NICE, France – Imagine the anticipation as the young women approached the apartment building on the Promenade des Anglais, a gorgeous seafront boulevard that is one of the most prestigious addresses on the French Riviera.
Each thought she was embarking on a kinky sexual adventure after responding to an online ad from one Anthony Laroche, a strikingly handsome man of about 37— an architect in nearby Monaco—who looked like a male model and promised a night right out of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Certainly, the evening rendezvous started out promisingly enough—at least for a BDSM aficionado. Per instructions outlined in email correspondence that typically lasted about two months beforehand, “Anthony” left his apartment door ajar when his dates arrived.
They went, as directed, to his bathroom, where they undressed, put on a blindfold and were ushered through the darkened apartment to Anthony’s bedroom, where he tied their legs and hands and lovemaking ensued.
Unfortunately, the evening rendezvous was usually over by the time the women realized their French Christian Grey was, as one alleged victim said, old, short, balding, paunchy and altogether “disgusting.”
Incredibly, according to a criminal complaint filed with Nice prosecutors, their paramour was a 68-year-old retiree named “Michel” who may have corresponded with and had similar affairs with as many as 300 women in France, at least one possibly 15 years ago in Paris. (He wasn’t waiting for the 2011 book or the movie, it turns out, but they most probably made his game easier to play.) For now, police believe most of the dates began in 2009.
French media has gone into nickname overdrive, referring to Michel as “Le papy” (gramps), and “Le sexagenaire” who pretended to be a “mannequin,” or model.
“Le Playboy was nothing but a manipulative old man,” Mohamed Maktouf, the Nice lawyer representing one of the victims, told The Daily Beast. “Hardly the handsome lover he pretended to be.”
Michel (French law usually prohibits publication of suspects’ real names prior to conviction and Michel is an alias given by the court) apparently used a photo of a real male model from a 2009 ad campaign for PME Legend on online dating sites like Zoosk. He is not, nor ever has been an architect (Christian Grey’s occupation in the book).
Maktouf said police found evidence of what appeared to be Michel’s long history enticing women online into real-life dates using fake photos and a false bio. Maktouf said two women made allegations about Michel to police in the last few years, but only his client, identified in court papers as “Leila,” hired a lawyer who made a formal complaint.
Maktouf said Tuesday that he had just received a call from a 30-year-old Parisian woman who reported that Michel had used the same ruse on her in Paris when she was only 15, but she had always been too “ashamed” to come forward until now.
Leila was not available for comment Tuesday, but she told Le Parisien newspaper recently that she removed her blindfold after sex with Miche, despite over his protests.
“When I insisted, he got angry,” Leila said. “I ended up seeing his silhouette in the dark. He was old, pot-bellied with a big nose. I told him, ‘It wasn’t you in the photo.’ He said “No, but I had grown fond of you and was afraid to admit it.”
Another woman named Sylvie described a similar scenario to Le Parisien, saying she was also “disgusted” when she took off her blindfold and saw Michel’s face.
“It didn’t correspond at all to his photo,” she said.
Michel’s Nice-based lawyer, Laurent Poumarède, said his client was horrified by his recent arrest on charges of “rape by surprise.” He spent two weeks in jail and faces a judicial review next month. Poumarède maintains the trysts were consensual and, if anything, the women should have noticed that Michel was not 37, blindfold or no blindfold.
Though Maktouf says his client was “tied up” and unable to move during sex with Michel, Poumarède scoffed at the idea and said the women were bound with “soft cords” that could easily be detached.
“This was just a game,” Poumarède told the Daily Beast. “It was consensual. It was fairly obvious that Poumarède was not a young model. Even his apartment looked to be one owned by an older man. I wonder if some of them just wanted to believe he looked like the man in the photo.”
In addition, Poumarède claimed that many of Michel’s dates discovered his true age and that he was lying about his identity—and returned for more.
“They became his mistresses,” said Poumarede. “They accepted the game.”
Maktouf became incensed when he heard this.
“Faux!” he said. “That is not true. I have never heard that any of his victims came back and turned into his mistresses. This is a serious violation, this is rape.”
As for Michel, he is “hurt” also, said his lawyer.
“He never thought what he was doing would be considered a crime,”Poumarède said. “He is not ugly but he is not handsome, either. Maybe if he were a little better looking we would never have heard of this whole situation.”