5 Con Artists Who Ended Up Saving The World
Most con artists are huge scumbags, and very few even have the decency to look like George Clooney or Leo DiCaprio. They're nothing but a bunch of sweaty guys who want to tell your confused grandmother about this great new charity that only takes cash. But every so often, some lying asshole uses the power of scams for a greater good. It's mostly by accident, but hey, you can't argue with the results.
A Fake Cardiologist Taught Hundreds Of Real Ones How To Be Better Doctors
Dr. William R. Hamman had 15 years of clinical experience as a cardiologist, and was highly respected for his seminars and training sessions. His specialty was demonstrating the value of training doctors through simulations, like they do with pilots -- because oh yeah, he was also a world-class airline pilot. What couldn't he do?!
Oh right, practice medicine. He couldn't practice medicine.
The pilot part of his resume was true, but the MD degree, the PhD, the 15 years of experience, and everything else that came with that were all made up. Hamman had briefly attended med school in the '80s, but dropped out long before graduating. Of course, he didn't let that stop him from publishing papers in medical journals, leading medical conferences, and training real doctors. And he got away with it for 20 years because, well ... he was really good at it.
As co-director of Western Michigan University's Center of Excellence for Simulation Research, Hamman even managed to score a $2.8 million grant to build his computer simulations for doctors. Perhaps the clearest testament to his talent is the fact that even after they found out he was full of shit, real doctors still wanted him to keep teaching. The American Medical Association simply changed his title from "doctor" to "captain" -- captain of simulations. That's basically as good as a doctor, right?
The Conman Who Brought Christmas To New York's Poorest Children
For all intents and purposes, John Duval Gluck was the Santa Claus of early 20th century New York ... if Santa also had a side racket involving nonexistent buildings and fake charities. Gluck headed up the Santa Claus Association, a network of volunteers who not only opened and answered children's letters to Santa, but also carefully noted the Christmas wishes of kids from the poorest neighborhoods (from "toys" to "coal to stay warm"). Gluck would match the kids with charitable wealthy families, who would then buy the gifts they requested. By 1915, the Association was delivering 50,000 presents "from Santa" to 16,000 families on Christmas Day, bringing holiday cheer to New York's worst slums. And also bringing shitloads of cash to Gluck's pocket, since he was using his huge mailing list to raise money for "noble causes."
Gluck used his list to solicit donations for a gigantic marble Santa Claus Building in downtown Manhattan. It never materialized, but strangely, all the money for it disappeared. Huh. Anyway, none of this affected the core of the charity, which didn't involve any money -- the letters were opened by volunteers, and the rich families bought the gifts directly. The kids had no idea "Santa" was also scamming some guy in Connecticut.
Gluck eventually ran out of luck, albeit in one of the weirdest ways possible. Many of the Association's volunteers were American Boy Scouts, a splinter faction formed by William Randolph Hearst because the Boy Scouts of America wouldn't give their scouts live firearms for some reason. After an AB Scout gunned down a kid during a fight in the Bronx (OK, there's the reason), membership plummeted, and Gluck tried various shady schemes to keep the ABS afloat. This attracted the attention of the authorities, who discovered the Santa King's financial shenanigans and shut the organization down. A line of postmen trooped into Gluck's headquarters and carried away boxes of letters like a Bizarro Miracle On 34th Street, and Santa started skipping the slums again.
A Zoo Worker Posing As A Colonel Helped Reduce Rio De Janeiro's Crime
Rio de Janeiro is essentially Gotham City with more humidity. And Carlos da Cruz Sampaio Jr. was ... well, not Batman, but someone doing a good impression of him.
In 2009, while serving as military police colonel in Rio, Sampaio developed a system that used statistics to predict future crimes, like a boring Minority Report. According to Sampaio, this led to a crime reduction of up to 52 percent in some areas. His superiors were so happy with the system that they asked Sampaio to deploy it in other battalions, as well as give lectures about it. This was on top of his other obligations -- coordinating police forces through neighborhoods, training agents with live weapons, and even helping in hostage situations. The only problem was that Sampaio wasn't really a military police colonel, or a military anything. He was the guy in charge of preventing parrot theft at a local zoo.
Sampaio was the son of a (real) military officer, and always wanted to be one himself, but failed the test to get into the academy. In 2006, he came up with his crime prevention system and tried to pitch it to the authorities, but was met with whatever a shrug is in Portuguese. A few years later he tried again, this time prefacing his name with the word "Major" -- still nothing happened! So he promoted himself to "Lieutenant Colonel," and people finally paid attention. He staffed his resume with experience at Brazil's most prestigious military academy, a record of operations in the Amazon rainforest, and a stint in the presidential guard. He stopped just short of claiming he led the X-Men between 2002 and 2005.
Not only did people buy it, but they invited Sampaio to work at the Secretariat of Security, right in front of the army's headquarters. It apparently took three months for someone to bother to cross the street and check his credentials, at which point the red-faced officials threw their fancy new hire in jail.
A Mortgage Scammer Successfully Cleaned Up New York's Ebola Outbreak
In 2014, Ebola fever swept the U.S. (Not literally.) Everyone was talking about the deadly disease, so when it popped up in New York, there was quite a bit of panic. The city needed a hero, and Sal Pane, who boasted 27 years of experience cleaning up hazardous waste, stepped forward. So what if he was only 31?
The city hired Pane's company to decontaminate the apartment of Craig Spencer -- a doctor who caught Ebola in Africa -- and a bowling alley that Spencer had visited. This was obviously a huge job, and not just because it was the first time anyone had ever cleaned a bowling alley. One problem: Pane wasn't an experienced hazmat specialist, as he had claimed.
An investigation by BuzzFeed News (no, really!) unearthed that Pane was a serial conman with a long string of shady dealings, most notably as president of a mortgage modification company that ripped off needy consumers during the 2008 financial crisis. He later served nine months in prison after driving drunk with a suspended license and then trying to convince a police officer that he was a District Attorney whose dad died on 9/11 (he sensibly decided not to add "volunteer kitten doctor" and "the SEAL who got bin Laden").
About a year before the Ebola outbreak, Pane persuaded a dead cleanup specialist's grieving sister into believing they had been close friends. He then talked her into selling him her brother's truck, permits, and company. After that, he stole the guy's identity, claiming all of his experience in hazmat work, including the 2001 anthrax cleanup.
Here's the extra twist: Pane turned out to be pretty good at cleaning up after Ebola outbreaks. After Buzzfeed broke the story, the NY Department of Health apologized, but said they had "vigorously reviewed all of [Pane's] cleanup work, and determined it was successfully performed." They promised an investigation, but it apparently didn't go anywhere, and Pane was still working in cleanup as of 2015 ... when he was accused of illegally paying coroner employees to tip him off about crime scenes that might need cleaning.
Oh Sal, never change!
Wait, on second thought, do change immediately. Change everything.
A Serial Conman Posing As A Monk Founded A Legitimate University
Over the course of his life, Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. pretended to be a doctor of psychology, a law student, a zoology graduate, a teacher, an assistant warden at a Texas prison, and many other people, none of whom shared his birth name. We've covered the time he successfully bluffed his way through several surgeries while posing as a Royal Canadian Navy surgeon, but that wasn't his greatest accomplishment. This was:
While posing as "Brother John Payne of the Christian Brothers of Instruction," Demara came up with an idea to found a college that would help raise the profile of the religious order. Demara succeeded in getting the school chartered by the state, and LeMennais College opened in 1951 ... but its founder didn't last long there. He threw a fit because he wasn't named chancellor of the college, and more importantly, he thought "LeMennais" was a stupid name for an institution. The remaining brothers apparently agreed with that much at least, since they later renamed LeMannais College to Walsh College, and eventually Walsh University.
Today, Walsh University still provides spiritually focused education to thousands of students who probably have no idea their beloved alma mater was founded by a conman, since they don't even mention him on their website.
Abraham is your friendly Mexican writer. He doesn't like to brag, and he also got named top writer 2018 on Quora. You can follow him there here, say hi to him on Twitter here, or check his terrible drawings here.
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For more, check out The 7 Most Heroic Con Artists Of All Time and 6 People Who Turned A Life Of Crime Into Legitimate Careers.
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