Suit reinstated against Batavia Internet 'con artist'

  • Mark Welsh/ Photo illustration

    Mark Welsh/ Photo illustration

Updated 4/27/2011 2:31 PM

In 2005, Paula Bonhomme thought she'd met the man of her dreams, a sensitive firefighter in Colorado.

In reality, it was part of a cruel and elaborate hoax orchestrated over 18 months by a Batavia woman named Janna St. James, who used voice-altering technology over the phone and assumed the identities of 21 other people via blogs, emails and other means to convince Bonhomme she'd met her soul mate, according to a lawsuit.


Bonhomme, of Los Angeles, was so enamored with the bogus firefighter, "Jesse Jubilee James," that she sent him gifts and the pair made plans to eventually live together.

After Jesse "died" of liver cancer in July 2006, St. James became friends with Bonhomme.

But Bonhomme's friends became suspicious, eventually learned Jesse never existed and confronted St. James about it in February 2007 when she was visiting Bonhomme.

A lawsuit was filed in Cook County 2008, but was dismissed by a judge. An appeals court last month reinstated the suit and moved it to Kane County.

"(St. James) is basically a con artist. It took her a long time. She enjoys the process of creating this alternate universe," said Daliah Saper, attorney for Bonhomme.

Attempts to reach St. James' attorney were not successful, and no one answered the door at St. James' home Wednesday.

After the hoax was revealed, St. James took to cyberspace to blog about Bonhomme and damage her reputation, the suit states.

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"Some who have never had any direct contact with me whatsoever and some who have and think they know me at all like to say I'm the world's best online scammer EVER," St. James wrote in a blog, according to the lawsuit.

"Every decade or so I get a taste to pose as a man (and up to 20 other people simultaneously) and reel me in some juicy middle-aged woman flesh for purposes they never quite explain. It sure ain't money or sex."

The ordeal cost Bonhomme, who still lives in Los Angeles, her marriage and ability to trust, the lawsuit states. She is suing St. James for fraud, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional stress. Bonhomme is seeking damages of at least $100,000 plus punitive damages.

Saper said her client is not naive, just unfortunate to fall into the web woven by St. James.

"Any sane, reasonable person could fall prey to her," Saper said. "It's a type of abuse. It's fraud."


No date has been set for the case to be heard in Kane County, but Saper is just pleased the case is moving forward.

"The court didn't know what to do with this case. It doesn't fit neatly into any one cause," Saper said.

"To date, the suit's been purely procedural. We haven't addressed any substantive issues."