Being a con artist doesn't actually require exceptional intelligence. It just requires chutzpah that borders on neurosis. You see, because most people in the world are trusting souls, it often doesn't even occur to them that somebody's outrageous statement might be a lie. Con artists build their whole careers around good-hearted people saying to themselves, "But who would lie about that?"
Well, people like this, that's who ...
#5. Joyce Hatto Releases 100 Albums Recorded by Other People
This is one of those underdog stories that seem destined to get turned into an Academy Award-winning film (starring, say, Julia Roberts). Joyce Hatto had been a concert pianist for years, but was never able to rise above her largely mediocre reviews ... until she was finally forced to retire after being diagnosed with cancer. Then, in the face of tragedy, Joyce Hatto blossomed into the outstanding classical musician she'd always wanted to be.
Hatto, center, just musicing the shit out of that piano.
From then until her death in 2006, she hit the studio like Tupac, recording a daunting amount that resulted in over 100 CDs of piano music, showing a shocking range of style. The critics raved, lauding her incredible versatility. She was heralded as "the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of," a title we suppose is immediately nullified by the word "heralded."
A classical-music aficionado named Brian Ventura popped one of Hatto's CDs into iTunes, which then obligingly informed him that he'd actually bought a CD of the relatively unknown Laszlo Simon. Stunned by what seemed to be the most random mix-up of all time, he sent a note to a music reviewer named Jed Distler. Distler and some colleagues did some digging and discovered that Joyce Hatto had played on virtually none of the CDs attributed to her.
"She was in the same room as the musicians. That counts, right?"
Her "performances" were cobbled together from the work of at least 91 other pianists to create a Super-Skrull of musical talent. In fact, of Hatto's hundred-plus CD catalog, only one has been confirmed as authentically hers. The rest are blatant, crudely manipulated forgeries created by Hatto and her husband. They even invented an orchestra to credit in the fraudulent recordings, led by a Holocaust-survivor conductor who never existed.
Hatto's husband, William Barrington-Coupe, eventually admitted to the forgeries, conceding that he did take bits from other pianists to cover unwanted sounds on the recording. But since many tracks are almost completely identical to other pieces, it seems like the primary "unwanted sounds" in question were the sounds of Hatto actually playing.
#4. Hardy Rodenstock Makes Millions Selling Fake Wine to Connoisseurs
In 1985, American businessman Bill Koch dropped $500,000 on four bottles of wine -- 1787 Chateau Lafit that supposedly belonged to wine nut Thomas Jefferson, a claim evidenced by the engraving of the initials "T.J." on the bottom of the bottle. (SIDE NOTE: If you are so worried about people stealing your alcohol that you etch your initials onto every bottle, you are probably an alcoholic.)
The Drinks Business
"Touch that bottle and I swear to non-magical philosopher Jesus I'll cut you."
Anyway, the seller of the bottle was international wine-peddling superstar Hardy Rodenstock. Rodenstock was a former musical manager and professor who gained a reputation for holding ridiculous wine-tasting orgies featuring priceless wines that no one else could ever conceive of, let alone purchase. People would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on rare wines from Rodenstock that probably tasted like cat piss to everyone but true wine fanatics.
As it turns out, cat piss might have been the actual content of the bottles Bill Koch had purchased. After years of speculation that the Jefferson wines were fake, Koch embarked on a multimillion dollar manhunt, accusing Rodenstock of being a fraud. And he had good reason to.
The engravings of Jefferson's initials on the bottoms of the bottles were apparently made using a dental drill in a counterfeiting studio where wine was mixed and rebottled (no indication is given as to whether any cats were present).
"I actually prefer to use my own urine. It's more authentic that way."
Hell, Rodenstock himself was a forgery -- he was a former train engineer named Meinhard Goerke who had never been a professor and had managed only a single shitty German band in his entire life.
So how did he fool so many people? One reason was that the claims he made about his wines were so outlandish, no one could ever possibly prove him wrong -- how the hell would anyone know what 250-year-old wine was supposed to taste like?
"I smell soiled diapers and pig's feet. This is either terrible wine or decent kombucha."
Oh, and there was this: In order to sneak these substandard wines past his guests, he got them so hammered first that they couldn't tell if they were drinking a 1792 Riesling or a 2012 glass of toilet water. See, the most brilliant plans are the ones that seem obvious after the fact.
#3. Turning a Fake Reality Show into a Drug Empire
By now everyone assumes that reality shows are "fake," in the sense that they use creative editing and some staged scenes to make their "reality" more interesting than it would be if they just let a bunch of spoiled people screech at each other for half an hour. But the scam that was pulled off by the P.I. Moms took it to a whole new level.
Unbelievably, Dr. Phil is the most credible person in this picture.
You might not have heard of it, but P.I. Moms became a minor pop culture phenomenon in 2010 when it was proposed as a reality show on Lifetime, a network primarily known for showing movies like Sleeping With the Enemy (and we mean movies exactly like it). The show would focus on middle class suburban mothers who, instead of the usual mom stuff, picked up work as licensed private investigators. They'd track witnesses, spy on suspicious individuals, gain intel on narcotics rings and trick pedophiles into chatting with them on the Internet.
The whole thing was the brainchild of Chris Butler, a former SWAT officer who decided to start Bosleying around soccer moms because he'd rather not get shot himself. Lifetime got word of his exploits and offered him fat basic cable dollars to film the P.I. Moms for a reality show. So what's the problem?
Aside from the fact that these women are in no way dressed for surveillance.
A journalist named Peter Crooks went for a ride-along with Butler and his P.I. Moms to see them in action, but was suspicious pretty much from the start. He had been contacted to do the ride-along by Butler himself, who first tried to persuade Crooks by bringing him in on a "cheating-husband sting," which actually turned out to be a "cheating-husband entrapment." When Crooks said he wasn't interested in tricking people, and would be more interested to do a story on Butler and his moms if they blew the lid off an affair that was already in progress, Butler called him back the next day with a case he'd just been offered that happened to fit Crooks' criteria perfectly.
"And the stakeout location fits my most important criteria. It's close to a Taco Bell."
The "sting" involved trailing a guy and his mystery date all over Napa Valley, spying on them over a lunch that Crooks thought felt strangely scripted -- virtually every single sentence between the two involved an oblique reference to sex, as if they wanted it to be perfectly obvious to any eavesdropping mothers and/or journalists that they were going to be having some sex later. Crooks and the P.I.s eventually tracked the suspected cheater to a Holiday Inn, where they stole his car, evidently confusing "inconspicuous" with every single word in the English language that means the exact opposite.
This seemed fake as hell to Crooks, and shortly after that he received an email from an anonymous source confirming his suspicions: Not only was everyone involved in the "sting" an actor on Butler's payroll, but every single media piece the P.I. Moms had been featured in was scripted. The source turned out to be an actor named Carl Marino, who had worked on Crooks' ride-along as one of the investigators in Butler's employ.
The moral of the story? Never trust a man with a leather jacket and half a goatee.
But here's the best part: Marino also revealed that Butler was reselling drugs confiscated from busts done by a narcotics task force he had contact with. This was the same task force that helped the Moms entrap a supposedly drug-dealing kid using the totally plausible promise of chicken, bowling and group sex with lingerie models.
Eventually, Crooks got Marino in touch with some less corrupt officials, who used him in a legitimate drug sting (one that involved much less sexy dialogue and car theft) that landed Butler and his partner at the narcotics task force in federal prison. Needless to say, Lifetime canceled the show, although it seems to us like they killed it right when it was getting good.