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A conned woman hopes to see her efforts to warn others pay off.
By REBECCA CATALANELLO, Times Staff Writer
Published November 24, 2007
[Special to the Times]
Meredith Gavin knows people think she's stupid.
She's heard them say she's a gold digger, a whore, that she got what she had coming to her.
But she doesn't care.
All this 31-year-old single mother cares about is that you hear her story. Think what you like, but leave with two names and two faces imprinted on your memory: Simon and Jordan Gann, the dark-haired, handsome twins from Massachusetts who Tampa police believe have conned countless people in their short 27 years, selling themselves as doctors, lawyers, investors, then vanishing, taking their victims' money or pride.
Gavin fell for it.
Tampa Detective Curtis Smithcalls Gavin, "a central hub" for resources about the activities of the two brothers He said he has referred more than 50 victims to her.
Now Jordan Gann sits in a Hillsborough County jail awaiting a court hearing, and the Web site Gavin erected to help victims and track Gann sightings is drawing more traffic than ever.
She's talked openly with television news stations. She's been the brunt of jokes during live radio appearances on the Buckethead Show on Tampa's 98 Rock.
And when she gets phone calls from Simon telling her to stop talking about him, she refuses to shrink. Instead, she yells and asks why he's calling, blasts Disney music, all the while recording the conversations with her camera phone to document online what she's dealing with.
"So many women are embarrassed," she said, explaining herself. "And I'm like, who cares! Don't you want to stop him?"
After years erecting Web sites, posting Craigslist warnings and making calls, Gavin's wish might be nearer to reality than ever.
* * *
Growing up in the Albany, N.Y., suburbs, Gavin saw her parents split when she was young, leaving her mother to raise her. She developed into a brash, resilient young woman, but one who was still, as she discovered, vulnerable.
Her friends say she was always this way - strong and funny, but none could have predicted how these qualities might keep her afloat the moment her life began to change one July day four years ago.
The Gann twins didn't come with a warning in 2003. There were no Web-based cautionary tales to help her then.
Here's the quick version of what went down:
At 27, Gavin was a self-described chatty party girl who had never been in love. And love wouldn't really describe what happened when the cute guy at the end of an Orlando bar made eye contact. But she believed his line about being a successful, wealthy doctor.
She had just moved to Tampa with three friends. She and a roommate were in Orlando training for new sales jobs when they met the man they now believe was Jordan Gann.
The conversation started as a sarcastic back-and-forth about Albany. She found him both articulate and down to earth. He said he was Harvard educated, yethe acted like "one of us."
And she trusted him when he told her he misplaced his credit cards. Though she didn't have much money, she let him bum off her and her friends for food, lodging and more.
Four days passed, and he never quite managed to put his hands on his Jaguar, cash or house keys.
The two women brought him back to Tampa. He joined their circle of friends, playing cards at their Tampa Palms apartment. And he made a lot of calls to friends and business associates on Gavin's cell phone.
She began to get annoyed.
Gann said a friend had his car, his keys and access to his house. But the friend kept changing plans, missing calls, leaving him broke and stuck with her.
"It's not like I was made of money," she recalled.
Gann apologized and suggested they test-drive cars, saying he would buy them new ones to show his gratitude. They watched him fill out financial paperwork at the Lexus dealership. Then they went to the mall, where, Gavin recalls, he borrowed from them to buy clothes, CDs, a CD player and cell phone - for his sister, he said.
Here's what people really hate.
Gavin says she had sex with him. She got pregnant, and now she's raising a dark-haired, dark-eyed kid she adores, but who she believes to be Gann's offspring.
"I wasn't thinking, "I really, really liked this guy,'" she said of their first encounter. "I was thinking this guy owes me money and I haven't had sex in two years." She said she was drunk. Blue Moon beer and orange slices, more than likely.
Four days after they met, Gavin took him back to Orlando to get his car. Her friend Melissa Gleason called to say she couldn't find anything on the Internet to verify Gann was the billionaire oncologist he claimed to be.
"Don't let him out of your sight," Gleason ordered.
Gavin didn't have the money for the valet at Gann's hotel, and inadvertently parked in a tow zone. She found out when she went inside, and Gann refused to go back with her to move the car.
Fearful of being towed and stranded, Gavin hastily moved the car and rushed back, knowing all the while what to expect.
Sure enough, he'd vanished.
"I was so mad at myself," she said. She remembers sobbing the whole way back to Tampa, apologizing to her friends and trying to sort out what happened.
She filed a report with Tampa police and felt stupid doing it.
Web-savvy Gleason posted a warning online, hoping to help the next victim.
The anger started to rise. On July 15, 2003, she said, she called every number Gann had dialed on her phone or scribbled on papers in her apartment to find out who he really was.
One call led to Savannah Brodeur, now 23, of Spring Hill. Brodeur told her the Ganns were twins, and they'd been doing this a long time. Brodeur also said she'd had a child by Jordan.
Three days later, Gavin took a home pregnancy test. It came back positive. Twice.
Gavin wanted to warn others. She was angry no one had done the same for her.
* * *
Following Gleason's lead, Gavin launched her Gann-watch Internet site, but her crusade is more than just a Web site. When she hears one of the brothers has been sighted in a city, she goes on Craigslist and authors a warning under that town's "Rants and Raves" section.
When rumor had it Simon was in Mexico earlier this month, she put her standard "rant" through an online Spanish translator and posted it in Puerto Vallarta.
She's learned how to program her site so that people can find it by searching Gann aliases.
She counsels those who contact her. The ones who won't go to the police drive her nuts, she said. Of course, she concedes, she's had four years to get over it.
"You realize being a victim, you can either wallow in it the rest of your life or you can ...take a stand and stop it from happening to other people," she said.
On Oct. 9, the Tampa police issued a warrant for Jordan's arrest after a Pinellas County woman complained he'd stolen $750 from her after telling her he was a doctor who wanted to pay her bills and open a bank account for her.
Gavin's Web site gave Detective Smith a guide toGann's travels, aliases, and trail of victims.
"She's looking at that bigger picture," he said. " It's satisfying her desire for justice, but I think it's also helping other people."
* * *
This isn't how Gavin imagined her life. She'll tell you that as bluntly, then she'll laugh loud and hard, because she knows the whole thing sounds pretty crazy.
For one, she never wanted kids. "I just thought they were little annoying midgets, really," she said from her North Greenbush home with a laugh. She was once fired by a day care center, she said, for being too strict.
She thought about abortion. But when her appointment came, she couldn't bring herself to go. "I would wonder the rest of my life, 'What if?'"
She considered adoption. But couldn't bear to think of her son growing up under someone else's care, without ever knowing she was his true mother.
Gavin and her mother agreed to raise the baby together.
Liam Gavin, now 3, loves Sesame Street, dancing and playing what he calls the pillow game. She posts his pictures on her MySpace page and gushes about how cute he is, how brilliant.
Liam was diagnosed with a mild form of autism. Gavin thinks its no coincidence that Simon tells people he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.
And though she says she didn't seek motherhood, Gavin believes Liam came into her life for a reason. The biggest curse of her life has birthed her biggest blessing. Until Liam, she said, she'd never experienced true love. Romance is another matter. Gavin says she has neither the time nor the energy. Not to mention the "wicked trust issues" that come with something like this. And where would you start to explain how Liam came to be?
"Well, who's Liam's father?" she said, laughing at the prospect. "How do you answer that? ... Well, grab a pot of coffee instead of a cup!"
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3383.
To visit Meredith Gavin's website, go to: http://home.nycap.rr.com/simonwilkes2003/.
[Last modified November 23, 2007, 23:14:43]