In New York City, a controversial political candidate finished his race for office in a jail cell. Today's he's breaking his silence for the first time to Crime Watch Daily Special Legal Correspondent Amy Dash.
At The Atelier Condo, apartments sell for tens of millions of dollars and celebrities are neighbors. Prosecutors say Jon Girodes offered a rental apartment there for only about $1,000 a month. But they say they soon discovered the apartment wasn't even his to rent.
Jon Girodes, candidate for New York State Senate, is accused of being a Craigslist scammer. Girodes' arrest is the latest bizarre twist in the story of this political hotshot accused of balancing his personal budget with other people's cash.
Jon Giordes' billboards in Harlem promise "affordable housing" for citizens of New York's 30th District. But Giordes' campaign was hardly without controversy. Once, he reportedly emailed a journalist from New York television station WNBC-TV, inviting her to a campaign fundraiser in Harlem featuring "fried chicken, watermelon and Kool-Aid."
In the fall, prosecutors say, Girodes advertised his apartment for rent on Craigslist, a gorgeous Hell's Kitchen condo in a multimillion-dollar building, all for only around $1,100 a month.
"Mr. Girodes would invite people to his apartment to wine and dine them," said Attorney Pierre Gooding, who is representing several alleged victims. "And then once he collected first/last security deposit, he would come up with various reasons why they couldn't move in."
Student Sara Angella says she was taken in by the smooth-talking senate candidate, whom she gave $9,000 in total up front.
Angella wasn't the only one. Author Nina Wolff says she gave Girodes down payments of thousands of dollars. So did photographer Amanda Stevens, and model McKinley Thomas.
Crime Watch Daily sat down with a number of Giordes' alleged victims. They say the candidate's sales pitch starts with tall tales of life in the political spotlight. But they say after he pockets the cash, Girodes and the apartment suddenly become unavailable.
Text messages show excuses like "The elevator is still out of commission"; "I am on my way to the hospital. I have a lump on the left side of my body"; or simply "Not happening today."
Prosecutors say Girodes had leased that gorgeous view to more than a dozen hopeful renters, many with the same move-in date. When the renters in our group did find out, it was a mad scramble to get their money back. They say that's when dealing with Girodes got even more bizarre, and he became very hard to track down.
"Peter," who asked us not to use his last name, was on the hook for $15,000, and says he had recorded conversations.
Nina Wolff was one of the few who says she got her money back after hounding Girodes. But there are some angry renters who claim they're tired of waiting for Girodes to pay them back. They say he used his political platform to steal their trust, and more importantly, their money.
Attorney Pierre Gooding says Girodes' scheme added up to a hefty payday.
"Right now we believe it's about $50,000, but that's what we know about," Gooding said.
But instead of smiling all the way to the bank, Girodes finds himself smirking all the way to the slammer, arrested on 10 counts of grand larceny, two counts of scheme to defraud, and one count of identity theft.
In fact, he actually had to sit out last November's election because he was in jail awaiting trial.
Girodes received about close to 5 percent of the vote.
"We have in the United States a presumption of innocence, and just because he was charged with a crime, until he is convicted he is presumed to be innocent and has a right to be on the ballot," said attorney Lawrence Mandelker.
Mandelker says legally, an ex-convict has as much right as anyone to run for office. Is there any offense that disqualifies someone from running for elected office?
"No," said Mandelker.
That's good news for Jon Girodes. Not only is he sitting in jail, accused of a Craigslist rental scheme, but we found he also has a history of being on the wrong side of the law.
In 2001 Girodes was put on probation for petty theft. Then in 2008, Girodes was accused in a check-cashing scheme. He pleaded guilty to grand larceny and served jail time.
But now he sits in a Manhattan jail awaiting trial, accused of renting the same apartment to more than a dozen different people at the same time. Prosecutors claim he never turned over a working key and kept most of the money.
Girodes welcomed Crime Watch Daily behind bars for an exclusive interview to campaign for his freedom.
Amy Dash: You have more than a dozen accusers, people who say that in total you took more than $50,000 from them. Did you do that?
Jon Girodes: No. I did not and I can't continue to answer these questions. These accusers, by the way, it breaks my heart whoever they are that they are going through this, and I wish I could respond the way I want to, but I cannot.
Dash: Did you list your apartment for rent?
Girodes: I can't discuss anything else, Amy, with all due respect of course. Just like everyone else, it wouldn't behoove me to do so. I'm fighting for my freedom, I'm fighting for my life. And I will share the entire story at some point. Now is just not the right time, Amy.
Dash: The last time the public saw you, you were smiling and you had just been arrested. Why were you smiling?
Girodes: Well that's a good question. I think I was nervous and the absurdity of me being arrested at all, I thought I was being spoofed, to be honest with you.
No matter the outcome of this case, Jon Girodes says his political future is bright.
"Sooner or later I'll be a free man and I'll run again, and I can guarantee you I'm going to run for the rest of my life in New York," said Girodes.
And Girodes says it won't be from the cops, it will be for office. He promises to fight on a platform of parking tickets, potholes, and...
"Landlord tenant issues -- there are a lot of crooked landlords who try to take advantage of people from other countries, immigrants especially, who don't know what their rights are," said Girodes.
"If this was a movie, the people would be siding with me right now and cheering me on," said Jon Girodes. "There are two sides to every story. That's what makes this country great. And I believe in the justice system, and I am just going through the motions now."
Is he innocent?
"I cannot comment whether I am innocent or guilty. You are asking me today on camera, right, I would say yes, of course," said Girodes. "I haven't had my opportunity to explain anything. I've been railroaded, just like my fellow inmates down the line."
What will he say to people who say "This guy is crazy if he thinks he's going to run for office again and win"?
"It's America. You can do anything," Girodes said.