The job was a gamble: A last-minute birthday dinner for 20. Four courses. No time for a deposit, the caller said.
But Santa Monica private chef Laszlo Andras, 34, had taken a chance on such gigs before. So he trusted the friendly woman on the phone who called herself Kat.
Kat's check for $1,300 bounced, sending the Hungarian-born chef to police. They sent him to small claims court, he said; the court sent him back to police. Exasperated, the chef turned to the Internet.
"I became an angry person," he said, "and I tried to escape to a website."
Andras in November created www.superripoff.com, a site that connected about a dozen photographers, actors and would-be models who alleged that Kathleen Legaspi, or Kat, had swindled them out of thousands of dollars with false promises of entertainment jobs, photo work and fake Hollywood connections.
In March, Santa Monica police arrested Legaspi. And many are crediting Andras with helping to build the case.
"It was the first time I had seen anyone do that -- create a website warning people of a fraud suspect," said Santa Monica police Det. Maury Sumlin, a 20-year veteran who specializes in fraud and is investigating Legaspi. "It was very helpful to me, because it put me in contact with people and provided me with more evidence on my case."
Kathleen Tangcoy Legaspi, 28, is detained at Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood in lieu of $70,000 bail. In court last week, she pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of burglary, one count of grand theft and one count of passing a fictitious check, according to court documents. Police said the charges stem from Legaspi's alleged passing of a fraudulent check at a Santa Monica bank.
Legaspi also is charged in Beverly Hills with one count of grand theft of personal property, according to court documents. Castaway Studios' manager, Courtney Evans, said Legaspi took kickbacks while working as a casting recruiter for the company.
One of Legaspi's attorneys and her mother declined requests for comment; her other attorney could not be reached.
Andras' digital quest for justice first led him to www.ripoffreport.com, a site for reporting all kinds of alleged scams. There he found a complaint against a Kathleen Kafashian, the name Legaspi had given him.
The poster was identified only as David, a photographer from Toluca Lake. Andras searched the Internet and phone book for photographer Davids in Toluca Lake. Then he called them, one by one, until he found the right one.
David, who also said he received a bad check from a Kat Kafashian, knew a small group of photographers and models who believed they'd been scammed, Andras said.
Some in the group had posted warnings on www.ripoffreport.com or on Craigslist.
Andras decided there should be one central place for all-things-Kat. In November, the website was born. Soon, he was posting reports he received from other alleged victims, who found the site by Googling "Kafashian" or by following a link Andras placed on Craigslist. The site has received more than 7,000 hits.
The postings had a common thread: A young, bubbly woman promised lucrative modeling contracts with Nike or Skechers, or coveted gigs in Gap commercials and blockbuster movies. Models paid hundreds of dollars for head shots, the posters said, while photographers who took the pictures never saw a paycheck. Job-hungry actors embarked on wild goose chases across town to attend casting calls canceled at the last minute.
By the time they realized their folly, they said, Legaspi had disappeared.
Unable to get reports up as fast as he got them, Andras created a blog so other people could post on their own.
One visitor identified Kafashian as Legaspi. Andras plastered the Legaspi name at the top of his page, along with her photo and her alleged business names.
Andras' postings are relatively sober; in one he warns: "If your comments on this site are just angry, obscenity-filled rants, readers of your post may assume that you are the problem and dismiss your comments."
But some posters do show anger: One put up a risque photo said to be of Legaspi, and another wrote, "Make this woman pay deeply please!"
San Diego resident Sharrin Fuller, 26, became a key contributor to Andras' site. Fuller met Legaspi after posting a message on Craigslist looking for people to hang out with.
Legaspi moved in with Fuller and promised to get her boyfriend parts in the upcoming movie "The Brazilian Job" and a Nike commercial, Fuller said. When the jobs didn't pan out, Fuller grew wary.
One day Fuller peeked at Legaspi's e-mail inbox and found a message referring to one of Andras' postings. Fuller found his site, sent the link to all of Legaspi's e-mail contacts and kicked her out. She also filed a report with police in San Diego and directed them to the website.
"When the cops saw the website," Fuller said, "they took [the complaint] more seriously."