A “dine-and-dash” dater is facing years in prison for allegedly forcing a string of first dates to pay for their expensive meals by sneaking out of upscale restaurants after he had finished eating.
Paul Guadalupe Gonzales, from Los Angeles, faces 10 counts of extortion, fraud, and petty theft against at least 10 women over the past two years.
The 45-year-old would reportedly chat to women online, offering to take them to restaurants across the city, before vanishing without a word after consuming large amounts of food and alcohol.
Appearing in court in Pasadena for his preliminary hearing, Mr Gonzales listened as women testified about their experiences dating the alleged tab-skipper.
Martha Barba said she was due to meet Mr Gonzales at a Chipotle outlet in July 2016, before he convinced her into a meal close by at an upscale eatery called Houston’s.
“I didn’t want to go. He didn’t look like his pictures. I wasn’t attracted to him,” Ms Barba said, who nevertheless agreed to go to be “nice”, according to NY Daily News.
“He kept saying, ‘I got you. Order whatever you want. It’s on me. Don’t worry about it’,” Ms Barba said. “He ordered steak, wine, salad, just whatever you could order.”
At one point, Mr Gonzales stood up to take a call and suggested she order dessert while he stepped away to talk, she added. He allegedly never came back, forcing Ms Barba to pay the $120 (£92) bill.
“I felt embarrassed and didn’t want to say anything... I felt humiliated,” Ms Barba, a single mother, told the court. She said she had to use her rent money to cover the cost.
Another woman, Yolanda Lora, told the newspaper she accepted an invite from Mr Gonzales to a sushi restaurant in West Hollywood last year.
“I remember he was talking really fast and eating really fast and then said his youngest son was calling him,” Ms Lora said. She claimed Mr Gonzales ordered two glasses of wine within 15 minutes of each other.
After getting up, she alleges he never returned.
“What kind of monster does this? I was so embarrassed. I’m not an insecure woman, but it made me feel very insecure,” she said. “I’m just glad he got caught. I don’t want any other women to have to go through that.”
According to police, Mr Gonzales ordered expensive wines, steaks, lobster and desserts during more than a dozen dates in which he ran away without paying. He apparently did little to cover his tracks.
While his dates were generally forced to pick up the bill, two restaurants took pity on the women and did not charge them, prosecutors said.
A criminal complaint reads: “In short, the defendant’s wrongful conduct induced innocent third parties to pay for his meal, using the implied threat of public humiliation or being viewed as an accomplice.”
Mr Gonzales has pleaded not guilty, but if convicted could face up to 16 years in jail – justified, prosecutors say, because he “set up a third party to take the fall”.
Mr Gonzales has previously been accused of getting his hair dyed and cut at a hair salon, before running away without paying, still dressed in the salon’s robe.
After the hearing, a judge is set to rule on whether the case should be taken to trial.