01.07.12 9:45 AM ET
Two California Women Turn Themselves Into Real-Life Versions of Thelma and Louise
Alexa Polar and Robin Pabello sit in a Southern California jail as a Thelma and Louise for our time, when anyone and everyone can act out their notions of themselves online for all the world to see, if only the world would notice.
When the world did not respond to their bid for success and celebrity, this 34-year-old paralegal and 33-year-old parochial school teacher allegedly forged a six-figure check to act out their Internet-fed fantasies and live for a few giddy days like the one percent.
In a wildly heedless escape from a paycheck-to-paycheck existence, in which the mail brought ever more bills stamped PAST DUE, they set forth from the $1,300-a-month suburban apartment they shared and put a deposit on a $3.7 million mansion. They then chartered a jet during the Thanksgiving break to fly to New York, where they stayed in a Times Square hotel and shopped at Tiffany’s and Mont Blanc.
The cops in Cypress, Calif. who arrested them after their return were left puzzled as to how the duo possibly could have imagined it would end any other way.
“I sit here in wonderment,” says Det. Greg Faessel.
In a case that is not a whodunit but a why, Polar and Pabello appear to have been propelled beyond the bounds of sense and reason by a particularly modern madness where the actual is blurred by the virtual to the point that even the most unrealizable fantasies seem possible.
The forged check seems to have been a desperate attempt to perpetuate a bogus reality in which staged red-carpet interviews were posted on YouTube and a five-minute video starring Polar’s nephews and nieces was imagined to be a ticket to the big time in Hollywood. Pabello posted on Facebook a photo of her and Pabello smiling with their chartered jet on the tarmac at Van Nuys airport.
“Flyin in style—with Alexa Polar,” she wrote.
At St. Irenaeus Parish School in Cypress where Pabello had worked since 2004 and was one of two teachers assigned to the second grade, the principal was left to explain the seemingly inexplicable to its 400 students. The school website posted a “Statement Concerning Robin Pabello” reporting only that she “has been charged in a criminal matter.” The school took down a “Meet the Teachers” entry in which Pabello was quoted saying, “I’m not just a teacher here at St. I’s but a student as well. A student of life lessons and the daily lessons that God sends to me. Those lessons that I learn I pass to my students in hopes that they continue passing it on to others.”
St. Irenaeus now could only hope that nothing of her final lesson was passed on. Pabello had clearly failed to learn from the example set by the students, who had collected bottles and cans to benefit a family made homeless in a fire earlier in the year, then held a “Donation Day” where they raised $2,790 for a second grader with cancer. She also had failed to heed the wisdom of an unassuming priest who had been assigned to the parish until recently. Father Matt Munoz is a grandson of John Wayne and had come to a realization in his younger years after briefly seeking to follow his mega-celebrity grandfather into acting. “It took just a couple of months to discover the emptiness in the work,” Munoz once told an interviewer. “I felt that the draw of the money and the fame and all that goes along with that lifestyle were traps for me in my life.”
Pabello would have benefited further from the school’s “Internet safety” course, which notes that cyber dangers go beyond sexual predators and scam artists. There is also the risk of falling victim to yourself, of losing track of that self.
“Achieve a mental sense of balance with the use of technology,” says a principal’s newsletter posted in October. “Navigate safely and ethically in a world that is not going away.”
The madness that would later seize both roommates seems to have stirred first in Polar more than two years ago, after she had done a brief stint in the army and gone to work as a paralegal at Rose Carson Kaplan Choi & White, in Newport Beach. She adopted the Twitter moniker @dawritesoul, describing herself simply as “writer ...” She offered a fuller self-description in the third person on another site: “Alexa Polar was destined to be a creative being since she was a child … She is enthusiastic, determined and ready to change the industry with her charm, wit, and writing personality.”
This “About Me” entry accompanied a film proposal she posted at the fundraising website IndieGoGo. The film was to be titled “An Incidental Heist,” set in what the self-proclaimed writer described as “an out of date bank failing of its modern day amenities.”
“If you could rob a bank without getting caught, would you do it?” read the tag line.
Any investor who put up $2,000 was promised an executive-producer credit, access to the set, “an exclusive invitation to the film’s premiere” and “25% of the gross profits of the theatrical and DVD release.”
There were no takers and Polar recruited her roommate to join her as “assistant director” in another project. The profile for Pabello’s Twitter account, @RJBird 78, suggests someone able to find joy enough in the life she was living. “Cali girl … Huummmm ... simple and sweet, love to eat, laugh, and dance.”
Together, Polar and Pabello founded A.M. Creative Inc., which they described as a “non-profit org” that “collects funding through grants and donations for local school districts who are in the process of budget cuts, cutting out or sizing down their music and art departments.” They then founded a second non-profit to raise money for the first. The name suggested something was bubbling beneath the avowed altruism.
In February of 2010, ShowBiz Prestige, Inc. held a “soon to be annual” Independent Short Film Music & Art Festival at the Hotel Maya in San Diego. The entries were decidedly modest in every respect, but there was a red carpet complete with a red velvet rope and a tabloid TV-style correspondent, who interviews the festival’s director in one YouTube clip.
“Look out for her, this is Alexa Polar!” the correspondent says.
In another “red carpet” YouTube clip, the correspondent says, “This is going to be shown to millions of people.” The cumulative actual audience more than a year later was recorded below the post: “42 VIEWS.”
By August of 2010, Polar and Pabello had founded a third entity, Butterfly Angel Entertainment, which posted a casting call on Actors Pages (“World’s Biggest Talent Database”) for extras ages 11 to 14 to appear in a pilot that “will be shopped around to Nick [Nickelodeon] and Disney.”
“No pay but will provide credit, copy and meals,” the posting said.
A five-minute “sizzle reel” for a pilot to be called “Meet Me After School” was shot over the third weekend in August at Pabello’s school. The proposed show was about a group of kids who band together after their school’s art and drama programs are defunded. The director, Peter Hermes, had an online sample reel of previous work that included a spec Doritos commercial. The leading roles were played largely by Polar’s nieces and nephews. Pabello played the teacher and had some trouble with her lines the first day.
“I was running around making sure all the kids know their lines, hair, make-up,” she later said on YouTube. “Second day, I nailed it!”
A screening was held at the school in February of last year, complete with red carpet style interviews before a backdrop recycled from the short film festival. Video clips were posted on a Meet Me After School page on Facebook.
“I’m excited to get the thing sold to the next step,” the director Hermes says in one. “I think it’s got a really good chance to make it.”
Another clip features Pabello. She posted a comment on herself.
“Getting more comfy cozy in front of the camera...watch out world, here I come!”
The project went nowhere, but Polar and Pabello did not let that stop them from living like they had a hit network show. They are said by police to have pulled off a white-collar variation on the Incidental Heist film that Polar proposed when the madness first stirred.
On Nov. 16, a check issued by Polar’s law firm was altered so that the payee’s name was whited out and replaced with the name of Robin Pabello. The amount was altered from $19,500 to a fabulous sum that flashed on the screen when they deposited it via an ATM into their joint account at SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union.
Alexa and Robin are alleged to have then secured two cashier’s checks, for $100,000 and $33,000, to put a deposit on the most expensive home on the market in nearby Murietta. They apparently planned to celebrate the upcoming holidays in this 11,314 square foot “private paradise” with eight bedrooms, nine bathrooms, five fireplaces, a 16-car garage, two guest houses, four horse paddocks, a fruit orchard, an “artistic pond and waterfall” and a fountain worthy of a Roman palace.
On Nov. 19, after Pabello completed the first semester report cards and on the same night St. Irenaeus held “a spaghetti dinner/silent auction” to raise more money for the second grader with cancer, she and Pabello spent $30,000 chartering a private plane from Jet Access Group. They brought along some friends as they flew off to spend an estimated $15,000 more on five rooms over five days at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square.
In an online profile, Polar had put Breakfast at Tiffany’s atop her list of favorite movies, so of course she and Pabello shopped there for gifts. They also stopped by Mont Blanc and spent $900 for a pen worthy of a … writer.
“Does anybody need a $900 pen?” Detective Faessel wonders aloud.
Meanwhile, Polar and Pabello’s bank discovered the fraud and froze their account. They had to fly home coach the day before Thanksgiving, missing the big Macy’s parade that passes their hotel. Pabello was back at school for the parent-teacher conferences after the break.
The two apparently still imagined they might escape arrest. They informed SchoolsFirst that they were victims of a Craigslist scam and on Dec. 8 went to the branch seven blocks from the school to fill out fraud affidavits. Investigators with the Cypress Police Economic Crimes Unit had been quietly building a case and chose this moment to arrest them.
“They were none too thrilled,” says Faessel.
The police executed a search warrant at the duo’s apartment, but either they had stashed their New York purchases or Christmas had come early for their friends. The number of past-due bills was notable even in these hard times.
“They were pretty deep in debt,” Faessel says.
The two were brought one at a time before the least glamorizing of cameras for the most actual of face books. The mug shots of Alexa Polar, booking number 2671817, and Robin Pabello, booking number 2671841, are of two haggard and hollowed ghosts, no longer even what they once were. State law allowed the judge to set bail for the amount alleged to have been stolen.
“They stole $285,000, so we put bail at $285,000,” Faessel says.
“On top of that, they have to prove where the money came from.”