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Chris Kallal's secret life

Lars Leetaru

Chris Kallal was celebrating.

It was the last Friday of April, and the 29-year-old had organized a party at Rinata Restaurant in Uptown to mark the launch of his new business, a public relations firm called Twincy. Just after 10 p.m., Kallal sat at the restaurant bar surrounded by dozens of friends and colleagues that had answered his invitation.

It was less than ideal timing for two Minneapolis police officers to enter armed with a warrant for his arrest.

"Are you Chris Kallal?" one officer asked.

"Yes," he replied.

Kallal appeared surprised at the officers' presence, but he didn't resist when they slapped on the handcuffs and led him out to the squad car. It happened quickly and quietly, leaving many of his party guests baffled.

Kallal is well known in the Twin Cities restaurant scene. Until earlier this year, he worked as a reporter for Metromix, a KARE 11-affiliated website that covers Minneapolis-St. Paul culture. He chronicles his thoughts on local restaurants online with Twitter and a blog.

Now, as co-founder of Twincy, Kallal promotes popular local restaurants, including Thom Pham's recently opened Wondrous Azian Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis.

But police say Kallal has lived a double life.

Last year, those two lives intersected, according to court and police documents, culminating in a strange encounter between two people who were never supposed to meet: different girlfriends he lived with in apartments just miles away from each other.

As a consequence of that meeting, Kallal was charged with two felonies for allegedly stealing mail and the identity of Alyssa Geronsin, his then-girlfriend of more than six years. Police say he used the information to rack up $39,000 in credit card bills under her name.

"It was so bizarre," says Geronsin, recounting the tale. "This happens in movies and on TV."

Kallal filed a motion to dismiss the case, but has a hearing scheduled for October 6. If convicted, Kallal faces up to 13 years in prison and $25,000 in fines. Kallal did not return requests for an interview. His attorney, Grant Scott Smith, declined to comment on the case. But official documents, Geronsin, and other witnesses tell the story.

Geronsin's first clue that Kallal was not being honest came more than two years ago. She had been dating Kallal for five years, and lived with him in an apartment in south Minneapolis.

One day, while checking her bank account online, Geronsin noticed that someone else had been charging purchases to her Wells Fargo account.

When she told Kallal about it, he admitted to making the charges, says Geronsin. But the confession came with a long story about mountains of hospital bills for what he feared may be a serious illness.

The two decided to work it out and not involve police, she says. "I felt really bad for him."

Kallal's peculiar behavior didn't stop there. Geronsin says she didn't know what to make of it when he told her that the government was recruiting him for a job, and she shouldn't be concerned if strangers began calling asking about him. Geronsin once found a mailing label marked with Kallal's name under an address for an apartment a few miles away. When she asked him about it, Kallal was quick to explain that his cousin had just moved to town, and the post office had made a mistake.

"I had some strange suspicions," remembers Geronsin. "There were all these little red flags."

But many of Kallal's stories seemed too strange not to believe, and his charm went a long way. Others who have known Kallal also describe his gregarious and likable personality.

As a promoter of the Twin Cities band the Alarmists, Kallal was always willing to pick up the bar tab, says the band's lead singer, Eric Lovold. But Lovold says he, too, saw odd signs in Kallal's behavior.

One of those came almost a year after Kallal organized a photo shoot to promote the band's new album. Lovold received a call from the shoot's photographer, wondering what had happened to payment for the gig. The call came as a surprise to Lovold, who remembers paying Kallal promptly. By that time, Kallal and the band no longer worked together.

That payment has still not come, the photographer says.

"He's very charismatic, seemed very confident," says the photographer, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "He seemed pretty organized and everything before he dropped the conversation and wouldn't respond to me."

In early 2009, Kallal gave Geronsin some more strange news. He had just been hired as a reporter for CNN through a program with KARE 11, he told her.

Geronsin felt as if she should be happy for her boyfriend, but says she couldn't help being a little suspicious at what seemed like an unbelievable upgrade from his job at Metromix. She even looked up the new position on the Internet. Though it didn't mention Kallal, the job he described did exist.

 

Kallal's traveling became increasingly frequent. Kallal would leave town almost every month, explaining to Geronsin it was for work, she says. What were supposed to be trips of a few days often stretched into a week or longer.

Geronsin also started to see signs that someone was again making charges to credit cards in her name. One credit card company called her parents' house trying to reach her to talk about an outstanding balance, which was the first Geronsin had heard of it. She also received a letter stating she had been late on a credit card she had cut up years ago. But every time she asked Kallal about it, says Geronsin, he was too busy to talk.

On an afternoon in mid-April 2009, Geronsin pulled into a Wells Fargo in St. Louis Park on a lunch break from work. After a quick transaction at the drive-through ATM, she checked her car mirrors, preparing to pull onto Excelsior Boulevard.

That's when she saw what looked like Kallal's tan 1999 Camry in the drive-through teller lane.

It didn't make sense. As far as she knew, Kallal had been in Atlanta for the past week training for CNN and wasn't due back for days.

Geronsin had to do a double-take. It was the same license plate. It was Kallal's car.

She stepped out of her car and walked over to the Camry, too shocked to fathom what was happening.

"You always kind of assume everything's going to have a logical explanation," she says. "Nothing was really registering in my head."

From a distance, she could make out Kallal's face in the car. But it wasn't until she was only a few feet away that she saw that he was not alone. A young woman sat in the passenger's seat next to him. In the back, a baby rested in a car seat.

"It took a while for the image of what was in that car to get to my brain and process," says Geronsin.

When Kallal saw Geronsin, he flipped the car in reverse and peeled out of the parking lot. Geronsin doesn't remember who called whom, but only minutes later Kallal was weaving a complicated tale from the other side of the receiver.

The woman was his therapist, Geronsin remembers him saying. The baby belonged to her. They were practicing an exercise of "life-skills training."

Geronsin didn't buy it. Two days later, she and her mother went to the address she had found months earlier with Kallal's name on it. A young woman answered the door whom Geronsin recognized from the car. The apartment's décor, too, was familiar.

"It was really bizarre," remembers Geronsin. "He had taken stuff from the storage unit that I never go into and furnished his apartment with it."

After the two women confronted the reality that they shared—and lived with—the same boyfriend, Geronsin noticed a box of Kallal's things that used to be in her basement. Sticking out of the box, Geronsin found a sealed bill addressed to her from another credit card company.

Suddenly, Kallal came home, clearly dismayed to discover the two women sitting in his apartment. Given the day's revelations, the feeling was mutual: One of them slammed the door and locked him outside.

Kallal banged on the door until he broke it in.

Minneapolis police officers arrived on the scene soon after, and Geronsin told them all about the credit cards.

"It looks like, from [police records], this guy is living a double life, and it doesn't sound like either one knew the other existed," says Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer. "I want to know how this guy pulled this off. These two women were only living about two miles apart."

Kallal later confessed to opening at least one account using Geronsin's identity and charging more than $10,000, according to the complaint. He admitted making charges to Geronsin's other accounts unbeknownst to her but denied opening any others. He also admitted to taking mail addressed to Geronsin "related to the bills for various accounts" in fear that she would "freak out" if she saw them, according to the complaint.

Kallal was charged with felonies for identity and mail theft in January. The complaint alleges that Kallal charged $39,000 to accounts in Geronsin's name. His photo has since appeared in Busted, a weekly tabloid that publishes mug shots of people arrested in the Twin Cities.

On February 18, Kallal failed to show up for his first court hearing, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

About two months later, Geronsin received a Facebook invite to Kallal's party at Rinata. She knew police were looking for Kallal, and formulated a plan to make sure they found him.

 

The night of the party, she and two friends went to Rinata. Geronsin waited outside while the two others went in to make sure Kallal was present. Right away, they saw him mingling with a few people at the bar.

Just as planned, they sent a text message confirming Kallal's presence to Geronsin, who called the Hennepin County warrants line and made the report. Meanwhile, her two friends grabbed a table between Kallal and the door to keep an eye on him.

Two officers arrived a few minutes later to arrest Kallal. When police brought him outside, Geronsin was waiting in front of the restaurant to watch the officers take away the man who she says has ruined her credit and caused her so much grief.

"It was a good feeling," she says. "I kind of felt like it was an appropriate dramatic ending to a highly dramatic saga."


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