The Truth About The Infamous Dine-And-Dash Dater

Dining and dashing is a crime normally attributed to teenagers who can't afford to eat at restaurants. But a very different type of dine-and-dasher popped up in Los Angeles in 2015. Paul Gonzales, who was in his mid-40s at the time, grew up in California, according to the Daily Beast. He had a difficult childhood: after his parents divorced, Gonzales started lying about details of his life, including who his father was. Later in life, he found success in a career as a salesman, but after a gambling spree and a nasty divorce of his own, he found himself unemployed.

Strapped for cash, Gonzales decided to turn to his dating pool for a free dinner. Gonzales was active on dating apps like PlentyOfFish and Bumble, where he introduced himself to various women. Later, he met up with these women at expensive LA-area restaurants, where he took advantage of the good eats available to him. He ordered large, expensive meals, often with multiple entrees. On one date, his partner reported he chowed down on chicken, fish, four lobster tails, and a souffle dessert, according to the Daily Beast. The total bill came to a whopping $250. But Gonzales had no intention of paying his hefty tab. At the end of each date, in a flagrant violation of good first-date etiquette, Gonzales ducked out of the restaurant without paying, leaving his date to handle payment.

The women Gonzales hurt

Gonzales' misdeeds came to public attention in 2016, when one of his dates, Marjorie Moon, posted about what Gonzales had done on Facebook, according to the Daily Beast. The post got many responses: by then, Gonzales had already pulled his scam on a number of women, each of whom had their own stories of being abandoned by Gonzales at a restaurant. Moreover, Gonzales had lied to many of the women about who he was and what he had done for a living. He even came up with different false last names to give them, so that they had difficulty tracking him down and effectively warning others about his scam.

Gonzales abandoning the restaurant and leaving his dates to pay for his meals was undoubtedly morally questionable. But it wasn't as clearly illegal as other dine-and-dash schemes, like when someone abandons a restaurant without anyone paying. So it took some time before a police officer caught wind of the case and decided to hunt Gonzales down, according to Eater Los Angeles.

How Gonzales was caught

In 2018, Gonzales' crimes were brought to the attention of Detective Victor Cass, according to Los Angeles Magazine. Cass was able to locate 20 women who had gone on dates with Gonzales and subsequently been left with inflated restaurant bills. After speaking to a man who had witnessed one of Gonzales' dates, Cass got a clear idea of what the perpetrator looked like, according to Eater Los Angeles. Later, Cass discovered that Gonzales' misdeeds were not limited to the restaurant setting and that he had skipped out on paying for hair cuts before as well.

Because of his living situation, Gonzales wasn't easy to find, even once Cass knew who he was looking for. Gonzales was couch surfing or sleeping outside, which meant there was no steady address detectives could visit so they could speak to him. Moreover, Gonzales didn't respond to traps that detectives set up, including a honey trap with a cop posing as a potential romantic interest, according to Los Angeles Magazine.

When Cass did find Gonzales, it was more a matter of luck than skill. Cass was out on patrol when he saw a familiar face selling T-shirts to tourists, according to the Daily Beast. Cass grabbed him and arrested him immediately: he had Paul Gonzales in custody.

Gonzales' sentencing for his crimes

Initially, Gonzales was charged with eight counts of extortion, two counts of attempted extortion, three counts of non-payment to an innkeeper, and one count of petty theft, according to the Daily Beast. Prosecutors argued that Gonzales had extorted victims by making them feel afraid, Los Angeles Magazine reported. The charges could have ended up with as much as a 13-year sentence.

Ultimately, a judge threw out the extortion charges, but the non-payment and theft charges were upheld. After a trial, Gonzales was convicted of all four charges. His sentence was set at 120 days in jail, and he was banned from using dating apps during his probation.

Some of Gonzales' victims have taken this as a win, and evidence of "karma." But experts are less optimistic, pointing out that Gonzales will likely start up his scam again once his probation has ended, according to Los Angeles Magazine. For his part, Gonzales has disputed the allegations against him, saying that he only left one date without paying.