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A different journey than bride bargained for

After a Hawaiian rental goes awry, The Times travel editor tracks the agent and her alleged many lives.

November 26, 2009|By Catharine Hamm
  • A Texas man said Amanda J. George gave him this photo, showing her with Robert Downey Jr., left, Woody Harrelson and Keanu Reeves on the set of the film "A Scanner Darkly." He said she told him she was a screenwriter.
A Texas man said Amanda J. George gave him this photo, showing her with Robert…

I knew her only as Amanda, and the more I learned about her life, the more surreal it seemed.

Part of it read like a fairy tale: A smart, pretty girl flees her Alaska home, meets a Scottish aristocrat and falls in love. They marry, move into a manor house and have three children.

But that was only one of the lives she'd led.

Her incarnations were varied: Hollywood screenwriter. Concierge to the stars. Rental agent for exclusive Hawaiian vacation homes.

Acquaintances say she had butter-smooth charm and uncanny powers of persuasion. But her most valuable asset may have been the anonymity of the Internet, at least until an electronic forum enabled those who had crossed paths with her to trade information.

One of her alleged victims, a bride intent on her own fairy-tale wedding, spent a year following leads and piecing together Amanda's past.

I was that bride, but in the end, I took no pleasure when she landed behind bars.

Mine was a later-in-life attachment, with none of the trappings of royalty. Carl and I met at a Christmas party in 2003, and a romance developed, slowly but steadily. We continued to live apart until a health scare prompted us to take the plunge. We set a May 2008 wedding date and asked a wedding planner to find a venue close to my childhood home on Oahu.

About three weeks before the big day, plans for the place we had chosen fell through, and the planner asked the caterer for help. The caterer's assistant surfed the Web and found an ideal setting.

When I saw pictures of Kailua Palm House on Oahu, I immediately fell in love. Coleman Wiggins was listed as the rental agency, and the agent's name was Amanda.

In e-mails and phone conversations, Amanda told us that, because time was short, I would have to wire the money to the homeowner's bank account in Tyler, Texas. I sent the funds -- $2,750 for a two-day rental, plus a $2,000 cleaning deposit.

A few days later, I e-mailed Amanda to ask for the address of the house and a signed copy of the rental agreement.

"Of course," came the reply.

Then silence. Our wedding planner e-mailed Amanda but got no response.

By May 4, 12 days before the wedding, I was getting queasy. The planner called Amanda, who said she was in a taxicab in New York and her cellphone was about to go dead. She said she would call back.

Nothing.

On May 9, the planner sent an e-mail threatening legal action. The planner and the caterer got Amanda on the phone. She hung up on them.

Four days before the wedding, we found another venue, and I put the bill on my credit card, despite a 2% premium. If I had done that earlier, I would have been protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and wouldn't have lost my money.

On our wedding day, the humiliation of having been ripped off hung over Carl and me. I wondered how I could have been such a fool. As travel editor at the Los Angeles Times, I constantly counsel readers to keep their wits and wallets about them. I had failed to follow my own advice.

After our short honeymoon, I contacted the Honolulu Police Department, the Internet Crime Complaint Center and Southside Bank in Tyler, which turned my case over to the Smith County Sheriff's Department.

There was little to go on. The address for Coleman Wiggins was a Honolulu hotel, where no one knew anything about a vacation rental agency. I didn't have a last name for Amanda, but I did have her cellphone number. I Googled "Amanda" and the number.

Up popped a news release for Do Concierge, a service for "Hollywood's A-listers" that "provides upscale, personal assistant services to clientele who desire extraordinary, specialized attention."

Co-founder Amanda Movius was quoted as saying her clients "are busy people who understand the value of their time and want to spend it focusing on the things that are really important."

Below that was the phone number that was on my rental agreement.

Entering "Amanda Movius" in a database of media coverage, I found articles from the Sunday Mail, the Sunday Mirror and other British tabloids describing her marriage to and subsequent estrangement from a Scottish lord.

Who was this Amanda, anyway?

She is the youngest of three children of Jim and Toni Movius, a Colorado couple who moved to Alaska in the 1960s.

Jim was an electrical engineer. Toni was a stay-at-home mom. Theirs was a household in turmoil.

Toni became addicted to alcohol and pills, said Jim, now 72 and still in Fairbanks, Alaska. Rehab and family counseling failed.

Through it all, Amanda maintained she was unaffected, her family said. "She had a way of distancing herself," said her older sister, Alwynn, 45, a certified public accountant.

Once, on the way home from a vacation with family friends, she disappeared in Salt Lake City International Airport. Security found her in a restroom and put her on the next flight home.

"Whenever she gets in a tight spot," her father said, "she bolts."

By high school, she had grown into a beauty. She was a "rock star," said Lisa Coulter, a childhood friend.

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