Chris Kallal charged with theft by swindle at Mall of America

Something about this feels familiar: This illustration ran with our first article on Kallal, back in 2010.

Something about this feels familiar: This illustration ran with our first article on Kallal, back in 2010.

Chris Kallal might be up to his old tricks.

Back in April 2010, Kallal was flying high. That month, the former Metromix reporter threw a launch party for his new business, foodie-focused PR firm Twincy. All was celebratory until two Minneapolis police officers walked in and slapped handcuffs on him.

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Kallal was charged, and later found guilty, of stealing his live-in girlfriend's identity, which he used to charge about $39,000 in her name. As we reported at the time, his ruse fell apart when that girlfriend discovered Kallal's other apartment, just miles away -- and his other girlfriend.

On Friday night, Minneapolis officers again arrested Kallal, fulfilling a warrant for his arrest that had been issued in October 2013. This Monday, Kallal made his first appearance in court. The charge: theft by swindle.

"He's kind of the classic scammer," says Detective Cory Cardenas of the Bloomington Police Department.

In April 2013 -- three years after his arrest for identity theft -- Kallal's new girlfriend was a public relations manager at the Mall of America, according to police. On April 19, Kallal submitted a proposal to her to analyze the mall's website and perform traffic-boosters like Search Engine Optimization, at an hourly rate of $90. The mall accepted.

Over the next month, the Mall of America's corporate office wrote Kallal four checks totaling $6,300, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Hennepin County attorney.

After a conference call in early May, Kallal came in to the mall to give a presentation on his ideas to improve the blog. Per the criminal complaint, "Employees at the meeting state that what he said...did not make sense based on their experience. A number of employees took this presentation and determined that it had been plagiarized from two internet websites."

Suspicious, the employees began to check in on Kallal's work, and quickly came to the conclusion that he hadn't been doing much of anything. For instance, when Cardenas reviewed the circumstances for Kallal's first invoice -- $1,485 for 16.5 hours of analytics and updates -- employees told him that no changes had been made to the site.

In later invoices, Kallal described data reports and content planning. Again, employees told Cardenas that they'd never seen the work, or that items like data reports had actually been performed in-house.

According to the criminal complaint, the only work that Mall of America employees saw from Kallal was that one presentation.

"He's billing the Mall of America for basically nothing," says Cardenas. "The only thing that he performed was plagiarism."

The Mall of America declined to comment for this story. "As a rule Mall of America doesn't comment on legal issues," Public Relations Vice President Dan Jasper wrote in an email.

The specifics Kallal was tasked with -- reviewing analytics and finalizing data reports -- were, according to Cardenas, difficult to verify. "It's like when the I.T. guy comes to my office and he says, 'I made some improvements,' and I say, 'Oh, okay.'"

The way Cardenas sees it, Kallal presents himself well.

"He's a well-spoken young man and obviously he was convincing," says Cardenas. "He knows the right things to say and who to say them to, and they took his word. He preyed on their trust."

Cases like this often wind up in civil court, but Deputy Chief Vic Poyer of the Bloomington police says that this incident merited a criminal charge.

"So often contractors defraud people, and you can't find charges," Poyer says.

Kallal's lawyer, public defender Jordan Deckenbach, says that Kallal maintains his innocence.

"As in any complaint, these are allegations that are being thrown out there," Deckenbach says. "We have an investigation going, and we look forward to an opportunity to bring our side of the story to the table."

This story was updated from a previous version at 1:33 p.m.

-- Tips or comments? Reach Olivia LaVecchia by email or on Twitter at @olavecchia