6 Totally Bonkers Criminal Plots That Actually Happened
Most "wacky" crimes aren't that interesting when you look beyond the headline. Sure, "Man Breaks Into Bodega, Shits In Cash Register" is a funny sentence, but where do you go from there? But every now and then, someone commits a crime so spectacularly weird that it will convince you that the walls of reality are breaking down as we merge with the 1960s Marvel Universe. How else can you explain how ...
The Politician Who Faked His Death In A Scuba Accident
In 1980, New Jersey state senator David Friedland was arrested for colluding with corrupt union officials to defraud the Teamsters' pension fund. Which is pretty standard for New Jersey, where the legislature is located in the basement of a strip club and the governor's mansion is a bullet-riddled houseboat puttering toward international waters. But even for Jersey, Friedland's dedication to corruption was astonishing. First he agreed to rat on his co-conspirators in return for immunity, then he used his time in witness protection to work on a different scheme to defraud the Teamsters. This guy was like the Hamburglar of pensions.
He was soon facing re-arrest, since the feds kindly ask that you not use witness protection to continue your crimes. So in 1985, Friedland decided that his best move would be to fake his own death. And how should he fake-die? Via scuba accident, of course. And honestly, it would really drive engagement in local politics if every special election was triggered by a fugitive official's zany scheme. More people would be able to name their state rep if he occasionally exchanged gunfire with the city comptroller.
When Friedland disappeared from a boat in the Bahamas, divers failed to turn up a body, and the FBI was unconvinced by his friends' story that he'd seemed depressed and had taken a bunch of painkillers before going for a nice scuba. When you're facing jail time, you need a better cause of death than "probably taken by merpeople," so the agency launched a manhunt. He was eventually caught in the Maldives in 1987, where he wasn't really trying that hard to hide. The ex-senator was a prominent local personality who owned a chain of scuba shops and even posed for a postcard. He was arrested and quickly cut a deal to become a jailhouse snitch, because you just can't keep this guy from sleazin'.
Middle-Aged Washups Role-Playing As A Black Ops Squad Terrorized Vegas To Retrieve Money From A Ponzi Scheme
Dave Sanders was a successful fiber optics executive who moonlit as a bodyguard in his youth. That's why an insurance agent buddy asked him to back him up at a meeting with angry investors who'd lost $10 million in a Ponzi scheme run by Anthony Vassallo, a 25-year-old devout Mormon with a coke problem who claimed to have invented stock-predicting software. Sanders, misrepresenting himself as some sort of private eye, was then asked by the investors to help retrieve their money. He agreed, which was a huge mistake for everyone except the Coen Brothers, who will inevitably make millions off a movie about the ensuing train wreck.
The investors got hold of Vassallo and plied him with drugs until he told them where their funds had gone. Meanwhile, Sanders was getting way too into his grizzled P.I. persona / midlife crisis. He told the investors that he had a buddy in the government, while neglecting to mention that this crack agent was a USPS letter sorter. Oh, and the investors had been approached by another Ponzi schemer calling himself Sir Joseph Birch, who claimed to have access to a secret Vatican stock market. To prove this, he showed them pictures of gold bars.
In 2009, Sanders assembled a strike team in a Vegas hotel room. Code names included "Sundance" (Sanders), "Hawk" (a college basketball star), "Agent Bob" (a morbidly obese postal worker), and "Cowboy" (an electrician who brought a duffel bag full of weapons). Despite the guns, tear gas, and bulletproof vests, they weren't exactly an elite fighting unit. For starters, everyone got hammered the night before their operation. Sanders and the postal worker kept arguing over who was in charge. The "A-Team" ran out of gas and had to be picked up. And again, they were planning to put the money they were after straight into a second Ponzi scheme. But they still terrorized Vegas, stalking financiers before luring them to meetings and threatening them until they handed over the Vassallo funds.
It was all a farce. Sanders claimed to know a slick way to handcuff someone, but the cuffs bounced off whenever he tried to pull the move. They hired an aspiring actress to play a mysterious leather-clad woman who would purr "You have no idea whose money you took," but she forgot her line and just stared awkwardly. Meanwhile, the finance guys were mystified as to why the armed "government agents" shaking them down also kept trying to sell them on Sir Joseph Birch. Everyone eventually got incredibly arrested.
A Guy Committed Truly Incredible Credit Card Fraud To Fund The World's Worst Music
If you've been to Times Square recently, you might have fought off the sex Elmos long enough to notice a giant billboard for Chad Focus, self-proclaimed "No. 1 Artist In The World," featuring the man himself surrounded by stacks of cash. He was on dozens of billboards from New York to Baltimore, often with the inexplicable text "Who will be the president of 2024?" He had over 4 million YouTube views and 180,000 Instagram followers, plus a T-Pain remix of one of his tracks that briefly charted.
So will you be hearing more about him soon? Probably not, because his success was all an expensive sham that prosecutors say was funded by some astonishing credit card fraud. Focus was a marketing guy who allegedly charged over $4.1 million to his corporate AmEx in an attempt to kick-start his music career. Most of that money went to "exposure," including fake YouTube views, Spotify streams, Instagram followers, and the billboards. He also reportedly spent over $100,000 on jewelry, over $300,000 on Fiverr users who claimed they could boost his songs onto the charts, and $125,000 on tickets to his own concerts (either he's got a clone army or those shows were real lonely).
He didn't work alone. Two other employees apparently edited credit card statements to hide the charges, and the owners of two different companies accepted $1.5 million in seemingly legit expenses, then kicked the cash back to Focus to launch his music career. Which, to be clear, never got close to taking off. And sounded terrible. Kids doing cruel impressions of their youth pastor have put out hotter tracks.
For example, millions of fans supposedly enjoyed his 2017 banger "Get To The Money," despite it featuring the finest beats to come out of Uzbekistan circa 2009. Also enjoyable are the full five minutes of scam promotion that follow the music video. Or there's "Dance With Me," in which his voice is so autotuned that it somehow loops back around to being off-pitch, and "Cents," which cuts so much that it probably isn't safe for the epileptic and features bizarre near-brags like "All the girls give me head like I run the track." Do girls give him a head start during track meets, or does he know a guy who runs a dog track and gets lots of head? Again, multiple people thought this was a good idea.
A German Pornographer Faked A Lost Gospel
In 2012, Harvard historian Karen King flew to Rome to announce an amazing discovery: a tiny scrap of ancient papyrus that contained the words "Jesus said to them, my wife ..." It caused a sensation (and some terrible Borat impressions), but it passed every scientific test, and some academics accepted it as evidence that Jesus had been married. But journalist Ariel Sabar wanted to know more about its background, so he launched an epic four-year quest for the man who'd found the papyrus, a mysterious German named Walter Fritz.
Fritz studied Egyptology in West Berlin in the late '80s, but mysteriously vanished before graduation. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he reappeared in East Germany, where a group of protesters had seized control of the former headquarters of the Stasi. They appointed Fritz to head up a new museum in the building, but after a few months, he vanished with valuable materials. A disgraced Egyptologist armed with stolen communist artifacts already seems like a terrible comic book villain, and nothing else we're about to tell you is going to lessen that impression.
Fritz resurfaced in Florida, where he became somewhat well-known as the husband of "America's No. 1 Slut Wife" -- the couple ran porn sites wherein Mrs. Fritz had sex with other men while her husband filmed it. Oh, and most of the sites also featured links to forged antique art for sale, along with "divine revelations" the couple had received from the Archangel Michael. Who knew that horny yet intensely religious antique lovers were a viable market? Well we do now, so get ready for next week's "6 Breathtaking Etruscan Urns (God Wants You To Ejaculate Into)."
With questions mounting, Fritz tried to bribe Sabar by offering to collaborate on a Da Vinci Code-style novel, which he was sure would be a bestseller. (Sabar thinks Fritz's whole forgery scam was inspired by Dan Brown, so that's one more thing we can blame him for.) Thanks to Sabar's work in The Atlantic, it's now accepted that Fritz forged the Gospel of Jesus' Family Ties using an ancient scrap of papyrus and ink that could pass all those tests. Of course, the gospel we uncovered has always made it clear that Jesus was too into the party lifestyle to ever settle down.
A Militia Leader Posed As A Cartel Kingpin To Extort His Own Followers
James "Russell" Bolton was the leader of a far-right militia in Spokane which sought to protect "real American communities" from the sinister alliance of Mexican cartels and "Islamics" overrunning America, as masterminded by the shadowy lizard tyrants at the United Nations. He also moonlighted as cartel kingpin Alessio Don De Grande, his own militia's archenemy. Even the lizards had to be impressed by that one.
This all started when frightened militia members began receiving threatening letters from Don De Grande demanding $10,000 in cash to spare their families from being targeted by his cartel. The amount later escalated to $250,000, because running an imaginary crime empire is expensive. But Bolton had apparently trained his militia a little too well, because they hit back. One member agreed to make the payoff, but just left a package filled with exploding purple dye, then filmed an SUV similar to Bolton's screeching away after collecting it. That member then went to the cops, evidently worried that the cartel would seek revenge.
The police, unconvinced that El Chapo had set his sights on Spokane, quickly zeroed in on Bolton. They even pulled him in for an interview, but found it hard to get him to stop bragging about being a martial arts special ops guy locked in mortal combat with America's enemies. But you can't arrest someone for telling a bunch of ridiculous lies about being a kung fu gumshoe, at least not until Congress finally funds our long-proposed Tinder gulags, so Bolton remained free.
Bolton used that freedom to throw another militia member down the stairs before attempting to suffocate him with a plastic bag. He then stopped the attack and claimed his wife had been kidnapped by the cartel, who were demanding $100,000. The other militiaman completely bought this, lied to the hospital, then began clearing out his life savings to give Bolton a check for $100,000, because it turns out that people who cosplay soldier in the woods to defend America from the encroaching horrors of baklava and hot yoga are kind of dumb. But he never got the chance to hand the money over, because Bolton was arrested in April 2019. The nefarious Don De Grande remains at large.
Scammers Are Using A Prophecy About Donald Trump To Sell Worthless Iraqi Money To American Conspiracy Nuts
Sterling Currency Group was an Atlanta-based scam that made 600 million real American dollars by selling Iraqi dinars, a nearly worthless currency primarily used to give Zimbabweans something to laugh about. They were able to pull this off because the currency is the subject of a conspiracy theory involving Donald Trump, a dead South African prophet, and a complete misunderstanding of basic economics. While it's unclear who concocted the idea, Sterling was responsible for paying large sums to "dinar gurus" to aggressively promote it online. They are far from the only people to do this.
The "Dinarians" believe that President Trump plans to revalue the dinar to its pre-Gulf-War value of over $3 U.S. (it's currently worth $0.0008), instantly transforming everyone with a stockpile into a millionaire. This will simultaneously solve the financial woes of both Iraq and the United States, which supposedly has a big warehouse full of dinars captured in the Iraq War. The idea is backed by the alleged deathbed visions of Afrikaner prophet Kim Clement. For some reason, no one ever has a mystic revelation about investing in some nice federal bonds.
This has created a bizarre subculture of conservative Americans who obsessively follow Iraqi politics, bombarding Iraqi officials and Trump with social media demands to "RV" the dinar at once. But that's not how money works, no matter how much you scream at Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Twitter. There's no button the president can hit that suddenly gives everyone in Iraq 10,000 times as much money. At that point, why even bother with currency? The government might as well hold a press conference to announce that rabbit feed is now worth $10 million a pellet and sit back while PetSmart buys Google.
But that didn't stop Sterling from making money by selling wheelbarrows of dinars to Qanon types. It also sparked some fascinating sub-crimes, like fraternity president Peter Schellenbach using $267,000 from the frat's accounts to buy dinars, under the assumption that everyone would forgive him once they became millionaires. They did neither. Although if they want to recoup their losses, Cracked's economics department predicts that the Vietnamese dong is also in line for a magical revaluing. Everyone get our cheap dong while you still can!
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