5 Successful People Who Everyone Forgets Are Exposed Frauds
Making a career out of ripping people off takes a special kind of asshole. But to make a career out of defrauding the general public, get exposed as a fraud, and then keep right on defrauding people as if nothing ever happened takes a special kind of asshole with balls of industrial steel. Either that, or a sociopathic lack of self-awareness. Here are five people who just can't stop making shit up (and are inexplicably rewarded for it).
Ed and Lorraine Warren
Hey, have you noticed how some recent haunted house movies have advertised themselves as being based on a true story? And that some of them -- like The Conjuring -- kind of make that the whole point, going on and on about the "real" adventures of this husband-and-wife house de-haunting team?
That's Ed and Lorraine Warren, who've made a half-century's worth of headlines as honest to goodness ghostbusters -- not so much the wisecracking Bill Murray kind as the shit-your-pants spider-walking Exorcist kind. They have performed thousands of paranormal investigations since founding the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 and were long considered the go-to experts on demonology, a field in which we imagine there isn't much competition. Their chilling true-life cases range from a demonic child's doll to a dude possessed by the spirit of a motherfucking werewolf.
One of the Warrens' earliest claims to fame was the Amityville Horror, which, as most people are now aware, was an elaborate hoax. But what's the big deal, it's all just fun and games, right? Who cares if these people go around selling Hollywood fake ghost stories?
Well, another famous case of the Warrens was detailed in their book The Devil in Connecticut, about a teenager named Arnie Johnson who murdered his landlord while possessed by demons he had inherited from a little boy named David Glatzel after David was given an exorcism arranged by the Warrens. Carl Glatzel Jr., David's brother, wound up suing the Warrens on the grounds that his brother was mentally ill, not possessed, and needed actual help from actual doctors. According to Carl, the Warrens promised his family that they'd become millionaires if they would insist that the boys had been plagued by demons instead of a completely treatable mental disorder. They also promised that Johnson could beat the rap by using demonic possession as a defense, a seemingly bulletproof tactic that somehow only succeeded in earning Johnson a prison sentence.
When the Warrens were writing In a Dark Place, the book upon which the cosmically forgettable 2009 film The Haunting in Connecticut was based, they contacted horror author Ray Garton to help. Garton went into the project thinking that he'd be interviewing a family who truly believed they were being haunted, but quickly found that the family was deeply troubled, and no one involved could keep their stories straight. When he expressed his concerns to Ed Warren, he responded, "All the people who come to us are crazy ... just use what you can and make the rest up ... make it up and make it scary. That's why we hired you."
Where Are They Now?
While Ed passed away in 2006 (and is presumably getting forever pantsed by actual ghosts in the afterlife), Lorraine keeps the family business thriving, most recently by acting as a consultant for the 2013 film The Conjuring, a movie about the heroic deeds of Ed and Lorraine Warren and the heroic truck-driving skills of Ron Livingston.
Hollywood loves the Warrens. The Conjuring was just the latest in a slew of royalty-generating films based on their stories, and it went on to become one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time, with spinoffs and a sequel planned (a key plot point in the movie is how only a fool would doubt the Warrens). So the next time you're at the theater and see a horror movie poster proudly emblazoned with the words "based on true events," whip out your phone and Google that shit. Chances are you'll find Ed Warren's grinning face staring back at you, which is the closest most of us will get to an actual haunting.
James O'Keefe has been called a right-wing Michael Moore, which means he is a documentarian who carefully edits his footage to make his subjects look like total dickheads to serve his own political agenda. He is on a personal crusade to expose corruption in taxpayer-funded organizations such as NPR (National Public Radio), ACORN (the advocacy group for low-income families being taken advantage of by predatory homeowner's loans), and Planned Parenthood (the organization that provides literature, birth control, and abortion and health care consultation for low-income people).
Truly, these are all monstrous organizations that must be brought down, and O'Keefe heroically rises to the challenge by staging "stings" involving him or one of his undercover "citizen journalists" using hidden cameras to catch representatives of these groups engaging in criminal activity.
As we've previously discussed, O'Keefe's most famous antic -- the one that allegedly discovered evidence of ACORN employees advising people how to disguise the source of any illegal income -- was proved to be categorically false, and he was forced to pay out $100,000 for slander (ACORN still got shut down, though). His other famous expose, in which he revealed how the head of fundraising for NPR was in favor of pushing an agenda of worldwide sharia law so long as it resulted in donation dollars, also turned out to be a steaming butt biscuit (O'Keefe had edited NPR's Ron Schiller quoting various politicians in such a way as to make it seem like Schiller was reciting his own personal views -- imagine someone deleting the phrase "According to Adolf Hitler" from the beginning of a sentence and you get the idea).
O'Keefe then released a video in 2012 supposedly exposing rampant cases of voter fraud by discovering non-U.S. citizens who had been permitted to vote in the presidential election. But when ThinkProgress did a simple Nexis search on the voters in question, they discovered that they were, in fact, U.S. citizens (many of whom willingly contacted ThinkProgress to prove that O'Keefe was lying about their alleged wrongdoing).
O'Keefe then tried to bust Patrick Moran, the director of field operations for a congressional candidate's campaign, for encouraging his employees to commit voter fraud. Yet when authorities investigated the accusations, it resulted in all charges against Moran being dropped. It seems the one thing O'Keefe doesn't have in common with Michael Moore is that O'Keefe has apparently never been right about a single goddamned thing in his entire life, which is what happens when you invent lies about things that you don't like.
Where Is He Now?
O'Keefe is now considered such an expert on undercover journalism that he wrote a book about it that almost instantaneously became a New York Times best-seller.
Meanwhile, O'Keefe is still putting his exposes on YouTube, and people are still falling for them, despite the fact that every single one of them is partially if not entirely fabricated. His video exposing voter fraud (which, as you remember, was itself fraudulent) set off a chain reaction that, according to Slate, "had more of an impact on the 2012 election than any journalist" -- again, despite the fact that it was totally untrue. Conservative outlets such as Fox and Breitbart continue to laud O'Keefe's "undercover journalism," even though his latest stunt -- busting small environmental filmmakers at the Cannes Film Festival for accepting funding from foreign oil interests -- has already been proved to be deceptively edited. In the world of inflammatory political videos, there really is no penalty for getting caught in a lie.
Theresa Caputo, also known as the Long Island Medium, can totally talk to dead people, for reals, no joke. She claims to have started Haley Joel Osmenting when she was 4 years old and has been a practicing (and certified!) medium for over 10 years, showcasing her amazing abilities on her hit TLC reality show since 2011. She presumably keeps her hair in the shape of a microphone to help her receive transmissions from the spirit world.
Let's watch her bomb spectacularly in front of a room full of people who stubbornly refused to have recently deceased mothers and then marvel as she blames it on fickle spirits, because clearly it's the ghosts' fault and not the fact that she can't actually communicate with the dead.
Professional debunker James Randi examined Caputo's act and, to no one's surprise, determined that it was nothing more than a very familiar sideshow routine. Just like John Edward and countless others before her, she's simply quite skilled at an age-old technique known as cold reading, a method in which a performer "can pick up enough information in what seems like innocent, idle conversation" to make it seem like they are reading your mind. Basically, it's just intuitive guesswork. She's so good at it, in fact, that along with D.J. Groethe (president of the James Randi Educational Foundation), Randi awarded her the 2012 Pigasus Award, reserved for "the most deserving charlatans, swindlers, psychics, pseudoscientists, and faith healers." It's the kind of award you don't accept in person.
Meanwhile, an investigation by Inside Edition found that, while Long Island Medium is edited to make it appear as though Caputo is a font of supernatural wisdom, she strikes out again and again during live readings. She brushes off these embarrassing gaffes by insisting that the blazingly incorrect message she received must have been intended for someone else (this is known as "piggybacking").
Private investigator Ron Tebo maintains a collection of Caputo's failures on YouTube (he did the clip above) and spent over a year interviewing her past clients to discover that the majority of them felt ripped off (because Caputo happily demands cash payment in exchange for sharing her incredible gift). Her response to fraud allegations is the verbal equivalent of a shrug -- "I respect and understand skeptics. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone, that's not why I do what I do. I feel, and have been told by my clients, that my gift has really helped them, and that's all that matters to me."
Where Is She Now?
At the time of this writing, Long Island Medium is in its sixth season of exploiting people's grief on TLC. When she's not filming her carefully edited carnival show or appearing on daytime talk shows, she's touring the country and writing New York Times best-sellers, all based on a "psychic ability" that has been thoroughly debunked for over a century.
David Barton has perfected the tricky art of being a renowned, best-selling historical author while having absolutely no credentials in history whatsoever. Through his organization WallBuilders, Barton established a goal of "historical reclamation," insisting that his research into American history has built a strikingly different timeline from the one we were all taught in schools (which, incidentally, is the correct one).
Namely, Barton claims that the Founding Fathers created the United States as an exclusively Christian nation (there was never a separation of church and state), that Joseph McCarthy was totally right about everything, and that civil rights icons such as Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. should be disregarded because "only majorities can expand political rights," which as you may have noticed is just another way of saying "only white people matter." This has turned him into a superstar in some circles, and he has been consulted to help rewrite the textbooks your kids will be using.
Actual historians will tell you that Barton distorts quotes, cherry-picks information, cites fraudulent sources, and straight-up fictionalizes history to serve his political goals. This was never more evident than when he managed to publish his book The Jefferson Lies, which portrayed Thomas Jefferson as a Christian fighting for the rights of slaves, and which was immediately voted "the least credible history book in print" by historians, professors, and Christian scholars (the publisher quickly yanked it off the shelves in response).
So not only does Barton have the support of precisely zero historians, but the bullshittedness of some of his claims is obvious to anyone with a lick of common sense and possibly a calculator. He claims that the American Revolutionary War was fought to end slavery, despite the easily verifiable facts that the majority of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, Britain abolished slavery decades before the United States did, and the United States took another century to add the abolishment of slavery to the Constitution. Barton also claims that the Founding Fathers settled the creationism debate long ago, despite the crippling handicap of not being scientists and having all died before Darwin published his theory of evolution.
Where Is He Now?
Despite having the distinction of literally writing the worst history book of the modern era, Barton was helping draft the Republican Party's 2012 platform a month after his fanciful storybook had been discontinued. That might not be terribly surprising, so here's something even worse -- Barton is an adviser to the Texas State Board of Education and was instrumental in convincing them to rewrite their history textbooks to make them "more conservative and Christian-friendly." That's right -- he's putting the bullshit that was too ridiculous to be sold in stores into textbooks to teach history to children.
Barton has similarly advised on the curriculum of several other states, whose altered textbooks could very easily spread to schools around the country (textbook publishers like to keep the editions as unified as possible to save costs -- if you force the changes through in a few large markets, they'll turn up elsewhere). And speaking of books, Barton's discredited opus, Christian Warrior Jefferson, Hero of Slaves, wasn't destined to stay out of print for long -- Glenn Beck stepped in to bring it back to life, because Glenn Beck is a wealthy fan of dangerous misinformation.
Peter Popoff, a televangelist faith healer and self-proclaimed Christian prophet with the voice of an angry cartoon character, became famous for his miraculous ability to guess the names, addresses, and illnesses of complete strangers during his sermons and cure them through the power of God Almighty. This includes making old people throw away their walkers and start tremble-dancing like malfunctioning robots and having parishioners claim to receive "miracle money, transferred into their accounts supernaturally," which is a direct quote from Popoff's television program.
Popoff's abilities were so unbelievable that, in the late '80s, the aforementioned gunslinger skeptic James Randi decided to investigate. Randi infiltrated one of Popoff's faith-healing revivals and monitored the airwaves, discovering that Popoff's wife was feeding him information about the audience through a wireless earpiece (every attendee was required to fill out a "prayer card" with their name, address, and primary source of woe, which Popoff's wife would simply read back to him). Randi even went so far as to have a male friend dress in drag and pretend to have ovarian cancer, which Popoff miraculously healed (we assume the remedy was using the divine powers of Christ to travel back in time and ensure that Randi's friend was born a man).
Randi reported his findings on The Tonight Show, and Popoff quickly found himself in bankruptcy court without an earpiece to help him. More than two decades later, this guy's probably just a long-forgotten blip on the televangelist radar.
Where Is He Now?
Ha, no. Bankruptcy apparently only served to give Peter Popoff even more ideas on how to beguile desperate people. He bounced back with an admittedly incredible scheme -- he now sells debt-curing prayers for regular installments of cash that gradually increase over time. People who participate in this amazing plan receive holy debt-curing talismans such as bottled water and an eraser with a picture of money on it, packed with clumsily written assurances that Popoff is praying just as hard as he fucking can. And this is just his most recent scam -- Popoff has a long history of swindling people with a ridiculous scheme, seeing that scheme thoroughly debunked, and responding with an even more ridiculous scheme.
Because Popoff's organization is considered "religious" and therefore tax exempt, it is difficult to determine exactly how rich his scams have made him; however, back in 2005 (the last year his company was still paying taxes), his ministry earned $24.5 million and owned property in excess of $5 million. When asked about Popoff's comeback, James Randi responded, "Flimflam is his profession ... he's very good at it, and naturally he's going to go back to it." Even so, we wouldn't be surprised to learn that Popoff actually has some kind of supernatural power, because he has been able to convince people to spend millions of dollars on magic water while they are drowning in debt.
Follow Sammy on his tumblr, pretty please.
For more famous frauds, check out The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies Ever Published as Non-Fiction and 6 Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full of Crap.
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