artist who had used multiple aliases to hide his true identity, a "glam scammer" who defrauded the gay community, the rich and famous, by gaining their confidence with the glow of his phony celebrity. He would milk their generosity with appeals to local charities, and draw on their vanity with his seemingly glamorous life. But from a jailhouse phone interview in Poughkeepsie, New York, over the course of several days in March, Manos paints a different picture of his many selves. He would argue, first of all, that his celebrity was real, cultivated during his seminal years in the nation's top party scenes. As Manos sees it, his only crime was jumping parole so he could seek a new life, to pursue his big ambitions of wealth, glamour and fame unshackled to his past mistakes.

"I did everything right, I gave to charity, I was a good, productive member of society," he says. "They chased me down and made everybody in Dallas think that I was America's Most Wanted. I mean, what'd I do? I failed to report to parole."

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Patrick Michels
Contact: Patrick Michels