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The Pool Repairman and the Hollywood Hustle 

Jay Hutchinson dreamed of telling the story of his late son's life. Then he met Stephen Martines

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Stephen Martines got his start on soap operas and later earned other TV roles.
  • Stephen Martines got his start on soap operas and later earned other TV roles.

It's hard to get a clear picture of Martines. Beyond his acting credits, he keeps almost nothing in his name. He is constantly moving (he's associated with fourteen different properties since 2000, mostly in the LA and St. Louis areas), and court records show at least three evictions, most recently from a Ballwin house in October 2017. He filed for bankruptcy to discharge his debts in 1998; since then, both the California state and federal government have filed liens against him. He's also been subject to a number of judgments in small-claims court, records show.

A curiously detailed Wikipedia page describes a promising soccer career tragically ended by injury, as well as his discovery as an underwear model by Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks. Sadly, none of the information is confirmed by links within the page and remains unverified. But after speaking with thirteen people who have known Martines, a picture emerges of a man who masterfully (and usually legally) uses his modest fame to talk young women into giving him loans, often devastatingly large, never to be repaid.

Mary Lu Dolce, who trains horses at Belmont Park in New York, says she met him in 2015 on MillionaireMatchmaker.com, and the two became very close. After Martines claimed that his custody battle was getting desperate, she says she lent him $2,000 to help with the holidays. She agreed to send him a $1,000 deposit for a house and at one point began paying for his rent, she says. She bought him furniture and paid for hotels and plane tickets in LA. She even paid for his and his daughter's health insurance before she finally cut him off.

Three years earlier, he met Caroline Attwood, an Australian actor, on Match.com, and he immediately ingratiated himself. He was a Hollywood actor who drove a nice car and gambled, so when he said he desperately needed an $11,000 loan for a hair transplant to keep his acting career alive, she believed him. He never paid her back, and she says she's still in debt. Later, he texted her a picture of a badly bruised woman; a doctor had botched a relative's surgery, and he needed $5,000 right away for attorney fees. He assured her he had a "massive check" coming soon. She refused.

Around the same time, in 2011, he met Taylor Anderson in Atlanta on Match.com. They began dating, and for months he tried to get her to invest $100,000 in a prospective film, she says. Later she bought an Audi A7 in her name for him to drive. When she refused to invest in the film, she says he spat in her face and took the car with him back to St. Louis. She claims he started using her credit-card number to live out of hotels. "I haven't really dated anybody since then," she says. "I think that had a lot to do with it. I have trust issues now."

In 2008, he met Monique Thone (now Northrop), again in LA, on Match.com. After dating briefly, she says she lent him around $5,000 twice before cutting him off.

That same year, he met a woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, online in LA. She says she lent him $7,500, and he disappeared. A week later he reappeared, crying, claiming the IRS garnished the entire amount, and that he needed another $10,000 or he'd have to move back to St. Louis, she says. Feeling trapped, she lent it, and says he then disappeared again, fleeing the state to Nashville. She says she's still in debt.

In 2007, he met Stephanie Buxbaum, from whom he rented an apartment in LA. He paid for two and a half months up front in cash. Then he never paid again, allegedly racking up $4,200 in back rent and $3,250 in damages before vanishing.

Right now you are asking: Why are women doing this? And it's true, it's hard to explain. Each woman spoke of her break with Martines as waking from a disorienting dream, forever asking themselves why they ever considered lending him money on what now look to them like specious claims. Alone, they look like bad investments, a woman who gave money to a partner before things went south. Together, the collection of testimonies reads like something more insidious. More than one said she had never previously lent money to even her closest friends. And they aren't stupid: one is a clinical forensic psychologist, one is a film-sales agent and one is a Hollywood producer and showrunner. Most did not know one another when we first contacted them.

In almost every story, Martines comes into a woman's life as an impressively charming and high-class Hollywood player who dazzles her with money, then establishes a sad backstory, a reason why he can't access his funds right now. He often borrows a relatively modest sum at first, which then increases until the woman feels in way over her head. When she resists, he flies into tantrums, screaming or throwing things at her. In many cases she feels trapped, emotionally trampled or physically threatened. "The hole he makes in people's lives is just deafening," says Priscilla Ross. "It's a hole most people can't crawl out of. It's extreme. I'd say for sure it's PTSD."

Ross says she met Martines in 2007 in LA through a housing-share solicitation. Then a bartender, she agreed to move into a house he was renting, and they soon started dating. He persuaded her to lend him around $7,000 worth of furniture while his credit score rebounded from a previous landlord who had screwed him, she says. Then he got her to pay for painters and maids, saying he would pay her back. Later he got her to finance a Porsche 911 Carrera convertible for him, in exchange for which he would pay all the rent to their landlord, she says. "In your head you're so trapped that you don't want to believe," Ross says.

She vividly describes him returning from multi-night poker benders with red-eyed, dangerous tantrums. At one point, after questioning their finances, she says, he "pushed me back up against the wall with his forearm against my throat." Later, when she threatened to trade in the car, "he said, 'You touch that fucking car, I'll kill you. This car is mine. This is not your car.'" Finally, when she could no longer afford the car, she tried to drive it back to the dealership herself, but, not knowing how to drive stick, couldn't get it in reverse. She collapsed into tears. Isolated from her friends and believing the relationship had become toxic, she finally left, persuading Martines to return the Porsche several months later.

It was only later that she learned, after being served with a $4,200 invoice for back rent and damages, that Martines hadn't actually been paying rent, and she was the only traceable person on the lease. She spent a decade going through bouts of depression and paying off the various debts she'd incurred.

"I don't think the pain will ever go away from what happened," she says. "It's gone daily now. The first five years it's daily. And then I think from there, you slowly start seeing positive things happen in your life. And you think about it once a week, or what could have been. Now it's usually only when he's screwing someone over, and I get an email. I try not to think about him so much now, and that probably helps."

At one point a group of four women, including Ross and Northrop, tried going to the FBI. But the women say the agents they talked to needed a higher combined sum before they would open a case, and they couldn't persuade anyone else to come forward.

Two years before that, Martines met a 22-year-old hair stylist named Ashley Dayley in St. Louis. She says that, after a fight, he locked her in his garage and threw golf clubs at her until neighbors called the police, who she says took photographs of the bruises. They split up, but after she moved to Beverly Hills, they continued to see each other. After she refused sex after a night out, she alleges, he spit in her face, "picked me up and threw me down on the bed and used his forearm to suffocate me." She filed for a restraining order, court records show, but even after that, she vividly describes several stalking incidents that she says led her to leave LA and return to the St. Louis suburbs. She also says he forged lines of credit in her name and spent about $46,000, which she spent years fighting.

In January, she spotted Martines for the first time in a decade, playing with his daughter outside The Crossing church in Chesterfield, and the memories flooded back. He didn't notice her.

"Yeah, I had golf clubs thrown at me, but the mental abuse he does and brainwashes or manipulates and whatever he can do to try to gain power is far worse," she says. "Because that stuff stays in your head."

And a few years before that, around 2003, Lynn Giambanco won an auction through Martines' fan club to meet the star in LA. She and her husband flew out from Pennsylvania, and the couple and Martines became fast friends. He later stayed with them outside of Philadelphia while filming Guiding Light, and Giambanco says Martines convinced her to purchase a Maserati in her name, for which he made no payments. Finally, she repossessed the Lincoln Navigator he'd traded it in for, and Martines signed a $50,657 promissory note, for which she says he only made a single payment. The Giambancos took out a second mortgage.

A conservative tally of Martines' debts shows some $71,000 in tax liens that have been filed since 2003 and $165,000 in other judgments (not including interest), along with a $42,600 promissory note he signed for Ross. He works on the margins of success, just enough of a D-list celebrity to beguile the people he meets, but not enough to attract tabloid scrutiny.

In 2009, long before he met Taylor Anderson, Caroline Attwood or Mary Lu Dolce, Martines wrote an email to Ross, who was pleading for help with her mounting debts well after their split. "I don't have anyone to help me personally," he wrote, "and even if I did, I would never take it again. I will never hurt another person or put anyone through this mess you're in. I am so very sorry and am doing all I can."

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