It was part of his arrogance but also true. He only ever introduced himself as 'Michael '. No' />
Loizos Michaels liked to call himself "The Phantom".
It was part of his arrogance but also true. He only ever introduced himself as "Michael". No one knew his surname for a long time and even now investigators are unsure what his real name is.
The smooth-talking Greek-Australian first arrived in Auckland from Melbourne with his friend George Plakas in tow in December 2006. Both had a penchant for gambling and found their way to the casino in Christchurch, claiming to be "high rollers" and demanding VIP service.
The pair made a direct complaint to the casino board chairman about how they had been treated poorly, which led chief executive Stephen Lyttelton to smooth things over with free five-star accommodation, fancy dinners and flowing alcohol.
As a result, Lyttelton and gaming manager Peter Arbuckle spent a lot of time with Michaels and Plakas and professional obligation turned into a friendship.
Michaels, always charming and generous, boasted of his wealth and connections in the global casino industry. He claimed to be a "corporate raider" for the casino giant Melco - owned by the mega-wealthy Ho family in Macau - and offered Lyttelton a job with a $1 million salary.
This was raised to $2.5 million, then $12.5 million, to reflect the enormity of the job; a takeover bid of SkyCity Casino.
Convinced of Michaels' legitimacy, Lyttelton recruited Arbuckle and the pair resigned from Christchurch casino in mid-2007.
SFO court documents show Lyttelton and Arbuckle put "absolute trust" in Michaels because of "the representations made by, and the relationship with, the accused over this time period". "All of these representations were false," the SFO said.
Once trust was established, Michaels encouraged Lyttelton and Arbuckle to invest their own money to "show a commitment" to the enterprise. Over five months, Lyttelton gave Michaels $1,054,000 in cash. Arbuckle invested even more, collecting $1,782,760 from friends, family and his own money.
By this point, all four men had relocated to Auckland. Driving late-model BMWs that Michaels bought with cash, they would meet at the Tikiboy coffee shop on Ponsonby Rd to plan the SkyCity takeover.
An insider recalled a suitcase "full of cash" in the boot of a BMW, while someone who watched the group at Tikiboy likened them to "the Mob".
"It was like something out of the movies. I couldn't believe this happened in Auckland."
Across the road from Tikiboy was Diablo restaurant, which Michaels later bought and turned into Platos Greek Taverna.
While the casino bid seemed completely outrageous, a source close to Michaels said he could make his claim seem plausible.
"He was flashing enough money around to make him seem legitimate. He always came up with enough to keep you hanging on for more."
One spanner in the works was Plakas getting arrested in May 2007 at the Auckland International Airport, boarding a plane to Melbourne.
He was extradited back to Australia in April 2008 to face fraud charges laid by Victorian police but has yet to stand trial.
Yet, Michaels kept up the charade. He was introduced to rugby star Jonah Lomu and ex-Labour Cabinet Minister John Tamihere, who were soon offered lucrative roles in the casino empire he was building.
Tamihere met with Michaels a number of times at Plato's to discuss business. He did not return Weekend Herald messages this week, but has previously said Michaels approached him to do the Government lobbying for the bid.
He described Michaels as the "conductor" who "dropped the names Ho and Packer", implying they were the financial backers. The Ho family has links to Australian billionaire James Packer, son of the late media mogul Kerry Packer.
While he did a little work on the SkyCity project, Tamihere soon walked away because "I've been around the mulberry bush a few times and it just wasn't right".
However, Michaels managed to persuade Lomu to become the "global face" of the KO World Series kickboxing tournament he had promised to bankroll for the promoter.
Lomu was often at Plato's with Michaels but told the Weekend Herald last year that he got "taken for a ride". He described Michaels as a "pretty smooth operator" who convinced him there were international backers for the kickboxing competition and a boxing spin off.
"I trusted him. I gave him a chance. He crapped on me. The worst part of it was that he was using my name," said Lomu.
Lomu said his contract - rumoured to be seven figures - was not honoured. He was also disappointed to have his name linked to the venture, when the KO World Series ended up on Fair Go for failing to pay a group of models for promo work.
Several envelopes of cash turned up at the TVNZ offices shortly after frontman Kevin Milne confronted Michaels. Milne then met Michaels - "a sad mafia type" - in a small room out the back of Plato's, where he was surprised to see a nervous-looking Lomu.
As Milne left the restaurant with a promise of payment, he recalled Michaels putting his arm around him and asked if he was married.
"When I said yes, he said, 'bring your wife in here for a meal, we'll have a great time'," said Milne.
"It was like something on the telly."
Michaels later dropped Lomu's name in a bid to buy Sacred Waters, a luxury apartment complex on the shores of Lake Taupo.
He befriended the owners Edward and Janet Jackson and offered them $12 million for the apartments, on Lomu's behalf. Michaels said the money was in a Belgian bank and convinced the couple to pay him $353,025 as security for the sale.
Of course, the sale never went through and this led to a fraud charge laid by the SFO.
While the KO World Series never took off - a kickboxing insider described him as a "wannabe with no credibility" - Michaels used the sport to make connections with the underworld.
He used his wife's company, Trades R Us, to sponsor a fight night organised by the Headhunters gang at their Ellerslie headquarters, headlined by former world champion Jason "Psycho" Suttie.
As a scare tactic, it is understood that Michaels would drop the name of the Headhunters, and president Wayne Doyle - until the gang found out.
He was then linked to the Hells Angels through Adam Riley, a senior patched member who is also a pro fighter.
Nicknamed "Boxer", Riley met Michaels at Tikiboy cafe and later moved into an apartment above Plato's as a bail address while facing a kidnapping charge with Suttie (both kickboxers were acquitted at a High Court trial this year).
Riley acted as a minder for Michaels to intimidate the growing number of unpaid creditors visiting the restaurant.
Other members of the gang were regular patrons at Plato's, with gleaming choppers parked out front on Ponsonby Rd. The restaurant was even listed as a sponsor of the Hells Angels MC annual "Poker Run" charity ride last year.
But not even the muscle-bound Riley could stop the growing number of disgruntled tradesmen and restaurant suppliers lining up to bankrupt Michaels.
As well as ignoring creditor claims, Michaels would not pay Plato's staff - some of whom were sent by Winz. This year, the Employment Relations Authority heard at least four cases and the restaurant was ordered to pay more than $18,000 in unpaid wages and holiday pay.
One staffer, Kay Jackson was awarded $2311 by the ERA. She said of her boss, "If lying was an Olympic sport, he would win the gold medal."
Meanwhile, Michaels' bid to topple SkyCity was catching up with him. Rich List businessman Peter Goodfellow, with an estimated family wealth of $550 million, was concerned at the influence Michaels had over his friend Lyttelton.
He hired private investigator Gary Howarth to tail the Greek businessman and do background checks. Howarth discovered Michaels' so-called links to Melco and the Ho family were fabrications. Goodfellow told Lyttelton, who refused to believe him at first. When the truth sank in, a furious Lyttelton laid a complaint with the SFO, which laid fraud charges in February.
But Michaels even managed to con the court. Despite Crown opposition that he was a flight risk, Judge Josephine Bouchier gave Michaels his passport back to visit his sick mother in Australia.
He never came back. While the SFO plans to extradite him from Australia, many people believe New Zealand has seen the last of Loizos Michaels.
"He lives in a fictitious world. How else could he convince some very smart people, some of them leaders in their field, to drop everything and give him millions of dollars?" asked one associate of Michaels.
"He is the best con artist New Zealand has ever seen."