Over the next year, Riches was cranking out up to 10 suits per day—"On the continuum of self-determination, he's way off on the asymptote," says Kim Gorgens, a neuropsychologist who studies criminal behavior and teaches at the University of Denver. Riches' filings got ever more absurd—rambling, free-association screeds that mashed up references from pop culture, current affairs, and sports. It was rare for Riches to get a response from the headline-makers he accused. One exception was the NBA star Allen Iverson, who Riches claimed had hired him to be his personal trainer and then offered Riches money in exchange for having a sexual relationship with him. (Riches, the suit stated, needed a hair transplant, so he accepted, becoming Iverson's "white juicy fruit.") According to Riches, Iverson countersued for emotional distress and to recover attorney's fees, but there appears to be no court record of that.
By 2010, Riches had filed nearly 5,000 frivolous civil complaints and motions. This wasn't just a new record—this was Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths. Riches sued almost any public figure you can name. Barack Obama? "Yes." Tom Cruise? "Yes." Rupert Murdoch. "Of course!" As Riches says, "You're nobody if you haven't been sued by me."
On a hot day this past August, the scourge of the American legal system waits patiently outside a T.G.I. Friday's at the King of Prussia Mall, near Philadelphia. Riches stands on the sidewalk with sunglasses perched atop his shaved head, a gold watch loose around his left wrist, a wild Amish-style beard framing his boyish face. He has been out of prison for three months and has moved back into his parents' house in West Chester, the town where he got his start in petty crime and punking the system: By 16, he says, he was tipping over Porta-Potties, stealing car radios, and yanking fire alarms. "I wanted to be known as odd, eccentric, or just crazy enough to do things that most people would not," he says. At 19, Riches had gravitated toward an underground-chat-line scene of con artists and phone "phreakers." He says he learned how to access credit reports and DMV registries via computer and phone, how to defraud people with Western Union scams. The crime that sank him was an AOL phishing scam in which he and several accomplices harvested credit-card data for unauthorized purchases. In 2003, the FBI busted him as he exited a Bank of America in Tampa with several thousand dollars in his hands—he puked when he was arrested.
He may be a free man (albeit one on probation), but Riches, now 36, isn't done messing with authority. "I'm going to continue to file suits . . . and make fun of the judicial system," he says. Money has apparently never been a motivator. Sure, he'd love to profit from a reality TV show or a book, but he's not suing McDonald's after spilling hot coffee in his lap. "I love the opportunities and resources to expand my craft," he says. He considers himself an artist: "It's tagging. It's spray-painting. I'm on these dockets forever." This is not a man with the need to satisfy the cravings typical of his peers. "I'm not looking for a girlfriend, I'm not looking to go out drinking at a bar," he says as he drains a large Diet Coke and obsessively hollows out his burger bun, a tic acquired during years of crash dieting. "I'm delighted to sit in front of my computer. Delighted to go to the post office." What he really wants—maybe it's all he ever wanted—is to become a conversation piece. And he emerged from prison into an era when that's easier than ever. Within days of his release, Riches was running amok on Facebook, where he declared that he had no intention of becoming less litigious.