When the blond, suntanned man approached her in a Tennessee singles bar last year and introduced himself as the son of media magnate Ted Turner, 23-year-old receptionist Callie Maldonado thought she had finally met her ideal man.
The next day, she invited him to move into her Nashville apartment. On the third day they were together, she gave him her automated teller bank card. She was so enraptured with the man, she later told a Tennessee court, that she didn't flinch when he began pawning her jewelry.
She also thought nothing of his request that she take out a $4,000 bank loan, ostensibly so he could buy a car for transportation to work.
It was not until a friend became suspicious and called Ted Turner's office in Atlanta to verify the man's identity that Maldonado learned the truth: She had been the victim of an elaborate con.
The man was not Ted Turner's son, James. He was really James B. Turner, a 27-year-old former resident of Huntington Beach with no known relation to the media tycoon. Maldonado tearfully preferred charges against the impostor, who eventually served eight months in a Tennessee prison for stealing $700 from her.
"I liked him," Maldonado said she testified in court last year. "He was real attentive toward me. He told me he loved me. He said he wanted to settle down and have children."
Maldonado is not the only woman who has lost her heart--and pocketbook--to Turner. For at least the past five years, police investigators say, he has crisscrossed the country bilking young women out of thousands of dollars.
Wined and Dined
To some, he introduces himself as the son of Ted Turner. To others, he is the son of actor Dick Van Patten, the patriarch of television's "Eight is Enough."
Before they find out he is a fake, police detectives around the country say, the women put him up in fancy hotel suites, wine and dine him in exclusive restaurants and take out bank loans for him. He also has bragged to police about some women buying cars for him. Some have even accepted his marriage proposals, police say.
Turner has been named in police theft and fraud reports in Orange County, Palm Springs, Hawaii, Denver, Las Vegas, New York and Orange County, Fla. He is now in jail in Columbus, Ohio, waiting to be sent to Florida to face charges that he bilked a woman out of $1,500 and violated his probation.
Turner is such a well-traveled con artist that FBI officials say they have decided to put him in their National Con Index, a running tally of the various con artists known to be traveling from state to state.
Yet the subject of all this notoriety is described by police as an outwardly nice guy.
"He's a likable character, and that's exactly what con men are," said Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Police Detective Don McCawley. "He told me, 'Hey, I meet women. They want to wine me and dine me.' "
As far as police and private investigators who have been tracking him can tell, Turner has been pursued by women almost since he moved out of his parents' home on Freshwater Circle in Huntington Beach about seven years ago.
Dick Van Patten said he first became aware that someone was impersonating his actor son, James, when fans in Hawaii five years ago began sending letters asking for the money they loaned "your son."
Next, the impostor turned up in the Midwest, where more angry Van Patten fans began firing off letters to Hollywood asking for repayment.
"They would say, 'I love you, but your son owes me money,' " Van Patten, 58, said in a recent interview.
Van Patten said one Arizona fan actually managed to get his private telephone number and call him about his "son's" request for a $3,000 loan. The impostor was sitting in the man's living room as he called.
"I told him that man is not my son. I said whoever is sitting there is an impostor," Van Patten said. He said he immediately called the police in that town, but the impostor vanished before officers arrived.
"He's lousing up my reputation," Van Patten said.
Calls to Turner
Ted Turner, owner of Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta, was not available for comment.
But Joe Shirley, director of security for Turner Broadcasting, said he has been getting calls for the past year from police departments and citizens wanting to verify whether Turner's real son, James, needs money. Shirley said Ted Turner has retained a private investigation firm to try to keep tabs on the impostor.
Turner's son looks nothing like the impostor, Turner security officials said. They declined to release the son's photo on security grounds.
"We assure the folks that he has no connection with the Turner family that we know of," Shirley said.
James Turner, incarcerated in Ohio, refused to be interviewed.
His family in Huntington Beach declined comment, except for his older brother, Tom, who said only: "This is hurting our family."