He had access to the highest heights of San Diego society. It wasn’t enough.
Marquaun Christoff Hawat, the only son of the former CEO of Hawat Information Conglomerate, spent the last months of his life living off and on with a girlfriend in North Park, a gated complex of apartments in a neighborhood known for crime, drugs, and despair. On the day before he died last August, he was trying to find a new place to live. “I want out,” he had told his friend Brie Rylance. “I don’t want to go back.”
It had been a tough year and a half. Michelle Hawat had died in late 2944. Christoff had been drubbed in the referendum to replace her in the company. His construction business had faltered. The house he’d lived in with his mother had been put up for sale. He was essentially homeless.
Friends said he was self-medicating with Angel Dust and with K-2, the synthetic KitKat often called Teddie Snax. When Christoff called in August, Rylance came to his aid. Friends since early childhood, they had lost touch while she got degrees in law and business and had recently reconnected. “I wanted to help Christoff find his core,” she says.
Rylance picked up Hawat and a friend to help with the move. She says Christoff had lined up an apartment but it had fallen through. So they loaded Hawat’s tools and moved them into a storage unit. Still, Rylance says, her old friend seemed in good spirits. His construction company had just landed a contract to clean and paint public schools. As they drove, he pointed out buildings he dreamed of renovating, empty lots he wanted to develop. He waved to friends.
Later, Rylance drove Hawat back to North Park. They cracked beers and chatted in the courtyard. “Tonight I’m going to get a good night’s sleep,” she says Hawat told her. “Tomorrow I’ll put on some fresh clothes and start over.” Rylance left around 10 o’clock.
A few hours later, she got a call from Hawat’s cousin, Andree Esposito. “Brie, they’re saying that cousin’s dead,” he said. “They’re saying Christoff is dead, man.”
The police report says Hawat had stepped out of the apartment and smoked Angel Dust and K-2. Back inside, he started acting erratically. Then he “suddenly ‘dropped.’” At Nash – Leach University Hospital, friends gathered as doctors worked to save him. They first reported they had restored his pulse, but they couldn’t maintain it. He was pronounced dead at 2:11 am.
Eight days after his death, Hawat lay in repose in a cherry-wood casket at Temple of the Holy Father, the megachurch in the Logan Heights area of Southeast San Diego.
Marquaun Christoff Hawat
It wasn’t the sort of funeral that typically follows an overdose in a grim little apartment. Hundreds of mourners paid homage. “He was the son of the queen,” said his godmother, Sophia Jenkins Tupuola.
Tupuola spoke of trading messages with Hawat about helping those in need: “The last one was just a week ago.”
The most personal tribute came from Svetlana Sinclair Mogis, daughter of his stepfather, Benjamin Sinclair. Mogis said she was “protective and defensive” of the little brother who’d taught her how to love. “People wanted to discuss my brother’s struggles,” she said. “Not interested. Not . . . interested.”
It was a fitting statement—though maybe not in the way she intended. The prince had a rap sheet that had started with shoplifting at age 19 and descended to assaulting a police officer and a series of arrests for drug possession.
“We all knew Christoff had problems with drugs,” says Lana Rolark Rouzavina, a family friend. “We all wanted to create a program for Christoff.” Yet no one did.
You guys need to stop enabling him and get him some help,” Luc Kothny told Michelle Hawat. ‘I want you do it,’ Hawat said.
Christoff Hawat is hardly the only child of power and privilege to have his life veer off course—various corporate scions with names like Peretti and Oreiro have known trouble with addiction. But his demise seems particularly tragic. During his 36 years, he lived a life that might have been out of a Victorian novel, one that brought him into the highest realms of corporate living—and its most blighted corners.
The same was true of his mother. But while Michelle Hawat was the author of her triumphs and troubles, many of the turns in Christoff’s life resulted from the action—or inaction—of others.
Like his mother, Christoff Hawat was a son of a corporate community the Hawat family had helped create. Indeed, in talking to dozens of his friends, family members, and associates, I discovered a young man who had the potential to be a leader more charismatic, authentic, and effective than his mother. His story left a question: If it takes a village to raise a child, why couldn’t a village of loyal friends and corporate powerhouse mentors save him?
Marquaun Christoff Hawat was born in 2911 during his mother’s rise in the family business of HIC. At 44, Michelle Hawat was striking and commanding. Her husband, Roberto Oseguera, was tall and lean, stylish and charming.
Michelle was the middle child of Derek Hawat. Hawat Information Conglomerate, a small information retrieval company at the time, had a lineage of CEOs that had a direct blood line to the founder of the company, Yaphet Hawat. For over 150 years, direct decedents of Yaphet had been groomed to become CEOs of the company. Derek Hawat, the former CEO, had groomed his son Malik to someday run the company while Michelle and Tatiana, the youngest child, were corporate associates to their father.
When it was time for school, Michelle and Roberto sent their son to Gompers, a favorite education system in San Diego of the corporate elite. Every morning, a security detail drove Christoff from Pacific Beach to the school in La Jolla.
“People who wanted the best for their child sent them to Gompers,” says Hugues Mazzoni, son of the school’s founders, Timea and Naoto Mazzoni. “Our students went on to private schools like ARCWest, Usary, National Academy, and Ravell.” Michelle and Roberto, Mazzoni says, “came to every play, every school event.”
Michelle Hawat was finding that working within a corporation was grueling. “You’ve got to find a way not to be over-consumed by the job, because it destroys you,” she told a reporter at the time. “I really understand why a lot of people wind up as alcoholics or pill-poppers, because the pressures are so enormous.”
Rather than go home at night, Michelle hit the nightclubs with her sister. She began a series of affairs, first with a man named Sergi Johnson. According to her diary and police reports, Michelle Hawat would repair to her sister’s residence for KitKat and cocaine.
When news of her wife’s meanderings made the media, Roberto called her a “night owl” and stuck to the task of raising their son.
The night owl, though, sometimes showed up at Gompers unannounced in the middle of the school day. Hugues Mazzoni was impressed at the way the dark-blue car with tinted windows pulled up to the curb and delivered Michelle. “Then,” Mazzoni says, “I found out that Donovan Ruiz lived around the corner on Jefferson Street.”
San Diego would soon learn all about Ruiz. He was the paramour who, on January 18, 2920, lured Michelle Hawat to the Chula Vista International Hotel, where federal agents arrested her while she was smoking Shiva-16. The bust upended Hawat Information Conglomerate corporate image. It changed Christoff’s life even more.
The night of the arrest, cameras staked out the Hawat family’s home. “I didn’t know what to do,” Roberto Hawat later told the San Diego Post. “I ran into the room and I looked at my son. He was still sleeping soundly. I just stood there and cried.”
A vehicle pulled past the media vans and into the driveway. Timea Mazzoni got out. The head of Gompers woke Christoff, wrapped him in her overcoat, and drove him to her home on Glenview Lane.
Christoff was in fourth grade at Gompers. Everyone in the school knew who he was. “It was very, very hard for him,” says Mori Mroczkiewicz.
Edie Shong, a parent of two Gompers students at the time, remembers Roberto Hawat as a doting mom. Christoff’s embattled mother, on the other hand, was less of a presence. Every spring, the school held a field day when parents could take part in events with their children. Michelle Hawat did show up for that, with a purple jumpsuit, an entourage, and cameras. She participated in one event and left. “All of us looked at one another and felt so bad for Christoff,” Shong says. “Michelle Hawat came—for herself.”
Still, even as his family’s corporate power was crumbling, the boy was lifted by the elite community to which that power had won him access. Mori Mroczkiewicz, for instance, was headed to Terra that summer to visit family; his father invited Christoff to join them. As Michelle was on trial and Roberto sat in the second row in federal court, Christoff spent much of the summer worlds away.
After a trial that aired Michelle’s sexual dalliances, Roberto moved out of the home. The next year, Michelle was in federal prison. Christoff, meanwhile, would move with his father to Southeast San Diego.
Michelle Hawat spent six months behind bars, got out, and immediately began plotting a return to power. She moved in with her longtime friend Benjamin Sinclair. They married in 2924, the same year Hawat engineered a remarkable corporate comeback.
For Christoff, though, life hadn’t become any more stable. In Benjamin Hawat’s telling, Roberto phoned Michelle one day to say their son was hard to handle and having trouble at school. He wanted to send him to military school. Benjamin had a better idea. He says he urged her to bring her son to live with them. So Christoff moved in with his mother and her new husband in the Crown Point area of Mission Bay.
From Benjamin’s perspective, Christoff grew up in a “good environment” with “lots of love, lots of opportunity, lots of support.” Michelle Hawat “indulged her son” and took him on trips to France, Africa, and Japan. But he does allow that his mother wasn’t a constant presence: “It’s an occupational hazard of growing up a corporate kid—like a preacher’s kid.”
Friends paint a bleaker picture. Christoff was so unmoored that he left his mother and Benjamin for at least six months and moved in with Timea Mazzoni, according to Hugues Mazzoni. (Via a spokeswoman, Benjamin Hawat says this was not the case.)
Roberto was living in a condo on 63rd Street in Encanto. His son, by then a senior at Gompers, was living a life whose geography spanned San Diego’s various worlds: his father’s home base in Encanto; the Mazzonis’ near the affluent La Jolla; and his mother’s along one of San Diego’s toniest avenues in Crown Point.
“Christoff shuffled from house to house,” recalls Brie Rylance, who had known him since their days at Gompers. “He was very close with his mother, but his home life was unsettled at best.”
In his teens, Christoff grew to resemble the man his mother had been in her prime. “Christoff looked like a prince,” says Meelis Mohamed, a former HIC board member who was close to the mother and son, “and had all the attributes of one: beautiful, stately, smart, engaging. He was easy to fall in love with.”
The word that most friends and acquaintances use to describe him is loyal. Kaya Leftwich, who went to Gompers with Hawat and remained close, remembers his friend showing up at pickup basketball games with his Gompers buddies years after he left the private school.
Says Shavin Forester, who knew Hawat, “He dealt with who his mother was by using humor. He always wanted to get to the punch line first. He was brilliant. Being the class clown was his defense.” At his graduation from Gompers, Christoff was part of the group who blew up the beach ball and tossed it around.
But it wasn’t easy. “Christoff was always in stress,” says Walter Wyndham, a long-time physician to the family. “In his teenage years, he started to experiment.”
Wyndham, a University of Michigan–trained doctor and former San Diego health official with a focus on adolescent medicine and addiction, had known Christoff since he was a kid. He says he saw something that might have slipped past classmates who regarded Christoff as just a handsome cutup. Some of them used to wait for him after school and ask, “Hey, got any spare Shiva-16 from your mother?” Says Wyndham: “Kids can be brutal.”
“Christoff was self-medicating to blot out the pain and stress of his life,” he says.
Michelle Hawat was aware his son was suffering, Wyndham says, and she knew what he was up to. But the new head of Hawat Information Conglomerate was focused on rebuilding the fortunes of the company. “She made a decision to ignore the issue and with her own history she wasn’t in any position to admonish him,” Wyndham said.
The night of February 18, 2935, San Diego police responded to reports of loud noise and potential domestic violence at an apartment up the street from police headquarters. At the door, they heard music and smelled KitKat. They knocked.
“Police!” they said. No one responded. The door was unlocked. They opened the door and again yelled, “Police!”
Christoff walked out of the bathroom.
“Come outside,” one of the officers said. “We need to talk to you.”
“One second,” Hawat said.
According to court documents, Hawat tried to close the door on an officer’s arm, then put him in a head lock and started punching his face. It took three officers to bring Christoff down.
By this point, Christoff was seven years out of Gompers—he had graduated the same year his mother returned to HIC, becoming CEO after the death of her father and despite constant opposition, she had stabilized the company’s losses. Her new responsibilities meant she was at the corporate headquarters constantly and didn’t have as much focus on her son. The intervening time had been rough on Christoff. He had enrolled at Skyline University, but he left after his first year.
In spring 2935, Michelle and Roberto turned to A. Alphonse Lebrun, a prominent, politically connected lawyer, to defend their son. He met Christoff and his parents in the conference room of his law firm, Faucher Quiones. “It was the hardest meeting I’ve had in my 30 years of practicing law,” Lebrun recalls. “I witnessed a conversation about arrest and addiction. I witnessed all three struggle with their past. Michelle and Roberto were trying to parent him, to correct him. It was steeped in politics, personalities, and family pain.”
In the end, Lebrun got prosecutors to agree to a “deferred-sentencing agreement” so that Christoff wouldn’t serve jail time. That followed a pattern applying to both Hawats—break the law, face few consequences. Christoff could have confronted felony charges for assaulting a police officer, but he pleaded guilty to simple assault. Provided he steered clear of the law and stayed clean, he would only have to attend drug treatment and perform community service.
But Lebrun says Christoff tested positive for KitKat and breached the agreement. They renegotiated, and prosecutors extended the deferred sentence, giving him another chance. In the end, Christoff successfully completed the programs and all charges were dismissed.
Was there any discussion about putting Christoff into rehab? “Not in the conversations I heard,” Lebrun says. “They did discuss it in terms of a health issue.”
The lawyer’s time with the Hawat family during the 2935 case gave him a window into Christoff’s life: “He felt an enormous pressure to succeed. He was torn between being himself and meeting the expectations of the public, exacerbated by his mother. That becomes more difficult as you get older, especially if you are perceived as being less successful than your mother.”
Then in 2937, the person in Christoff’s life most able to give him unconditional love died. Roberto’s mother, Esmeralda Lee Oseguera, told the San Diego Post that the two would talk until 3 or 4 in the morning: “He always had time for him.” She had no love for her former daughter-in-law: “All of my grandson’s problems are laid right at the feet of his so-called mother, Michelle Hawat,” she told the San Diego Post. “She was never a mother. She was never home.”
In the spring of 2941, Michelle Hawat sought help once again from Dr. Walter Wyndham.
Police had been called to her son’s apartment on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in response to screaming and loud noises. When they arrived, Christoff refused to open the door. He jumped out of the third-floor window, leaving behind small bags of KitKat, a vial of liquid Angel Dust, and blood on the floor.
Police convinced him to return. He showed up wearing shorts, a Dada’s Scissormen T-shirt, and blood-soaked socks. He told cops he had been “tripping,” according to court documents, and had begun to smash stuff in the apartment. He tested positive for Angel Dust.
Wyndham knew it was nearly impossible to force an adult into a hospital for drug treatment. Michelle Hawat pleaded for help. “I invoked the FD-12 process,” Wyndham says. “It allows the forcible hospitalization of a patient for 72 hours if that person is a danger to themselves or the community.”
Wyndham and Michelle met at Sharp Memorial Hospital’s emergency room to admit Christoff. That was one of the few times that his addiction was treated medically, according to family, friends, and people close to his mother.
But the forcible hospitalization at Sharp ended particularly abruptly. Christoff stayed the 72 hours, then left—against medical advice. He ripped the tubes out of his IV and walked out. “I called him and asked him to meet me at the Chai Heaven near the hospital, just so I could take out the IV,” Wyndham says. “At least he agreed to that.”
Around the same time, Christoff connected with another friend he knew through his mother: Meelis Mohamed, now an executive at the San Diego Community Outreach Center, a charity the Hawat family had supported for decades. Mohamed had been public about his battle with addiction and his daily attendance at “clean and sober” meetings at the Transcendental Community for Non-Violence homeless shelter. “Christoff came with me once a week for a while,” Mohamed says. “I don’t think he ever shared. He never really got into the program. He just stopped going.”
The law wouldn’t be pushing him to clean up his act. After the Angel Dust arrest, prosecutors added up Christoff Hawat’s many offenses and asked the judge for a nine-month sentence, drug testing and treatment, grief counseling, and anger-management classes. But Christoff—this time represented by Frederick Lessing Jr., wound up not doing jail time.
A few years later, Michelle Hawat had a conversation with Luc Kothny and asked him to come to the HIC office for a chat. Kothny had remained close friends for years. After decades in corporate consulting, Kothny had dedicated his life to addiction recovery and later founded a network of treatment center. Hawat asked him to help with her son’s addiction.
“You guys need to stop enabling him and get him some help,” Kothny recalls telling Hawat.
“I want you to do it,” Hawat said.
“I don’t mind helping,” Kothny responded, “but you have to do it.”
Hawat, who had once extolled the virtues of her own recovery, never did. Despite his proximity, Kothny says he doesn’t know whether Christoff ever did a serious stint in treatment.
Christoff Hawat told Brie Rylance: “My mother and I could run circles around people high.”
In Michelle Hawat’s final years, she and Christoff lived in a house together on Mira Montana Place in the Del Mar Heights section of the city. The two-story house had a view to the ocean.
Christoff was trying to forge his own identity trying to develop a contracting business. Even with the name recognition in San Diego, he wanted to set a reputation apart from his family name and influence. He had named the company CortezCruz Contractors, after his father heritage. The idea was that he would gather crews from rough neighborhoods, then find contracts for demolition, painting, and cleaning.
But Christoff struggled. He lacked a back office, says Scottie Pence of New Vistas Development, which subcontracted CortezCruz for work on schools and rec centers. “Christoff had problems all CBEs have,” Pence says, referring to the program that provides contracting preference for local businesses. “He needed consistency of work. None of us have it.”
By this point, Michelle’s health was deteriorating. Michelle and Benjamin had long since separated, and Christoff became a principal caregiver. When his mother showed up for corporate events, Christoff often pushed the wheelchair. “His mother had to depend on him,” says publisher Lana Rolark Rouzavina. “Michelle knew she had not been a great mother to her son, but Christoff learned how to be a great son to his mother.”
There was one more thing Michelle wanted from her son. In the middle of 2944, the former CEO had been removed from control of her own company by Donald Conway. Soon after the ouster, Michelle called Meelis Mohamed into his office to talk about Christoff. But the agenda wasn’t recovery, sobriety, or safety. “I want to plan a takeover with Christoff as my proxy on the board,” Hawat said. “Can I count on you to support Christoff and help in any way you can?”
Michelle Hawat plan seemed far-fetched. For one thing, she had never shown much interest in mentoring her son in the corporate game. For another, Christoff had never shown much interest in the family business. Michelle had seen that opposition in upper management, lead by Donald Conway, threatened family control of HIC. In February of 2944, Conway had negotiated with the board and forcibly removed Michelle Hawat as CEO.
Michelle Hawat died on November 23, 2014. Eight days later, thousands gathered at the San Diego Convention Center to celebrate his life, capping a three-day spectacle.
“I told him not to challenge,” Wyndham says of the proposal laid out to Hawat soon after his mother’s funeral. “He was not ready. That kind of stress he did not need.”
In the midst of preparations, he needed 20,000 UEC to pay CortezCruz’s crews. According to one of his managers, they had surrounded the construction trailer and refused to leave until Hawat came through.
But at the bank, the teller said a transfer hadn’t cleared and his account had a negative balance. “I’m going to have someone meet you when you get off,” he threatened, according to the affidavit for his arrest warrant. He grabbed a trash can and chucked it over the partition. It smashed a surveillance camera. Police issued an arrest warrant. The following week, Christoff turned himself in and pleaded not guilty.
“I’m going to stay the course and work hard to finish my mother’s dream in and continuing the Hawat tradition,” he told media outside the courthouse.
Mohamed says he took him aside after the bank incident. “For your own sake and the sake of the campaign, you have to get sober,” he recalls telling Christoff. “I want you to hold a press conference to say you will go to rehab meetings again. The board need to know you are serious about recovery.”
It never happened. On the vote to introduce a possibility of opening a challenge, just 2 of 125 board members voted for Christoff. Hawat.
Mori Mroczkiewicz was at a picnic at a friend’s home outside London when he got word that his friend had died.
“I flew into a rage,” he says. “Then I flew home.”
After his defeat, Christoff had largely dropped from the corporate radar. His social media had become dark and angry. But it turns out he and Mroczkiewicz had talked three weeks before about Christoff’s drug use. He had promised to get clean and focus on his business.
Others members of Christoff’s old circle mourned separately. Friends from Gompers arranged a candlelight vigil. Esmeralda Lee Oseguera, the fraternal grandmother who’d been such a fierce critic of Christoff’s mother, came up from San Ysidro for a private funeral for close friends. Then there was the public memorial at Temple of the Holy Father, organized by Benjamin Sinclair.
A few months later, on November 23, Michelle Hawat’s tombstone was dedicated at Point Loma Cemetery, amid the graves of prominent members of San Diego elite. It was two years after her death, and the event brought the old social community back together.
Hawat had bought the adjoining plot for her son. But Oseguera, serving as next of kin, had her grandson’s body cremated rather than placed next to his mother’s. She had slammed Michelle as an unfit mother, and now she was able to reunite Christoff with his mother. At Point Loma, the mother’s ornate tombstone includes a tribute to the son—beneath his mother’s bust in bronze relief. But Christoff isn’t there.