The Return of the Montauk Grifter

Dan Kaufman—also known, variously, as Dan Kay, Dan Katze, and the Montauk Grifter—is currently awaiting trial in Manhattan on grand larceny charges for allegedly conning a tech company out of $20,000. He also faces hearings later this month in Brooklyn for probation violations relating to a prior grand larceny conviction for stealing credit card numbers. Both cases stem from his decade-long career as one of New York's most prolific and obsessive con-men—a career on which he routinely relied on online dating services to troll for victims. But his current legal troubles haven't stopped him from taking to OkCupid to dupe more unsuspecting women with extravagant lies. Look out ladies. He's back.

Gawker readers will recall that Kaufman has serially reinvented himself after his various cons. In 2008, Dan Kaufman was a personable restaurant owner until he was outed on Brooklyn blogs as the "Busted Chef" and eventually pleaded guilty to charges of skimming customer credit card numbers from the restaurants he managed. Then he became celebrity chef Dan Kay, veteran of the Rainbow Room and producer for Hell's Kitchen. This Dan Kay—who also happened to have been a guitar player in seminal Boston hardcore band Slapshot—was a James Beard Award-winning chef who hung out with Gordon Ramsay, Johnny Iuzzini, and Emeril Lagasse. (He was such a polished sociopath that he managed to convince several actual Hell's Kitchen cast members that he had worked on the show.) When that identity stopped paying off, he became Dan Kay the tech entrepreneur, who had worked for Steve Jobs and was partnering with AOL founder Steve Case to resurrect the Netscape brand as a mobile browser. When he wasn't busy reinventing mobile search, Dan Kay the entrepreneur was summering in Montauk, surfing (though no one who knew him actually saw him in the ocean) and looking for a permanent house to buy. That identity went belly-up when he was arrested last February for allegedly stealing $20,000 from CloudMob, a mobile advertising company he'd conned into hiring him as chief technology officer. He used the money to rent a Montauk house.

Last week, a tipster contacted us to report that a man who seemed to be Dan Kaufman had reached out to her via OkCupid, his preferred victim-locating service. He called himself Dan, she said, and described himself on his profile as having a "real job in tech" but a passion for "working with my hands, building things," including "custom skateboards" and surf boards. The profile featured only long-distance photos of a figure at the beach; a Facebook profile (since deleted) for "Dan E-K" associated with an email address "MakeShitHappen" provided to her was similarly vague.

The Return of the Montauk Grifter

Dan and the tipster began chatting and talking on the phone. He sent her a close-up photo at her request. That's it above. It appears that Kaufman has dyed his hair, which was greying when we last saw him. He told her that he was from Boston, had a sister living in San Francisco, spent summers on Montauk, and had recently returned from a three-month trip to South America (if true, he would have left just after being released from the Manhattan Detention Complex on March 2, having spent more than a month there before making bail).

In a phone conversation, he told the tipster that he worked in online advertising and had recently been at a "shoot with Lady Gaga." When the tipster tried to Google some of those details to check him out, she found our Montauk grifter story and got in touch. In addition to the photo, she provided the cell phone number Dan E-K called her from. It matched a number we had for Dan Kaufman.

Not long after that, a second tipster reported that "MakeShitHappen" had contacted her as well, and that her suspicions were likewise aroused. "He said he had a mobile app company," the second tipster says. "And that he started a financial services company in 1999. He said his clients were Wal-Mart and Macy's."

Sensing an opportunity for a little "To Catch a Grifter"-style undercover work, we drafted our own comely editorial assistant, Leah Beckmann, to craft an OkCupid profile carefully engineered to appeal to Dan. (Actually, I first made my own ham-fisted attempt to get his attention with a fake profile. When that failed, I thought a feminine sensibility may help matters.) Leah's alter ego messaged Dan and managed to engage him in some cryptic and unproductive conversation before landing a date for drinks with the Montauk Grifter himself. You can imagine our excitement. You can further imagine our disappointment when Dan broke the date with no explanation, only to delete his profile not long after.

"Can I help you with something?" Kaufman said when I called him to ask him why he'd deserted OkCupid so suddenly. "I don't understand." He kept repeating those sentences, alternating them, in answer to every question I asked for roughly three minutes in an apparent attempt to convince me that I'd dialed the wrong number. Finally he gave in, inviting me to call his lawyer if I like. "I don't think I want to say anything."

It's unclear whether Kaufman caught on to our little operation or perhaps got caught out by another skeptical OkCupid user. Or maybe he flew the coop for a reason he had offered our first tipster in one of their email chats: When she asked him if the absence of a profile picture meant he was "hiding" from someone, he answered: "I'm kind of over okc. Close to deleting it. Too many flakes."

Kaufman has pleaded not guilty to the grand larceny charges filed against him in February. He is due to appear in Manhattan Criminal Court on June 26. He is also scheduled to go before a judge in Brooklyn on June 20 to address probation violations.

Anyway, look out ladies. And if you use OkCupid, remember that there's nothing—not even, apparently, the imminent threat of a prison sentence—that can keep a committed sociopath off of OkCupid. As the free dating service's co-founder Sam Yagan told me in February, when I asked him why he allowed grifters like Kaufman to use his company as a referral service: "I'd rather everyone have a 'buyer beware' attitude. Every site has good and bad people." So, beware.

[Image by Jim Cooke]