Let's give the devils their due. Yeah, they've screwed over thousands of innocent people. But some of them had balls the size of hot air balloons and for that, we must salute them.
#5. Charles Ponzi
Charles 'The Ponz' Ponzi is, quite simply, one of the greatest swindlers in American history. The originator and copyright holder of the piece de resistance of his career, the "Ponzi Scheme," Ponzi also boasted old-timey movie star looks and a smirk that could charm the pants off of the Pope.
Much like Vito Corleone, Ponzi came to America as an impoverished Italian immigrant. Also like Vito Corleone, Ponzi decided early in the game that his many talents should not be squandered working in a opium pipe-making factory, or wherever they sent the Italians to work back then. Keep in mind that the man had already served time in Canada, hiding it from his family by telling them he had gotten a job there. Once he was out and in the states, he created his own little plan for living the good life.
The deal was, back then you could get these coupons that could be redeemed for stamps in other countries. Ponzi noticed that back in Italy these coupons cost way less than the stamps in America. So, he figured it was still 1918 and there were a lot of retarded people around, and that he could buy like a billion of those coupons in Italy and then redeem them for the stamps here. He made 400 percent profit on each transaction, and didn't produce a damned thing.
Ponzi thought, well, shit, why isn't everybody doing this? So this smooth operator convinced thousands of people to invest in his totally legit business, the Securities Exchange Company, and by 1920 was making $250,000 a day.
Remember those coupons Ponzi was supposed to be buying with all this investor money? Yeah, he wasn't. There wasn't even a thousandth as many of the coupons in existence as the investors had given him the money to buy. He was basically just taking the investor's money, piling it up and swimming around in it like Scrooge McDuck. It was estimated that millions of dollars had passed through his hands and he had nothing to show for them but his awesome mustache.
Still, when an angry crowd of investors gathered outside his office, he walked right out there, smiled, gave them some money and offered coffee. That's the kind of guy he was.
He was eventually sentenced to prison, at which point he jumped bail, moved to Florida and went right back to scamming. When the cops came for him, he changed his appearance, stowed away on a boat and tried to leave the country. Finally, he got caught and went to jail.
The thing is, before that whole mess, Ponzi had come up with another idea. Back in 1918 he had tried to publish this book of business listings, where the businesses would pay to get listed and then people would use the listing to decide where to shop. Everyone told him the idea was retarded and he dropped it, plunging into a life of fraud instead. Later, somebody else would get rich on a thing called "The Yellow Pages."
#4. Benny Hinn
For you poor unfortunates uneducated in the ways of evangelical fundamentalism, Benny Hinn may be off your radar. Which is too bad. Because Benny Hinn is king of the Muppet-Showesque monstrosities known as faith healers. He's so good, that he makes you forget about their supposed real king, What's His Name of Nazareth. "So what?," you may ask. "So he's a faith-healing evangelical--I've got dozens of those under my bed. What's the big deal?"
Mr. Hinn has built his ministry on a few tenets. One is his gift of prophecy. Here are just a few of his better known predictions:
God will kill all the homosexuals by fire;
Castro will die in the 1990s;
An earthquake would destroy the American east coast, also in the 1990s;
JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF was going to make a personal appearance at Hinn's African crusade.
Needless to say, Jesus had a great deal going on that day and couldn't make it. Followers have still donated millions to Hinn, who lives in a $10 million house and drives a Mercedes SUV. Apparently there's, like, some kind of law against asking people to donate money to God and then buying bling with it instead, because the Senate Committee on Finance launched an investigation late last year. If they have hearings it'll be interesting to see if Jesus makes an appearance.
It takes a special kind of guy to make this list. False prophesies and wicked combovers just aren't going to cut it. But Hinn is no ordinary minion of Satan. Observe:
As you can see, Hinn performs his miracles by slapping old people to the ground, and then apparently doing a Jedi force-push against those who come to their aid. Fat people, tiny deaf orphan children, epileptic mulleted types, anyone is fair game for the wrath of Hinn, who then swaggers around those passed out fools like Ali demanding a rematch.Audacity Factor:
In 2006 this pimp sent out this letter to his followers:
... we have recently taken delivery on our Gulfstream G4SP plane, which we call Dove One. I have enclosed a beautiful photo-filled brochure to explain more about this incredible ministry tool that will increase the scope of our abilities to preach the Gospel around the globe. Now we must pay the remainder of the down payment, and I am asking the Lord Jesus to speak to 6,000 of my precious partners to sow a seed of $1,000 in the next ninety days. And I am praying, even as I write this letter, that you will be one of them!
Walking may have been good enough for Jesus Christ, but it's not good enough for Benny Hinn. Somebody, please, buy this man a Dove One. Better yet, go ahead and purchase him a yacht, a subway line, the Orient Express, some rickshaws and a few of those elephants domesticated for human transportation. ANYTHING to get his egregious face-slapping ministry to the people.
Hell, maybe he's not a con man after all. Watch that video, the man's worth every penny.
#3. The Fox Sisters
Don't let the sexy name fool you. Kate, Margaret and Leah Fox were leading proponents of the Spiritualist Movement of the 19th Century, their primary qualification for that job being that they were completely full of shit.
The younger two, Kate and Margaret, were only 10 and 12 when they convinced their idiot parents they could talk with a household ghost through a system of knocks and raps. The girls would snap their fingers and the ghosts would respond, much to the amazement of all the dumbasses who populated the world in the 19th century.
By the time big sister Leah got in the act, the three tricky Foxs had earned an international reputation as ghost-talkers and were making epic amounts of bucks with their other-worldly seances. Unfortunately, the sisters also gained a thirst for the hooch in their old age and were eventually exposed as fraudulent drunks who were using their toes to simulate the sounds from the great beyond, a trick that, in retrospect, doesn't seem it should have fooled the family dog.
Knuckle cracking? Really? Anyone who makes their living by popping appendages and is not a prostitute, side-show freak or chiropractor, deserves some mad props. And they didn't just say, "Hey y'all? You hear that? I bet the house is settling or something." No. These girls went through the trouble of creating a systematic knuckle cracking language to communicate with their pretend spirits ... and kept it up for almost 40 freaking years. A scientist (William Crookes) studied the sisters and declared them to be the real deal.
Well, we at Cracked have studied the people in the 19th century and declared them all to be mildly retarded.
One of the sisters eventually came clean when a reporter offered them $1,500 in beer money to spill the secret. The money was quickly pissed away and all three of the sisters died in poverty and were buried in pauper's graves. Even Charles Dickens couldn't have imagined a better ending for the Fox Sisters.
#2. Gregor MacGregor
Gregor MacGregor made his fortune and reputation in the early 1800s when he convinced hundreds of investors that he was the prince of the fictional country of Poyois. Not only did Gregor MacGregor gain the trust and hard-earned pounds of his eager would-be colonists, he also created a guidebook detailing the geography and abundant natural resources of his island off the coast of Honduras.
By the time his 250 investors had sailed to the vacant patch of water where their island should have been, MacGregor was already rounding up his next group of colonists, this time from France. Undeterred by the eventual deaths of 200 of his first settlers, MacGregor went through the trouble of drafting a Poyois constitution naming himself as head of the republic. Even after his trial and conviction for fraud, this magnificent man continued selling non-existent land and stock to European nobility.
The real downfall of Jim Jones and Koresh and those Heaven's Gate fools was that they believed what they were peddling. Not Prince Gregor MacRadical. After the few survivors made it back from their boat trip to nowhere, most still couldn't believe MacGregor had lied to them, standing up for him in the papers and basically blaming the island for not being there. They simply could not comprehend that any one man could have balls that huge. They were wrong.
#1. Frank Abagnale
By the age today's emo kids are tripping over their first curbs on account of the hair in their eyes and the loss of circulation from their too-tight pants, Mr. Abagnale had collected over $40,000 from various banks across New York City. By the time some of you were hoping to unlatch your first bra, and for most of you, much much sooner, the man had faked his way as a university professor, lawyer, pilot and doctor. Pretty much all the occupations Cracked writers and readers are barred from entering.
By the time you and I were sleeping through our summers at home from college, whining about how boring our hometowns were and "Why can't you stay off my case, I'M ON VACATION," Frank Abagnale had already been caught by French police, served jail time in France and Sweden, was extradited to the United States, escaped from a moving damned airplane and nearly orchestrated a perfect getaway.
That's the sort of thing that inspires Hollywood to make movies about you, starring Leo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.
Once Abagnale was imprisoned, he convinced his guards that he was actually an undercover prison inspector and that he needed the privilege of having an unsupervised meeting with his FBI agent contact. Yeah, they bought it.
After finally serving five years in prison, Abagnale was released if he cooperated with the government in detecting fraud. Not one to miss a golden opportunity, he turned his specialized knowledge into a legitimate money-making machine, opening a wildly successful fraud consultation business.
This one has a happy ending, as once his businesses took off, he used his honestly-earned millions to repay those he defrauded over the years. Of course, there's always the chance that this whole phase of his life is also a scam somehow, one so convoluted that the world won't figure it out until Abagnale is leaving orbit in a spaceship full of all of the world's gold.
If you enjoy reading about history's bad boys, our run down of the The Biggest Badass Popes is probably right up your alley. Or, head over to the blog for the most surreal commercial for Japanese snack chips you're likely to see all day.