Eight alleged victims of the so-called “Dine-and-Dash Dater” testified Tuesday that he left them behind to pay the check for their meals at restaurants in cities including Pasadena, Glendale, Long Beach and the Beverly Hills area after meeting him through online dating sites.
During a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to require Paul Guadalupe Gonzales to stand trial, seven of the women told Superior Court Judge Darrell Mavis that they were ”embarrassed” and believed they had no choice but to pay the bill when they realized that the man they had met for a first date had left the restaurants without paying any portion of the check.
Gonzales, 45, is facing eight felony counts of extortion and two felony counts of attempted extortion involving 10 women, along with one misdemeanor count each of petty theft and defrauding an innkeeper.
Four other counts — three counts of extortion and one count of defrauding an innkeeper — were dismissed as the hearing began, with the prosecution citing the unavailability of witnesses.
The hearing is set to resume Sept. 19 in a Pasadena courtroom, when the judge is expected to issue his ruling.
The prosecution’s first witness, Martha Barba, testified that she knew she would be left with the bill the moment he walked out of a Houston’s restaurant in Pasadena.
Barba said she met Gonzales through the online dating site Plenty of Fish and agreed to meet him for dinner at a Chipotle restaurant in Pasadena, but he subsequently asked to leave the fast-food eatery and go to the nearby Houston’s while assuring her that he would pick up the tab.
Gonzales “mentioned something about Facetiming with his kids” after the two ate, and said he said he had to go outside to speak with them, but never returned, according to Barba, who identified the man in court as Gonzales.
Barba said she asked the waitress for the bill — which she thought was close to $200 — and paid it using part of her rent money because she was embarrassed about what had happened.
“I felt humiliated a little bit,” she said.
Other women called to the stand had similar accounts.
“I was too embarrassed to say anything,” Tina Martinez said of Gonzales’ departure from a Pasadena restaurant in April after a first date in which he ordered items including filet mignon.
She said she felt obligated to pay the entire bill — not just her share of it — because she though it would be ”illegal if I didn’t.”
Another woman, Marjorie Moon, said she went on a first date with Gonzales at a restaurant in Glendale in May 2016 and was stuck with a bill of about $250, which she paid after he left.
“It’s not the restaurant’s fault … It needed to be taken care of,” she said, while noting that the experience has “changed the way I date.”
Irene Rodriguez told the judge that she was informed that she needed to pay the entire bill — minus a creme brulee Gonzales had allegedly ordered — after he said he needed to go to the restroom during their first date at a Yard House restaurant in Long Beach in May 2016. He never returned, she said.
“I just sat there dumb-founded. I was mortified, embarrassed. I just wanted to get out of there,” she said. ”Ever since that experience, I never dated online again.”
Wendy Luttrell told the judge that she met Gonzales through a dating site and agreed to meet him in February at Parkway Grill in Pasadena, then realized she had been left behind with the check just over a half-hour after he said he needed to wire money to his daughters in college in Arizona.
“I don’t have a choice. He left so I had to pay the bill,” she said, noting that it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault ”that he’s a jerk.”
Daisy Valdez testified that she agreed to meet Gonzales at a restaurant in Pasadena in April and that he informed the waiter that he was coming back after telling her he needed to call his grandmother, whom he said had suffered a stroke. She said she subsequently paid the bill — about $86 or $87 — and decided not to go on any more online dates.
Another woman, Yolanda Lora, testified that she agreed to meet Gonzales about two years ago at a Beverly Hills-area restaurant and that he told her he needed to leave the table for a telephone call with his youngest son.
Lora said he never returned and that she mustered enough courage to relay what had happened to restaurant employees who gave her a discount on the check, which wound up being less than $100.
Carol Meredith — who is named as the victim in the attempted extortion count — testified that she met Gonzales at Mercado in Pasadena on April 27 and was ”dumb-founded” but not embarrassed when the restaurant’s manager approached her and asked if her date had left her behind.
Meredith said the restaurant — which is named as the victim in the misdemeanor defrauding an innkeeper count — agreed to pay the tab.
All the women said Gonzales chose the restaurants where they met for their first dates, and some said they later contacted the dating site where they had first encountered him to inform them what had happened.
Some said they also subsequently tried to reach Gonzales to no avail, with just one saying he sent her a text message the same night to say hi and ask how she was — a message to which she said she did not respond very nicely.
Gonzales also received a haircut and color treatment from a Pasadena salon in April and left without paying, according to the court filing.
The criminal complaint alleges that the crimes occurred between May 2016 and April 2018.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Fern told the judge that Gonzales “set up a situation for these women to consent out of embarrassment,” noting that he “could have dined and dashed alone.”
”He found an effective way of getting a free meal and getting away with it,” the prosecutor said.
Gonzales’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Salvador Salgado, countered that the entity that would be “out” the money would be the restaurant instead of the person with whom his client was allegedly sitting.
Just before the day’s proceedings were to begin, Gonzales asked to speak to the judge privately about Salgado.
After a lengthy hearing that was closed to the public, the judge said he had heard the defendant’s request to relieve his attorney and decided that Salgado would remain on the case. Gonzales said he was mulling over whether to act as his own attorney.
Gonzales, who has remained behind bars since being arrested Aug. 25 by Pasadena police, could face a potential state prison term if convicted as charged.
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