5 Authority Figures No One Realized Were Con Artists
Some people sit around and daydream about becoming a surgeon, or a high-powered lawyer, or a member of the special forces. Others go out and do something about it. Oh, sure, they could go get the education and training to legitimately land one of these jobs, or they could just put on the uniform and play pretend. It's not like it's hard to get away with it, if these stories are anything to go by ...
The Teenager Who Posed as a Medical Professional ... and a Cop
There are many reasons to lie about your job. Maybe you're trying to impress a prospective significant other. Maybe you're a sitcom character caught in a series of wacky misunderstandings. Or, if you're Matthew Scheidt, maybe you accidentally received the wrong ID badge and decided that life has given you a promotion.
Scheidt, a 17-year-old Florida native, was working as a clerk in a doctor's office. He was sent to the nearby Osceola Regional Medical Center to pick up his employee ID. The hospital's office was a busy one, and an administrative mishap caused Scheidt to be punched in as a bona fide physician assistant, instead of the office drone #346 that he was. Most people would have shrugged, corrected the mistake, and gone about their day. Scheidt, on the other hand, took one look at his new credentials and thought: "Hey, this must mean I'm a fully trained medical professional now. Sweet!"
Scheidt helped himself to some scrubs and a stethoscope and wandered away to the depths of the hospital in search of patients. How long would you say it'd take to get caught doing something like that? A few hours? A day? Nope -- for several fucking weeks, this pimply faced youth Doogie Howsered his way around the emergency room. Despite clearly being, well, a kid, he was fairly convincing and knew a bunch of hospital terminology (it must not have occurred to his new colleagues that so does literally everyone who has ever watched TV). Since he seemed to know his shit and his credentials checked out, he was allowed to roam free, handling IVs, conducting medical exams with real professionals, and even administering CPR to an overdosing patient.
"I imagined my first kiss going differently than this."
Scheidt was eventually caught and arrested before he accidentally killed anyone. This, however, did nothing to keep him down. Just months after his arrest, our out-on-bail hero fashioned himself into a police officer. A real undercover cop happened to bump into Scheidt, who was sitting in a fully equipped undercover police vehicle, typing on the dashboard computer and gleefully identifying as an officer of the law. He even reprimanded the real cop for not wearing a seatbelt. When perplexed police officers searched the car, they found it stuffed to the brim with cop gear: Somehow, Scheidt had managed to get his hands on an Osceola County sheriff's shirt, a real badge, handcuffs, a stolen police radio, and, oh yeah, a Taser and a fully loaded handgun.
Boys will be boys.
We're not sure what would've happened if he'd been able to continue that con for a few weeks, but we're guessing the Osceola Regional Medical Center's ER would have been quite a bit busier than usual.
SAS Impostor Becomes Renowned Expert on Afghanistan, Bestselling Author
Tom Carew, a former member of Britain's elite anti-terror group, the Special Air Service, got one of those morbid strokes of luck when the paperback edition of his debut book, Jihad!, hit the shelves a day before the 9/11 attacks. This amazing coincidence not only sold him a ridiculous assload of books, it also meant he quickly became the media's go-to guy for his intimate knowledge on Afghanistan and the Taliban. He wrote articles for national newspapers detailing his expertise, like this one and this one for The Guardian, and he appeared on TV at every opportunity, pimping himself out to any journalist with half an interest and a deadline. Carew was finally living the dream.
Or would have, if he had existed.
"So I've got this great idea for a biopic ..."
"Tom Carew" was actually a man named Philip Sessarego, who had written the entire book less as an insight to Islam and more as an attempt to convince the world he was a hardcore SAS badass. He claimed that in his SAS days he'd been sent on a secret mission with MI5 and the CIA to train the Mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan. Now, Sessarego did have some military experience (including years as a mercenary and a stint as an artilleryman in Afghanistan) and had actually applied for the SAS twice, but dropped out both times ... something that would have turned up if anyone had done even a cursory check of his background.
The story might have held up longer if he hadn't bragged about his super-hot girlfriend who totally lives in Canada.
It wasn't until months later that Sessarego was confronted by a television crew calling him out. His first, completely reasonable response was to claim that he had 11 Albanian bodyguards who would "shoot first and ask questions later." Then he punched a camera guy and sprinted away from the scene. While admittedly a fairly Schwarzeneggerian exit, this did no favors to his reputation: Humiliated, exposed as a fraud, and loathed by the SAS (who don't take kindly to rejects making up war stories), Sessarego fled to Belgium.
Wouldn't be our first guess for "ideal location for a dozen strong-arm Albanian mercenaries to lay low."
Fittingly, Sessarego's strange story comes with a twist ending. In 2008, his badly decayed body was found in a locked-up garage that he had apparently turned into a survivalist campsite. Armed and in superb physical condition, he had clearly been preparing for (or hiding from) some kind of attack, when he unexpectedly succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
You can imagine how confusing the initial news of that must have been to his family and friends, considering that the man had actually faked his death on two previous occasions (once to escape child support payments). Maybe Sessarego is in Heaven right now, telling everyone there how he was totally taken out by a team of badass assassins.
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The Legal Aide for World Leaders Wasn't Even a Lawyer
What happens when a real-life supervillain is brought to justice? Who the hell is going to defend a monster like, say, Zimbabwe's infamous dictator Robert Mugabe, or his Serbian colleague Slobodan Milosevic? Who did Saddam Hussein use his phone call on when they dragged him out of the dirt hole? You wouldn't just need a hotshot defense attorney, you'd need some kind of legal evil genius.
For a decade, Giovanni di Stefano was that man.
"Does anyone else smell brimstone?"
He is perhaps the craziest lawyer to ever grace the inside of a courtroom, having gained notoriety for his willingness to take on impossible "crimes against humanity" cases that no other lawyer would touch. His clientele has earned him the nickname "The Devil's Advocate," and a whole bunch of friends in high (or, as it happens, low) places. In the 1990s, he used to own a soccer club with his close friend, the brutal Serbian warlord Arkan. He attempted to appeal for the serial killer Harold Shipman, and -- according to him -- even Saddam was on buddy terms with him.
He looks like the kind of guy you could have a beer with, as long as you keep a real sharp eye on your drink.
So, yeah, he's the kind of guy who might be willing to fund his friends' genocide projects if they asked him nicely, but there's no denying he's also the type of lawyer that likes a challenge -- you have to be at the top of your game if you're going to defend the worst of the worst. Except, of course, for the teeny tiny fact that he's not a lawyer at all. Di Stefano never had any legal credentials whatsoever. He's just a random dude who read a few legal texts and started presenting himself as a professional. Then he just straight-up started offering his legal assistance to the real-world equivalents of Dr. Doom, despite being laughably under-qualified. Yeah, we're pretty sure he was crazier than any of his clients.
And while this all might make the man sound like a trickster hero, his story has a pretty nasty flip side: He blatantly used his fake lawyer street cred as means to attract ordinary people as customers, then gleefully embezzled whatever compensation they'd won. For 10 years he fooled the public and the media, until he was caught and charged with a mountain of deception and theft counts that probably qualify him as a C-list supervillain at the very least. Di Stefano was sentenced to 14 years in prison, where he presumably waits for his trusty minions to rescue him when we least expect it.
Fake Cosmetic Surgeon Performs Liposuction While Smoking a Cigar
Here's a good rule of thumb for all potential con men out there: If the profession has the word "surgeon" in the job title, holy shit please please don't attempt to fake it. There are no winners in that situation. Take Carlos Guzmangarza, who somehow managed to fool several San Francisco residents into believing that he was a legitimate cosmetic surgery assistant, despite having literally no idea what he was doing.
"Nurse, the slice-y, poke-y knife-thing please."
While cosmetic surgery is one of those things you wouldn't think you'd want to cut corners on, Guzmangarza's low, low prices did manage to attract clients to his shady operation. One such patient, who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons you'll understand in a moment, contacted Guzmangarza seeking liposuction. After setting up an appointment, Guzmangarza personally drove to her house and picked her up, because it's completely normal that a medical professional who's about to charge you $3,000 acts as your chauffeur beforehand.
Contrary to what he may say, if your doctor asks to borrow money for gas to get to his clinic, he is not "totally good for it."
At Guzmangarza's makeshift clinic, the patient inquired where the rest of the staff was. Guzmangarza cheerfully informed the poor lady that she would be his assistant for the day, slapped an IV drip into her hand, and presumably took a moment to admire the growing terror in her eyes. As he was messily draining six pounds of fat from her midsection while she was under local anesthesia and completely conscious, he did what any self-respecting doctor could do in such a situation: He lit up a cigar mid-procedure and sat back to count all his givable fucks. Seeing as he still had far too many, he later dropped by the recovering patient's house, carrying the great big bag of fat he had removed from her. Then he flushed it down her toilet. Hey, gotta put that fat somewhere.
Try explaining that clog to the Roto-Rooter guy.
Amazingly, the patient was still cool with this, and in fact sent her daughter to Guzmangarza to receive a mysterious acne treatment injection (the nature of which is unknown, and we're too scared to speculate). It was not until the liposuction wound became infected that a real doctor was brought in the game and Guzmangarza's hack ass was promptly thrown into jail.
Fake Federal Officer Cleans Up a Drug Town
The people on the list above are, by their very nature, opportunists and con artists -- they're all seeing cash, attention, or cheap thrills. However, the man who went by the name Sergeant Bill played a different game altogether.
No, but close.
Arriving in the small Missouri town of Gerald in early 2008, Sergeant Bill identified himself as a DEA agent on a mission to help the town's five-strong police force spin-kick the area's (surprisingly sizable) drug problem in the meth-nads. And boy, did the man know how to kick: During the next five months, he took part in 17 meth raids. He single-handedly made several arrests, paying little attention to stuff like "warrants" and "procedure," because everyone knows DEA agents don't need that shit. And sure enough, he cleaned up the goddamn town.
You'd think a city full of meth heads would already be pretty clean. Give those guys a sponge and they can go.
It was only when a curious reporter from the local newspaper ran a background check that the real facts began to emerge. It turned out that Bill hadn't arrived from Washington, DC, as he initially claimed, but Washington, Missouri -- some 30 miles down the road. Oh, and also, he was actually a former convict with huge debts. For some unexplained reason, he had just decided to pimp himself and his ride into full DEA-field-agent mode, drive to a neighboring town, and start purging meth labs, like some kind of reverse Walter White.
Although we imagine the police might have had some stricter uniform standards.
The inevitable arrest of Sergeant Bill and the shitstorm that followed resulted in three of the town's five police officers losing their jobs, and the mayor got laughed out of office. Several multimillion-dollar lawsuits have since been filed, including one from an elderly woman who was wrongly sent to a psychiatric facility for refusing to cooperate with the fake agent.
However, it was not all doom and gloom. Remember what we said about the town's drug problem? It wasn't just a case of a couple of coke heads and the occasional meth lab. Until Sergeant Bill came around, Gerald was known as one of the "meth capitals of the United States." In just five months, the fake DEA agent managed to tame that shit -- in fact, some speculate several of the town's police officers knew that their hero wasn't legit, but they kept quiet because he was just so damn good at what he did. Hell, they probably should have just hired the dude.
If you were planning on evading politics by burying yourself in holiday flicks, guess what? You can't! In our latest podcast, Jack O'Brien and David Wong complain like a bunch of old ladies about how every Christmas movie is actually just a load of political garbage. You can download it here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.
Related Reading: We all love a good con. Click here to learn how Benny Hinn made millions slapping old people in the face and pretending to heal them. If you prefer your con artists have some redeeming quality, read about Raoul Wallenberg, who conned the Nazis out of killing tens of thousands of Jews. Still need more? Read about these crazy lies that fooled the whole world.