Stephen Reid was sitting at the bar in Castro’s Lounge, a Beaches watering hole where he’s a regular, when he noticed the new guy a few seats down.
The stranger was wearing jeans, a Chelsea soccer jersey, and a thick woollen coat – a bit much for the April weather. The two solo bar-sitters started talking. The stranger said he’d earned his doctorate at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Mr. Reid, a well-spoken 41-year-old with a doctorate in sciences himself, was intrigued.
Introducing himself as Giancarlo Dinatale, the acquaintance apparently worked for Goldman Sachs, where he had developed a differential calculus model for stock markets. He also told Mr. Reid he planned on buying a $750,000 home in the Beaches (with cash) and flying in a designer from New York. But there was a glitch.
“He told me this story about how he’d been in Starbucks a few days earlier and his wallet and passport had been stolen, along with his laptop,” Mr. Reid remembered him saying as they went outside for a smoke that night, around four months ago. “He asked if I could help him out a bit. I thought he sounded pretty legitimate.”
Mr. Reid lent the man $300.
The next day, they met again and Mr. Dinatale said he’d spent the cash on applying for new documents. He asked for another $160, which Mr. Reid provided, as well as a sofa to crash on. Mr. Reid also bought him dinner. They played chess and poker, and Mr. Dinatale was skilled at both. Yet over the week or so they knew each other, the man wore the same clothes and “obviously wasn’t showering.”
When they met to settle the loans, Mr. Dinatale didn’t show up, but later called and apologized. He’d miss another scheduled meet. Mr. Reid never saw him, or his $460, again.
Mr. Reid wasn’t his only alleged mark. In fact, there is a website devoted to people who claim to have been duped by this man, whom police have identified as someone named Simon Gann. A homeless, about-to-be-deported gambler who says he has Asperger’s Syndrome, Mr. Gann now sits in a Toronto jail, facing 20 charges, including 14 for fraud and two each of harassment, theft and threatening damage.
He is alleged to have worked across Toronto, bilking his marks of sums that seldom exceeded a few hundred dollars. He did not go to M.I.T. And he is not to be confused with his identical twin brother, Jordan, who once posed as a doctor and also wound up in custody.
An awkward man of many talents
About a year ago, Michelle Inder was travelling in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, when a man approached her in her hotel. Initially she brushed him off, but when the stranger, Samir Benzema, pinned down her accent – she was a New Zealander and travel buff living in England – they started talking. Mr. Benzema spoke several languages, some to her, others into his BlackBerry.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is really interesting. He speaks 10 different languages, and is telling me he works for Goldman Sachs in New York,’” says Ms. Inder, 33. He told her he was a card whiz, though she then watched him throw away $5,000 at a blackjack table.
He had also carried a bag of American money, which he said had as much as $50,000 in it. A day later, he claimed he’d misplaced it and began asking her for cash.
“You look back and you think, ‘How could I be so stupid?’ It was very dubious. So many red flags.”
In the end, Michelle lent or spent about $4,500 (U.S.) on the man. After she left him to rejoin her tour in nearby Costa Rica, she asked for it back.
“He’s like, ‘All you cared about was money, you never cared about me,’” she says, sighing. “It was insane.”
The inconsistencies occurred to her only later. At one hotel they checked into, a key was waiting under a different name: Gann, which Mr. Benzema dismissed as a mistake. Days later, the name Simon Gann popped up in an e-mail. When she asked, he said it was one of his six names. Unconvinced, she Googled him.
Which brought her to Meredith Gavin.
A 33-year-old who lives in Albany, N.Y., Ms. Gavin is the Erin Brockovich of alleged Gann victims.
About six years ago, she had a run-in with either Simon or Jordan – but isn’t sure which.
One of the twins stayed for a few days, stole about $300 from her and another $700 from her friend, and got her pregnant, Ms. Gavin says. Her son, Liam, is now five. She isn’t sure which Gann twin is his father, but she leans toward Jordan, whose nose is smaller than Simon’s.
Jordan’s situation, however, is more grave – at least for now. Posing as a wealthy obstetrician-gynecologist in Tampa, Fla., he told a woman he’d give her $100,000 towards her student loan if she fronted him $750, according to local reports. Jordan wound up charged with theft and sentenced to 30 months in a state prison. He is due out next year.
Liam’s birth, the trial of Jordan, the claims against Simon and her frustration with being duped led Ms. Gavin to launch theganntwins.com, a Gann-related website.
“Because the police weren’t going to do anything, I was like, ‘Well, somebody needs to put something out there,’ and I just did it. For me it was anger. Not angry at him, but angry at the people who were conned by him that didn’t put out something,” she said.
Without Ms. Gavin’s site, it’s hard to imagine investigations taking place. She’s spoken with dozens of purported victims, including some of the eight that police have identified in Toronto.
Between accounts from Ms. Gavin and Ms. Inder, it appears Mr. Gann entered the Vancouver area last fall, and moved to Toronto earlier this year.
Sarah, a 19-year-old University of Toronto student, was among those he allegedly met. A man claiming to be Mr. Dinatale stole $500 from her after replying to an ad she’d posted on Craigslist.
Sarah and “Mr. Dinatale” spoke on the phone, and he convinced the young woman that he needed to trust her before investing $20,000 in a venue she hoped to develop. He claimed to have written a music-software program she knew about. She says Mr. Dinatale wasn’t a smooth speaker and “didn’t have any charm.” Awkward, he used language that few might understand in order to confuse his marks.
They met at the bank, where she gave him her banking information, and he eventually made off with the cash. She now calls it a life lesson.
“I think I was lucky,” she said. “I figured it out in 24 hours. I could have been a lot more devastated if it had been a week-long affair.”
Gann’s big gambit
Detective-Constable Robert Speakman twists around, turning to another officer who called his name. He has just entered Courtroom 112 of Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse.
The young detective, whose suit doesn’t quite hide his gun, goes to the back of the court and shakes the hands of his buddies. Following Det.-Const. Speakman’s investigation, which involved claims from Sarah, Mr. Reid, and others, Mr. Gann is set to appear in this room, a guilty-plea court. It’s a catch-all, quickly paced courtroom used for brief appearances.
Mr. Gann makes no plea, speaking up from a whisper only to say his name and consent to further detention – a move so unusual that the judge asked if he knew what he was doing. He might.
On May 29, the Canadian Border Service Agency had intercepted Mr. Gann at the Ottawa airport. Furnished with a Toronto warrant, they arrested him. He has been in pre-trial custody ever since. Once he is acquitted or finished completing the terms of any sentence, the CBSA says he’ll be deported. He faces a minor charge in his home state of Massachusetts of failing to appear for 2001 jury duty.
If convicted in Toronto, Mr. Gann would likely be sentenced to around two years in prison.
While he faces another court appearance next Friday. Ms. Gavin will be awaiting word from Albany, as will Mr. Reid and Sarah in Toronto and Ms. Inder in London. Each regrets being duped, but agree on one thing – the man they met was able to gain the trust of men and women, many of them well educated.
“If I wasn’t ever conned by them, and I read an article, I would think, ‘This is ridiculous. Who are these people? How do they not know?'" Ms. Gavin says. “You’ll be amazed at the things they’re capable of, reading your movements. They are intelligent boys, those Gann boys. They’re very, very smart, which is why they’ve been able to get away with it for so long, and do it to so many people.”