Last year, an obscure publication, Rich and Royal Magazine, began posting breathless Facebook updates tracking every move of a man it described as the latest European royal to cause a splash in America's celebrity social scene.
Prince Daniel David DeRothschild's August 2017 visit to Michael Jackson's grave in Glendale, Calif., drew a line of paparazzi stretching two city blocks, magazine correspondent Ashton Alton Quartermaine III posted. His charisma, "vast American holdings," and extensive charity work had – according to Quartermaine's retelling – left much of the city musing: "Who [is] this man who seems to captivate everyone who comes into his presence?"
But that man was no prince. In fact, he never existed at all.
Instead, federal authorities say, DeRothschild, Quartermaine, and even the magazine were social-media fabrications dreamed up by an unemployed North Philadelphia man engaged in an elaborate catfishing scheme.
Prosecutors say that David Milliner, 49, managed to persuade at least five prepubescent boys he met online to send him explicit photographs of themselves by pretending to be the wealthy European Prince DeRothschild online.
Investigators have linked at least eight Facebook profiles and several other social-media accounts to Milliner posing as DeRothschild or supposed members of the prince's retinue all designed to further convince his targets of his legitimacy.
Their personas included a made-up chief of security; a head of communications; Quartermaine, the reporter purportedly sent to cover the prince; and DeRothschild's supposed cousin, the self-described socialite and "son of two fashion houses," Michael Prada Vuitton.
"He convinced [his victims] that he was rich and famous," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella. "And he would never send them photos of his face."
Sure, there were signs that would have given a more sophisticated audience pause.
The profile photo Milliner used for DeRothschild on multiple social-media platforms was an image of a Jackson nephew, the singer T.J. Jackson.
And in a December 2016 Facebook post, DeRothschild described himself as the "dolphin of France" – an apparent malapropism for "dauphin," the term the French once used to refer to the heir apparent in their royal lineage.
Yet for his young and unsuspecting targets, Milliner's approach proved successful time and again, investigators said.
Between September and November 2017, he allegedly communicated with at least eight boys across the country – the youngest of whom was 6 years old. Many of those relationships lasted for months, according to an indictment unsealed last month.
When Philadelphia police in February finally traced the online activity to Milliner's 32nd Street rowhouse — where he lived by himself — they found him chatting with yet another underage victim on a social-media video streaming service, they said.
On Thursday, Milliner denied the allegations. With his shoulders slumped and his hands clasped behind his back, he pleaded not guilty to 16 child-pornography offenses during a hearing in federal court in Philadelphia.
The soft voice with which he answered questions from the judge contrasted sharply with the chutzpah evident in his social-media fantasies.
Boasting of himself as an "heir, socialite … humanitarian [and] trillionaire," the DeRothschild of Milliner's alleged portrayal led a Zelig-like existence, flitting from one newsworthy moment to another.
He hosted the hottest Hollywood parties – including his "famous" February 2017 "double-mega yacht party" – and counted celebrities including Nicki Minaj, George Clooney, Prince, and Hillary Clinton as "close personal friends."
As movie mogul Harvey Weinstein's career crumbled under the weight of sexual-misconduct claims, DeRothschild was quick to post a condemnation and demand "resignation letters of all involved." And last year, he claimed to have attended President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress.
Before the 2017 Academy Awards, DeRothschild turned to his Facebook page to find an adoring fan to take as his date.
"We will go to every after party and you will be dressed in Marquesa," Milliner purportedly wrote in the name of his mythical monarch while misspelling Marchesa, the high-end women's fashion brand. "I promise you diamonds and exquisite antique jewelry that you get to keep. … I'm drinking juice looking at the ocean thinking of you."
Still, Milliner's alleged princely persona did not work on everyone. He responded in February 2016 to those who doubted his authenticity.
"I will always be His Royal Highness Prince Daniel DeRothschild IV of the mighty House of DeRothschild," he wrote on the DeRothschild Facebook page. "And you will forever be the leeches that you were programmed to be. Common. Common as dirt."
Milliner remains in federal custody in Philadelphia pending his trial scheduled for Oct. 2. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and could be imprisoned for the rest of his life.