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Student's relationship with fashion model was too good to be true

He and the model met on a dating site, talked on the phone and Twitter and swapped photos. But when asked for money, he figures out she's a fake — and maybe a man.

June 10, 2012|By Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times

The email that landed in a Los Angeles college student's inbox this spring was the stuff of male fantasies. A fashion model had seen his profile on a dating site and wanted to meet.

"She just basically said I was hot and she wanted to talk and get to know me better," recalled Josue "Sway" Vides, a 24-year-old student at El Camino College Compton Center.

He sensed a scam. But when they spoke by phone, she volunteered a full name — Klara Wester — and a quick Google search showed that Wester was a real person. And really beautiful. Wester was an up-and-coming model who had campaigns for Guess and a clothing line in her native Sweden. Five feet 11, with pillowy lips and smoky eyes, she looked like a mash-up of Brigitte Bardot and Kate Moss. The conversations with Vides eventually turned into phone sex with an exchange of nude photos.

"She said things that any guy would love to hear from a model," he said. "She made it seem like she really wanted a relationship."

But when she flaked out every time they were scheduled to meet, Vides grew suspicious. When she asked for money, he started investigating. He uncovered evidence that his phone paramour was actually a man in Fort Wayne, Ind., named Justin Adam Brown. A cosmetology student and part-time drag queen with a high-pitched voice, Brown was the subject of a 2010 Times article about an online scam in which he impersonated another Guess model, Bree Condon, to swindle men out of money and gifts.

Wester's profile on the dating site, DateHookup.com, turned out to be fake, as did a Twitter account on which someone purporting to be the model bantered with admirers, mainly men, about fashion shoots and her life in Los Angeles.

"She's not living in L.A. trying to meet people online. She's in Sweden and has a serious boyfriend," said her New York agent, Madeleine Root. An agent in Stockholm said Wester was unaware someone was impersonating her.

Brown is on probation for the Condon scam; as a condition of his sentence, he is barred from using social media. Told of the allegations involving Wester, probation officials said they would investigate whether the 27-year-old has violated the terms of his probation.

Brown, reached at the cellphone number Vides used to speak with the fake Klara, said he knew of Wester "because I'm into fashion" but denied posing as her online. "I'm on probation, so I'm not doing anything bad."

The phony Twitter account, @klarawester, has been active since July 2010, two months after Brown was released from jail in Austin, Texas. The tweets seemed to corroborate that Vides was talking to the real model. @klarawester constantly posted pictures of Wester's modeling jobs and had 277 followers, including other models, photographers and even a TMZ reporter, with whom she traded flirtatious messages.

Harvey Lindsay, an 18-year-old British man, said that when he sent a private message asking for an autographed photo, @klarawester agreed, asking for his home address. "It's kind of scary," Lindsay said in an email to The Times, adding that he never received the picture.

Marlon Kuhnreich, a Canadian fashion photographer, said it never crossed his mind that the account he and others in the industry were following was fake.

"She is not a supermodel. She's not Miranda Kerr, so why would anyone bother impersonating her?" Kuhnreich said.

As convincing as the Twitter account was, Vides began to see red flags in their personal conversations. Her lack of a Swedish accent was curious. Vides stopped calling. Then, late last month, she contacted him with an urgent request. There had been a problem with her paycheck and her phone was going to be turned off unless she quickly came up with $142, he recalled her saying.

"Please help me with my phone baby. I don't have anyone else," she wrote in text messages that Vides provided to The Times. She gave him the PIN for her Sprint account, but when he logged in he found her phone number was registered to Brown in Indiana.

That led Vides to The Times' account of Brown's court case. Austin police had arrested Brown in a motel there, based on information provided by Condon's private investigator and two men who said they had been conned. They said hours of phone conversations, much of it sexual in nature, had led them to believe they had a relationship with Condon; they had given money and gifts, including a dog and an iPhone, to the impostor.

Brown pleaded guilty in 2010 to one count of theft. Carl Satterlee, the police detective who headed the investigation, said he had hoped for more charges, but two or three other men stopped cooperating when they learned the person on the other end of the phone was pretending to be not only Condon, but a woman as well.

"Once they found out it was a male, they wouldn't return my calls," Satterlee said.

The terms of Brown's probation require that he avoid social media and install spyware on his computer, said Alisa Stanfield, a division director for Travis County Adult Probation in Texas. Directed to a Facebook page on which Brown, under the name United States of Justin, regularly posts updates, she said: "That in itself is a technical violation."

Brown said he was under the impression he was allowed to use Facebook: "I have to talk to my probation officer about that." He insisted he never used Twitter or dating sites and never asked anyone to pay his phone bill. He said he was busy taking cosmetology classes and performing in local bars as a drag queen known as Candy Warhol.

A short time later, Vides received texts from Brown's phone in which "Klara" castigated him for talking to a reporter and asked him to "come see me" to straighten things out. The @klarawester Twitter account was later switched to private mode.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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