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"Not since the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, was captured in Afghanistan over a decade ago has there been such a riveting story of a Marin kid gone wrong."
Max Wade at his preliminary hearing, October 2012
Leylla and Max in the ’90s
Max and his baby brother, Alex.
The inside true story of Marin's teenage outlaw.
Chris Roberts | Photo: Yuko Shimizu | November 2, 2013
The drama went on for years, and Max was drawn in early. When he was two, Leylla claimed, she was pushed into a door. Her arm was cut and she fell—on Max. In May 1998, when Max was not yet four, she accused Michael of losing his cool with his son. Leylla heard shouting from upstairs, she told police, and then Max came down the stairs crying, saying that his father had choked him. This time, Michael was arrested but not charged; he insisted that he was innocent. There were restraining orders, divorce filings, reconciliations. In July 2005, Michael filed for divorce again, this time, he told the court, for Max’s sake: “I do not think our current living situation is healthy for our son.” Meanwhile, Leylla had gone to the police, claiming that several months before, her husband had pulled out hanks of her hair, knocked her to the ground, and put her in a choke hold. Max, she said, had interrupted the attack. This time, the authorities took action, charging Michael with one count of felony domestic violence. Max’s testimony in the June 2006 trial is sealed, but Michael again claimed innocence. The jury deadlocked, and the district attorney dropped the case.
After the split, Leylla worked as a real estate agent (“Internationale Real Estate Business” is the way she describes it on Twitter). The first year, she closed just one sale. To stay afloat, she made ample use of her credit cards and the equity in the Napa house, whose $254,000 mortgage was refinanced until it swelled to $794,000. She traveled frequently to France, Florida, and the Caribbean (“I take planes like other people take the bus,” she said outside the courtroom in October) and wanted to relocate to Florida, but Michael refused to let her take Max, so she stayed put. By now she and Max lived in a small duplex on Paradise Drive in Tiburon. Max, in his early teens, would ride his bike around the neighborhood, a hilly area with spectacular views. According to their landlord, he and Leylla frequently didn’t get along, and Max took out his aggression on the house, sometimes punching holes in the walls, sometimes puncturing them with his ninja star.
At some point, Leylla started dating a wealthy Irish-born nightclub owner turned Florida real estate businessman named Austin MacAnthony, whose family is familiar to European tabloids. (MacAnthony’s son is chairman of an English soccer team, and the family business was mired in legal trouble in the wake of the Spanish real estate crash.) In 2008, Leylla gave birth to a son, Alex, and moved with the boys into a 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home on Tiburon’s Sugarloaf Drive; MacAnthony cosigned the $4,600-a-month lease. It was the kind of neighborhood where residents buzz around wearing surgeon’s scrubs and driving Maseratis—a definite upgrade from their previous digs. Leylla acquired a supercar of her own, an Aston Martin DB9 (retail price $179,000). “Wow, leylla, you craxy girl you got the car,” one friend gushed on Facebook. On the lease for the house, she reported no income.
The stories about Max the troublemaker start in his turbulent middle school years, when his parents were splitting up for good. A close friend from that era recalls an angry kid who was left for days on end with apparently minimal adult supervision. (“I never left my son alone ever,” Leylla responds, saying that when she didn’t take him with her, he stayed with his father or an aunt. She says she even hired a limo once so the aunt wouldn’t have to drive Max to school.) Max’s Myspace page offers a snapshot of his 13-year-old state of mind. He liked action movies, reggae, and Brazilian jiujitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing. His heroes were all martial artists or drug kingpins, including Escobar and Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera. In the “About me” section, he wrote, “i want what’s comin to me… the world…and everything in it.”
At St. Hilary’s Catholic School in Tiburon, friends say, Max got in trouble for defacing campus property (the school won’t comment). Leylla emails that she tried to enroll him in a military school in another state—he loved to fly and wanted to be a pilot someday—“but the father objected again and wanted his son in California next to him. I believed in my heart that the military school wd have been ideal for him with his level of intelligence. I know in my heart that he wd have loved being there.” Instead, Max ended up at Del Mar Middle School, where he is said to have egged on a hacker to crack Internet locks on students’ computers so they could watch porn in class. A former friend recalls him throwing condom water balloons on the school bus; a classmate says he used homemade pepper spray on an erstwhile pal. All this earned Max the title “Biggest Rebel” in his eighth-grade yearbook, though even then his legend was larger than life. “I get credit,” he once told a classmate, “for doing more than I actually do.”
At Redwood High, Max’s reputation turned meaner. Police were called to campus when he head-butted a student during a dodgeball game, the Marin Independent Journal reported. (“I never believed that story,” his mother says.) A friend recalls Max organizing a Marin Fight Club near campus sometimes joining the brawlers, until school security put a stop to the fun. He lasted less than a year at Redwood, leaving—whether dropping out or being thrown out, those who know won’t say—in April 2009, before the end of his freshman year.
It’s unclear how or when Max started his fake ID business, but by the time of his arrest, three years after leaving Redwood, it was flourishing, keeping him in close contact with his former classmates (and with underage customers around the Bay Area). He was also shoplifting and selling dime bags of weed, a friend says. No one was sure where he lived, and though Leylla’s Facebook page featured photos of him playing the doting big brother, he didn’t talk much about his family. In September 2010, the Chronicle reported, Max stole his mother’s red SUV and painted it black, leading to a run-in with police. (“My car being repainted in black was my idea and decision,” Leylla claims now. “I hate red car color.”) To his friends, Max bragged about other exploits, like the gun he supposedly bought in Mexico. “We never believed any of it,” a classmate says. Yet the boasts got bigger. In late 2010 or early 2011, an acquaintance told the Chronicle, Max bragged that he planned to steal a Lamborghini, saying that he was “going to sell it and...people had his back.”