Many will say it’s an age-old tale: A man tells a few lies to get a woman into bed. It’s often joked about and chalked up to guys being guys. But some women – and men – say that act of deception is a crime. They argue if a woman consents to sex based on false information, she is not giving true consent. And there’s a word for that: rape.

_DSC3977Newly separated after staying in an unhappy marriage far too long, Florence Township resident Mischele Lewis was willing to take a second chance on love when she met Liam Allen.

A charming and established bachelor, Allen seemed like a fantasy suitor come to life when the pair connected on a dating website more than two years ago. Claiming he was a British national working covertly for his country, he initially wooed Lewis with long, romantic missives. When a Google search of his name revealed no red flags, the single mother of two gradually let down her guard.

“Everything seemed so right,” says Lewis, 37, a labor and delivery nurse. “We had so much in common, from a love of classical literature to the same tastes in music. He was just a comfortable person to be around.”

Unfortunately, Liam Allen really was a fantasy. In reality, her suitor was William Allen Jordan, 49, a serial con artist who has served time in British prison for multiple charges, including fraud, bigamy and failure to register as a child molester. Married three times – at one point to two women simultaneously – he has fathered at least 13 kids with eight women. He has duped his victims out of more than $1 million over the years, according to news reports.

Thanks to Lewis’ determination, Jordan, who lived in Cherry Hill, is currently serving out a three-year prison sentence; he was convicted in February of fraud by deception and impersonating a government official.

Lewis is pleased Jordan is locked up for now, but believes the punishment is too lenient for the crime. Although Jordan was charged with sexual assault by coercion, which would have kept him behind bars far longer, a grand jury rejected the charge on the grounds that no coercion was involved. And a Burlington County judge dismissed the temporary restraining order Lewis had against Jordan, ruling that sexual deception is not a crime.

But under a bill proposed by N.J. Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), sexual relations initiated by deceit could become a crime – a very serious one. Moved by Lewis’ disturbing liaison with Jordan, Singleton seeks to create the crime of “sexual assault by fraud.” The definition: an act of sexual penetration a person has consented to based on misrepresentation by his or her partner about the purpose of the act or if the partner pretends to be someone they are not. Sexual assault by fraud would become a first- or second-degree crime, punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison.

The bill received mixed reactions when it was introduced in November. It made national and international waves – with some pundits claiming it would criminalize the run-of-the-mill lies people tell on dates. Still, Singleton is hopeful that New Jersey will follow the lead of a few other states that recognize intercourse as rape when it is carried out without a victim’s “intelligent, knowing and voluntary consent” and causes serious harm.

“It’s easy for folks to just look at this bill with a small depth level and say ‘What is this guy thinking?’” says Singleton. “Nearly everyone embellishes the truth a bit to seem more attractive. But we’re not talking about that.

“Jordan is serving time for theft by deception after taking money from Lewis based on a fictitious story. But if a charge like [sexual assault by deception] was in place, there could be criminal penalties that would be far more severe.”

While the measure has support among victims’ rights advocates, some legal scholars say the bill is flawed.

Margo Kaplan, an assistant law professor at Rutgers University-Camden, says that although some misrepresen-tations are heinous and damaging, criminalizing rape by deception is problematic and could give legal footing to otherwise absurd claims. For example, if a white supremacist becomes intimate with someone who claims to be of pure European ancestry and it turns out that person has African lineage, that could very well fit the criteria of rape by deception.

“There are lots of reasons people might not want to have sex with someone,” says Kaplan, who researches legal limitations on intimate decisions. “However, there are some misrepresentations that the state might not want to criminalize.”

The proposed bill has legal precedent elsewhere in the world. A famous 2010 case in Israel involved a man who initiated a rela-tionship with a Jewish woman by presenting himself as a Jewish bachelor. In reality, he was a married, Muslim Palestinian man with children. The case made its way up to the Israeli Supreme Court, which ruled the man’s deception qualified the act as rape. The decision was controversial among legal experts worldwide.

Law professor Wendy Murphy, who frequently weighs in on issues involving sexual violence for national media, says certain deceptions leading to sexual relations can and should be criminally charged. However, states do not need to create a new category of rape to prosecute such cases. Based on a review of appellate court decisions, she says cases in which deception has led to rape indictments are typically based on a more expansive definition of consent. The consent must be “intelligent, knowing and voluntary,” she adds.

Singleton’s bill, however, does not contain such language. On the contrary, Murphy is concerned that it includes a clause that takes into account the perpetrator’s “intent to induce belief.”

“The state of mind of the perpetrator is irrelevant as a matter of law,” says Murphy, who teaches a seminar on sexual violence at the New England School of Law in Boston. “The only person whose state of mind matters is the victim.”

Singleton says he based his bill on a Tennessee law. He points out that provisions allow judges the discretion to dismiss from prosecution any conduct that is deemed “de minimis,” or not worthy of judicial scrutiny. He adds that the bill’s intent is to expand the definition of consent in order to criminalize serious fraud. Therefore, he says, he’s open to constructive criticism that will move the bill forward.

For Donna Anderson, a victims-rights advocate, the bill is a step in the right direction. Although punishment only kicks in after someone is victimized, it also serves to make the public more aware of how con artists like Jordan operate. Con artists, she explains, are sociopaths, incapable of empathy but extremely good at acting sincere.

“Essentially they are social predators who have the ability to blend in very well with society,” says Anderson, creator of Lovefraud.com, a repository of some 5,000 worldwide court cases involving sex by deception, as well as an online healing community for victims.

“They don’t necessarily look like gang bangers or drug addicts. In fact, the vast majority of them have a lot of charisma,” Anderson says. “They’re very charming and could be very smart. But they use these attributes and skills to manipulate other people.”

A reason more people aren’t aware of these predators is largely cultural, she notes. Religions universally teach that people are generally good and deserve second chances.

“Unfortunately, this is not true,” she says. “There are people who live among us for whom these cultural proclamations do not apply.”

By the time people realize they’ve been conned, they typically feel they have no recourse, Anderson adds. Law enforcement officials often do not take them seriously and building a case is difficult. That’s what makes Lewis’ story so exceptional. Not only is Jordan’s ability to manipulate people “off the charts,” but Lewis beat him at his own con, Anderson says.

As Lewis tells it, the longer she was in the relation-ship, the more Jordan’s actions seemed questionable. But when confronted, he always had plausible explanations. For example, he would be out of touch for days, but he explained that in addition to owning his own information technology company, he worked for the British government as a spy. When he was “off the grid,” he claimed to be shuttling diplomats around Washington, D.C. He was always able to produce proof of his work.

As their relationship grew more serious, Jordan convinced Lewis to pay for a security clearance to gain access to information about his work and whereabouts. Over the course of a year, she paid about $5,000 through money transfers to a bank with a Washington, D.C. -based phone number he provided her. The people on the line sounded completely legitimate, she says.

The relationship seemed on track through Thanksgiving 2013, which Jordan spent with Lewis’ family. But after proposing to her, he disappeared for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Her suspicions grew when she found out she was pregnant and his reaction was lackluster. When he also was a no-show for Valentine’s Day, Lewis says her women’s intuition led her to rifle through his wallet on the rare day that he left it out while taking a phone call. That’s when she found out he was William Allen Jordan.

She Googled the name. “I was so shocked, I threw up,” she recalls.

Plowing through article after article, she discovered one of his ex-wives, Mary Turner Thomson of Edinburgh, Scotland, had written an entire book about his cons abroad. Lewis also discovered that after serving prison time in England, he was deported. Within hours, she was on the phone with Thomson.

“She told me all of their stories,” Lewis says, noting that she eventually contacted every one of Jordan’s known victims, who all had similar tales of deceit. “This crazy tapestry of his exes turned out to be an amazing support network for me. Only people who have been with him could really understand.”

With the other exes giving her emotional strength, Lewis decided to go to the police. For two months, she strung Jordan along in the relationship, but was secretly collecting evidence against him. On April 22, 2014, she lured Jordan to a parking lot in Cherry Hill where police arrested him. As the case played out, and it became evident that rape charges wouldn’t stick, Lewis worked with Singleton to craft the bill.

Although she realizes the bill will not prevent Jordan from leaving jail a free man after his three-year term, she’s hopeful the law will help others.

“I would have liked for him to be in jail for 10 years, because that would have been 10 years of him away from society,” says Lewis, who terminated her pregnancy out of fear that a child conceived with Jordan would have sociopathic tendencies. “I have no doubt in my mind that he will get out and do this again.”

May 2015
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