Paul Guadalupe Gonzales, a 45-year-old resident of Pasadena, dated frequently but for very short intervals, according to southern California prosecutors. Between May 2016 and April 2018, they say, Gonzales scheduled first dates at restaurants throughout the region with 10 women he had met on dating websites or computer applications.
During those get-togethers, Gonzales dined extensively and expensively, favoring pricey choices like prime steaks and lobster tails; on occasion, he ordered two entrees for himself, and the price of his orders sometimes topped $100.
Then, just as the two diners were getting acquainted, Gonzales excused himself from the table on one pretext or another – a restroom visit, retrieving a phone charger from his car, or having to make an urgent phone call – but never returned, sticking his date with paying the entire bill.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office early in August filed seven counts of extortion, two counts of attempted extortion, and one count of grand theft against Gonzales. He was also charged with a couple of other misdemeanors: defrauding an innkeeper (a restaurateur who absorbed a loss, rather than making the abandoned date pay for Gonzales’s hearty meal) and petty theft.
The charges did not explain why Gonzales’s disappearing act might be considered extortion, which California criminal law defines as using force or threats to make someone give you money or other property.
Altogether, his dine-and-dash routine cost his dinner partners nearly $1,000. If convicted on all the felony charges, Gonzales could have faced 13 years in prison; after he was arrested later that month, bail was set for him at $315,000.
At a preliminary hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court in early September, many of his short-term dates testified to their humiliation, and Gonzales pleaded not guilty to all charges. His public defender shrewdly argued the extortion charges did not apply to Gonzales’s actions.
The presiding judge agreed, saying the restaurants were the victims, not the dates who chose to pay for the departed Gonzales’s meals, and dismissed most of the felony charges. Bail was also lowered to $100,000. Unavailable witnesses led to the dismissal of four other charges.
Gonzales is still facing the remaining charges, and some new ones that recently emerged. It turns out a Pasadena salon’s security camera captured footage of Gonzales getting a haircut and dye job, then leaving without paying, still wearing the salon’s smock.
Perhaps he’ll get another public defender who may argue that his serial dine-and-ditch client left the salon absent-mindedly, his thoughts preoccupied with whether he looked sharp enough to make a good first impression at a forthcoming dinner date.