University of Minnesota's Campus Con Man
Two days after Christmas, Sergei Dmitriev was visiting his family in Reno when he received a phone call from a distraught roommate in Minneapolis informing him that their house had been burglarized. Dmitriev fumed with anxiety as his roommate explained that their laptops, guitars, and iPods—with a total value exceeding $6,000—were gone.
A week later, the five roommates had lost all hope of the police finding the perpetrator, and had already spent thousands of dollars replacing their stolen goods. Then they saw a suspicious advertisement on Craigslist. It was for the same four-year-old model of Toshiba laptop that had been stolen from Dmitriev's room.
Dmitriev posed as an interested buyer and agreed to meet the seller at a coffee shop. His suspect was "Michael," a bulky man of Hispanic descent, wearing a University of Minnesota letterman's jacket.
But Michael showed up with the wrong laptop, so Dmitriev went with him back to his Dinkytown fraternity house. When he saw his computer, Dmitriev immediately knew it was the right one. To be sure, he discreetly checked the serial number. It matched.
Dmitriev sent a text message to his roommates telling them to call the police. But by the time officers arrived, Michael had fled through the back door.
Upon searching his room, the cops found about $7,000 worth of stolen property. They also discovered a work schedule for the men's shoe department of Macy's in downtown Minneapolis.
The following day, MPD Sgt. Tom Stiller arrested Michael when he arrived for his shift.
But police don't believe Michael's name is really Michael. Though the MPD had previous records of him under the name Michael Goldenberg, he is known in the Hennepin County court system as Daniel Olavarria Gonzalez—a 39-year-old with an extensive rap sheet. His arrests span 15 years and four states, for crimes including larceny, theft, auto theft, forgery, and receiving stolen property. He has 15 known aliases in Hennepin County, and his former roommates have discovered formal documentation for several more since his arrest. He was registered at the University of Minnesota under the name Anthony Martines, which police believe he was using to blend into the student community. Because of his status as a flight risk, he was booked in the Hennepin County Safety Facility at $150,000 bail, which he never made.
"If he would have got out on bail, he would have just packed up his stuff and left," Stiller says. "If I were a bettin' man, I'd say he probably isn't Daniel Gonzalez, but he won't give us a straight answer."
IN THE FALL OF 2005, Heidi Schmitt was a 21-year-old junior at the University of Minnesota. She hadn't dated much, hadn't really had a serious boyfriend since high school. Then her sorority sister introduced her to a co-worker. A muscular man with a dark complexion and a gentle demeanor, he introduced himself as Antonio Martinez, and said he had recently left the gang life in New York City to start over at the University of Minnesota.
"He came across like this guy who was trying to make life better for himself," she says.
In only a few days of knowing Martinez, Schmitt caught him in a lie. She asked who his professors were, and he couldn't name one. He didn't even seem to know what classes he was taking. Suspicious, Schmitt searched for his name on the University of Minnesota's student directory website, but found nothing.
"Just admit you're not a U student," she confronted him. But Martinez wouldn't fess up, and though Schmitt didn't believe him, she dropped it. "I don't know why," she says. "He was just really charming."
Two months later, the two were dating. In their six-month relationship, Schmitt found plenty more to be suspicious about. Like how Martinez was always quoting movies she only knew about from her 37-year-old sister. Or how he obsessively worked out and took steroids. One day he would arbitrarily come home with a brick of marijuana. Another he would sit on a stranger's motorcycle and ask Schmitt to take his picture. Then she would see it posted on Facebook claiming it was his "new ride."
She knew there was something wrong, but couldn't place it, and Martinez was always quick to explain. "He was really good at concealing," she remembers. "And it was mostly just little things."
One day, Martinez seemingly forgot his birthday. He had claimed to be 24, but when Schmitt asked what year he was born, he gave a response that would have made him 23. When Schmitt asked him about it, he claimed to have simply made a mistake. Schmitt wasn't satisfied. How could someone just forget the year they were born?
After that, Schmitt was determined to catch Martinez, and confronted him many times. "I don't care if you're older," she pleaded. "I just want you to be real!"
But Martinez denied everything.
"Part of the reason I kept staying with him was because I had this drive to find out who he really was," Schmitt says. "Nothing made sense."
It wouldn't be until more than a year later that she found out that he also went by the name Gonzalez.
BY THE SUMMER OF 2006, Schmitt had ripped up and deleted every picture she had of Martinez, and moved on.
That fall, an 18-year-old named Donovan Carter and some friends were on the hunt for a party. They found a stranger's house emitting loud music, with hordes of college students wandering in and out. Inside, Carter and his friend Angela met Gonzalez, the party's host. Angela and Gonzalez began dating soon after.
A year later, on September 14, 2007, the group of friends left a party in Gonzalez's car. As soon as they pulled onto University Avenue, Carter noticed a police car trailing close behind.
The group tried to stay calm—they tried not to think about underage drinking tickets and pissed-off parents—as the car drove the few remaining blocks that separated them from a much-desired McDonald's fix. But as soon as they turned into the parking lot, the officer switched on his sirens and began barking orders through the loudspeaker.
"I'll take care of this," Gonzalez assured his friends, ignoring the officer's demands and stepping out of the car.
"Get back in the fucking car!" the officer screamed, as he pulled out his gun. Two more units barreled into the Dinkytown McDonald's parking lot, and Carter knew his night of partying had just come to an abrupt halt. The officers cuffed Gonzalez and threw him in the back of a squad car. Then they called the remaining four out one by one.
"We had to walk with our backs to them, with our hands up," Carter remembers.
After confessing to underage drinking, each student took a Breathalyzer and received a citation. Then Carter noticed something unusual on his ticket: "Tampering with a motor vehicle."
"Did you know this vehicle was stolen?" the officer asked.
Carter's stomach dropped.
"That was the biggest shock," he says, shaking his head and searching for the right words, "in a long time."
FOUR MONTHS LATER, Gonzalez was arrested at Macy's.
On March 6, Gonzalez agreed to a plea of 270 days in the Hennepin County workhouse on the charges of receiving stolen property, two accounts of auto theft, fleeing a peace officer, and fourth-degree driving while impaired. He will receive credit for the 67 days he served awaiting trial.
Pending good behavior, he is scheduled to be released on June 26.
"If you look at it in terms of how many lives he impacted by doing what he was doing, it was quite a few," Stiller says. "A career criminal like him should probably have gotten a hell of a lot more time. He's not going to stop. I guarantee it."
TALKING WITH GONZALEZ in the dim confines of the Hennepin County Safety Facility basement while he awaits transfer to the workhouse, it's easy to understand how he was able to deceive so many people. His head is freshly shaven, and though he does not look 24, his light-almond face lacks the usual road miles of a man approaching 40.
He says he is Anthony Martines, and he is 24 years old. He says the authorities have made a mistake, and he is being prosecuted under the wrong identity. He says he moved to the United States from Puerto Rico around 2000, when he was only 17 years old. He bought the identity of an older man (Daniel Gonzalez) to use at bars and clubs. The criminal history came with the name, he claims.
"I just want to go to school, to get a good education," he pleads.
But at times he can't keep his story straight. He admits to being arrested in New Jersey for burglary, a crime for which he is still wanted. According to police records, this arrest occurred in 1992. According to his story, he would have been eight years old.
Later he claims he was 14 when he moved to the United States, which would make him 21 or 22 now.
He also keeps accidentally referring to Denver. When asked if he has ever lived or been arrested there, he quickly says no. But according to police records, he was arrested in Denver in 1995 for first-degree forgery.
Gonzalez says his most recent arrests were a simple misunderstanding. He was buying and selling laptops on Craigslist to make extra money. He didn't know they were "hot."
His 15 aliases known to Hennepin County are easily explained as well. He says he was charged with multiple underage drinking citations before he turned 21, and he gave police officers phony names. "I didn't want to give them my real name because I knew I was going to go to school and play sports," he says.
When the guard tells him his time is up, Gonzalez protests that he's not the con man police think he is.
"That's bologna," he says. "They have no proof. All they have is a list on a computer."
"Come on," the guard growls, and for the first time, Gonzalez looks like he is going to lose his poise. "They don't know me," he says, just before the thick metal door slams shut.
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