NEW YORK CITY — She was searching for a soul mate, but found a swindler instead.
A convicted con artist who spent time in prison for ripping off Pedro Espada's Bronx health clinic by posing as a New York hospital administrator allegedly used a Christian dating website to strike again, this time posing as a New York University divinity professor to worm his way into a woman’s heart — and her home.
Daniel Rodriguez spent close to eight months courting Andrea Fonville, 31, a hospital worker and grad student who lives in Brooklyn, going as far as to propose to her and move into her apartment before she learned who he really was.
When Fonville tried to kick him out of her apartment in mid-October, he turned the tables and threatened to call the cops. She called police instead, but officers were unable to force him to leave because he received mail at the address, a legal technicality that blocked his eviction.
Rodriguez spent a month squatting in Fonville's apartment saying he would only leave if she paid him for the expenses incurred from their called-off wedding, including a $5,000 ring, and $1,200 more in "move out" fees and an $1,800 "down payment" for another apartment, according to an e-mail he sent the Fonvilles entitled "Broken Contract Invoice" and obtained by "On The Inside."
“I was determined he was not going to get a cent,” said the victim's mother, Rebecca Fonville, a retired city school principal. "It sounds unbelievable, but it has been a nightmare that nearly destroyed my family.”
Rodriguez did not respond to email and telephone messages seeking comment.
The unholy nightmare began last spring when Andrea Fonville, an employee at Downstate Medical Hospital and a full-time student at Brooklyn College, signed up with a popular Christian dating website ChristianMingle.com in search of a soul mate.
“You can find singles that share your values and love for God in Christ,” the website boasts.
She was soon contacted by "Dr." Daniel Rodriguez, who identified himself as an NYU professor with a doctorate in religion and sociology from Yale University. She said his emails were intelligent and sensitive and she agreed to meet him.
He was nicely dressed, wore a tie and bought her gifts and flowers, and soon, she fell for him.
“She was excited,” Rebecca Fonville explained. “She said, ‘He’s fantastic, awesome, a professor, intelligent well-spoken, well-dressed. God had sent me a wonderful person in my life.’”
Rodriguez quickly proposed. The couple planned a December wedding despite warnings from Rebecca and her husband, Gary, a MTA employee, that their daughter should go slow.
“I told her she recently had been hurt by someone and was somewhat on the rebound,” her mother explained, adding that her daughter had just ended a long-term relationship.
Her parents also had other concerns.
Dr. Rodriguez was fuzzy about where he lived, how he got his job and the facts about his career just lacked the ring of truth.
He said he joined NYU after leaving a top city position at the city’s Administration for Children's Services, but that he still worked for the city’s homeless system and was on 24-hour call.
Rebecca Fonville did some online sleuthing.
His Yale graduation date did not turn up. And there was no “Dr. Daniel Rodriguez” on the NYU website. In fact, NYU does not have a divinity school, a university spokesman said. When she raised questions, he always had an answer.
“I am adjunct at NYU, not a full professor,” he told the Fonvilles. “My Yale graduation was just for divinity students.”
So the Fonvilles hired detectives at North American Investigations. They discovered that Rodriguez had a criminal history dating back to 1987 in New York and New Jersey that included a 2007 arrest for swindling the Soundview Health Clinic where he had a high-paying administrator's job.
I exclusively reported that arrest back then for the New York Post. I quoted then-Soundview president, ex-state Sen. Pedro Espada, who is about to be sentenced for looting the same clinic, as saying Rodriguez was a great con man.
“We fell in love with him,” Espada said at the time. “This guy had the lingo down pat.”
Rodriguez served three years in New York State prison for the crime.
But even when the Fonvilles presented their daughter with the private investigator's findings, she remained in denial, Rebecca Fonville said.
“She was 'brainwashed,'” her mother said.
That’s when her mother contacted me, after finding the Post articles online.
“Mr. Weiss, you are my last hope,” she implored. I obtained a prison mug shot of “Dr.” Rodriguez. The photo jolted Andrea Fonville to her senses, her mother said.
On Oct. 28, Andrea Fonville rushed to her Clinton Hill apartment to change the locks. Rodriguez arrived ahead of her, and he would not leave.
He knew his rights, he said. He was receiving mail — albeit junk mail — at the apartment, and under state law that proves he's not a squatter.
When the cops were called, there was little they could do but try to shame him into leaving.
Rodriguez wouldn't budge, and announced he was going to get restraining orders against the Fonvilles.
“My daughter saw someone she thought cared and she trusted,” Rebecca Fonville said. “But she was the one who had to pack her bags and leave her own apartment because she was afraid to spend a night with a felon.”
Rodriguez spent weeks in Andrea Fonville’s home — even riding out Hurricane Sandy there — while she was stuck couch-surfing with family and friends, Rebecca Fonville said.
Rodriguez then sent his ex-fiance the "Broken Contract Invoice."
"Since you have canceled the wedding as of today at 2 p.m., the broken contract is on your behalf," his email began.
"This is a small review taking into consideration move out cost and new living cost," which asked for a total of $6,900, including charges for a $1,000 wedding, a $40 tuxedo and $450 for a "trio" of musicians.
But the Fonvilles did not give in.
On Nov. 16, they hired the law firm of Glaser and McGuire, which served Rodriguez with a formal 10-day notice of eviction.
The Fonvilles' doggedness paid off.
On Nov. 21, Andrea Fonville suddenly received an email message, obtained by "On the Inside" from "The Rev. D. B. Rodriguez" that he was leaving her home on Nov. 26.
It was unclear why he suddenly decided to move.
On Dec. 1, Andrea Fonville moved back into her own home, and immediately changed the locks.
"I could finally breathe," Rebecca Fonville said.
"And what I am really wondering," she said, "is how many others were there before my daughter, and how many will there be after her?”