MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Former Miami socialite Ariel Stein said the days when he appeared on magazines, worked in public relations and had his own business were behind him.
A romantic relationship with Alberto Chang, who is under investigation for fraud, changed his life, Stein said. While Stein was living with him in Chile, the venture capitalist gave him a BlackBerry Porsche to track his whereabouts. Chang's driver, housekeeper and personal assistant checked on him.
Stein said he was rarely able to make it to Miami Beach during the relationship. He kept in touch with a friend, Jennifer Lind, a woman whom he met with her husband on a cruise ship. Lind said it didn't take long for her to notice that Stein's love for Chang was turning into fear.
"He wouldn't be able to talk on the phone," Lind said. "He would say things like, 'I just know the phones are being bugged,' and 'He knows everything I'm doing all the time,' and he sounded paranoid. But I know he isn't a paranoid person. He was under the hand of this controlling man. It was just so sad."
Stein said the mistrust in the relationship started with a little lie and ended with him learning that "he wasn't who he said he was." Stein said he still fears Chang.
"I'm still trying to recover," Stein said. "He destroyed me."
'TOO MANY' LIES
Stein said Chang told him in a pompous tone that he was honored to have been asked to be on the board of Endeavor Miami, a nonprofit tech business incubator that got a $2 million grant from the John S.L. Knight Foundation.
Stein said a friend later told him that Chang was "a great guy" because he had "volunteered" to be on the board of Endeavor Miami. At first, Stein said, he thought Chang was trying to impress him. But he said more lies followed.
"He told me his mother sold her ring so that he could take a summer course in Stanford," Stein said. "Then he said he had an MBA [master of business administration] and a behavioral sciences degree from Stanford. I was like, 'What? Where did that come from?'"
Stein said he helped Chang and his assistant with the now-infamous 2014 presentation at the University of Arkansas' Clinton School of Public Service. Chang claimed that his company had earnings of $1.8 billion a year and attributed his wealth to investing $10,000 in Google in 1996. Authorities now know both claims to be false.
Stein said he grew suspicious about the claims when Chang had an opportunity to say hello to Google co-founder Sergey Brin at Necker Island. Chang should have been rushing to greet the billionaire, but instead he avoided him.
"He remained in the second floor of the house," Stein said. "It was like he was hiding."
Stein said their relationship eventually took a nasty turn, and Chang began to treat him like his "errand boy." Chang also made "evil threats," Stein said. Lind believes that Chang's goal was to hurt Stein's confidence.
Stein "would get up and speak in front of huge audiences by himself, so if you weren't self-confident, you couldn't do that," Lind said. "His self-confidence went from, 'I'm Ariel Stein and I'm going to rock this world,' to 'I'm just an insignificant mortal.'"
Stein said that after the two broke up, he thought Chang was helping him recover, but now he said he believes that Chang was afraid that "he would talk." Records show that Chang paid about $19,500 to send Stein to a secluded retreat in New York.
The place turned out to be a behavioral program that released him to a nearby hospital. When he returned to Miami, his friend Jesus Salazar couldn't believe what they had done to him.
"Before he left, he was pretty healthy. He would go to the gym. He would play tennis. He seemed ok, and when he came back he just seemed out of it," Salazar, 21, said. "He seemed very confused. He seemed like he was like in a daze, like he was just very out of it. He was nothing like he used to be."
Stein returned to an apartment in Miami Beach, where Chang had a key, Salazar said. Ticks bit Stein when he got back. He ended up homeless and sick with Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness. The former Miami socialite hasn't been able to work again, and a synagogue is keeping him from being homeless.
"He was really sick and he was at my son's apartment for close to a year," Helena De Olivera, 53, said. "We did everything we could to help him. ... That relationship with Alberto [Chang] ruined him."