5 Weirdly Complex Pop Culture Frauds
"Fake it til you make it" is a credo a lot of people seem to go by these days. I tried it and failed miserably, but my goal was being a surgeon, so mileage may vary. It seems to work a lot more in entertainment, though, where people have been pulling off complex and deeply involved scams for ages. Just look at how ...
A Guy Faked A Band And A European Tour
Becoming a famous musician is super hard. You know what's way easier? Lying about it. Just look at any drunk dude at a party who loudly insists that his band opened for Post Malone a few years back, but that you can't Google it because the feds took down all evidence once he went into Witness Protection. Some people put a little more effort into this, though.
Jered Threatin does not have a band. He doesn't have hoards of fans or a booking agent or a record label, and he sure as shit did not sell tons of tickets for a European tour. That said, he did a great job of making it look like every single one of those things was true, at least for a little while.
Threatin, pretending to be the frontman of a band by the same name, apparently managed to dupe a series of small-scale clubs in Europe into believing his "band" was a huge act out of California. He faked concert footage on YouTube, splicing himself on stage into footage of crowds in clubs, with his own tracks laid over everything. He has 38,000 presumably fake fans on Facebook, who post about wanting to lick the sweat off of his body. He made up a fake concert promoter to assure all the venues that the shows had sold a shitload of tickets in advance.
All of this is an impressive enough ruse on its own, but Threatin then actually followed through on it. He showed up to his first concert gig in Europe, even though he hadn't sold any tickets and wasn't really in a band. No one showed up to that first show aside from guests of the opening act, which pissed off the venue, which had been told hundreds of tickets were sold. The same thing happened at the next show on the tour. Threatin's "band" was hired musicians working the gig for him. In his own music videos, he can be seen playing all the instruments. As far as anyone can tell, he's one guy pretending to be a band, a concert promoter, a record label, and an entire fanbase, all to live out a rock star fantasy.
Once the story broke, Threatin took to social media to explain that this was all a social experiment, and now everyone is talking about his band, so is it really fake? Then he presumably tented his fingers and continued to not play with a band in front of a crowd.
A Guy Ran A Fake Movie Scam ... Then Had To Throw Together A Real Movie To Cover For It
If you remember the great and powerful Uwe Boll, director of video game adaptations like Alone In The Dark and Bloodrayne, you probably remember the rumor that he was able to keep making movies that bombed because a German tax loophole. But credit where it's due, Boll always made the movies. The guys in this story didn't. Not at first. But they still wanted a movie tax scam, and that eventually led to them making a half-assed film to cover for it.
A guy claiming to be a producer convinced the British government he'd made a movie called a Landscape Of Lies with a budget of just under $20 million and some big-name British talent. There's a law in Britain that says that any movie made with mostly British talent under $20 million gets a cash rebate up to 25 percent. You can see where this is going. Making that movie might have been lucrative, sure, but merely pretending to make it gets you $5 million! Not too shabby, as fraud goes -- you just need to hope no one ever thinks to ask to see the finished product.
Someone asked to see the finished product. So while the producer was being investigated for fraud, he came up with a new idea: Actually make the movie, but for $100,000. And he did that. Or he hired a guy who didn't know any better to do it. After duping a screenwriter into taking over creative duties on the film, with a slim budget and barely any actors, the movie was made. And word is it isn't half bad. It even won the Silver Ace at the Las Vegas International Film Festival ... which the festival later took back, claiming that no it didn't.
The whole scam was far more involved than what I can do justice to here, featuring falsified documents for expenses on the big-budget movie that never was. They had receipts for travel, the script, and even consultations with professional actors like Richard Burton, who's been dead since 1984. Can you even imagine what he costs these days? When they realized they were being investigated for tax fraud, the scammers threw the "real movie" Hail Mary based on the hope that maybe the division of the British government that hands out money for making movies can't tell the difference between a $100,000 film and a $20 million one.
It didn't work. The producer got six and a half years in prison. But hey, at least he produced a real movie. Sometimes your dreams come true in unexpected ways, kids!
A Guy Seems To Have Gone To Great Lengths To Fake Video Game Scores
Gaming culture is serious business these days, so being known as the world's best Donkey Kong player can earn you some decent cash, if not large piles of sex. Some of you already know that back in 2007, we got the famous documentary film The King Of Kong, about one man's valiant effort to take the title of World's Greatest Donkey Konger away from another man. That other man was Billy Mitchell, presented in the film as a bit of a villainous type, but dammit if he wasn't good at what he did.
The first guy, Steve Wiebe, played an amazing high-score run before a live audience. His incredible score was 985,600! Is that high? Yes! It is! But then Mitchell, who didn't bother to attend, sent in a VHS tape of his own run in which he achieved a score of 1,047,200. Ahh, shit nuggets. He's the champ and his title holds up and he literally gets into the Guinness Book of World Records.
Now fast-forward to 2018, and Billy Mitchell's score has been booted out of any official accounting of Donkey Kong records. Not because it was beaten (though it was), but because it was utter bullshit. Mitchell was not the King of Kong, he was the King of Dong. Or Con. Con's a better joke. But he also sounds like he was being a bit of a dick, too.
Twin Galaxies, the organization that tracks video game world records, dropped Mitchell like a hot potato after people started investigating his record more closely. High scores recorded on video aren't supposed to be allowed, so this was already a shady play. But people began to pick through the video with a fine-toothed comb, literally frame by frame, and discovered irregularities. It gets a bit technical here, but in the split-second the levels loaded, it appears he was using an emulator -- software designed to look like the original but programmed later with newer technology. If so, that meant he hadn't played on a legit arcade machine, even though what he was playing on looked like one.
In other words, Mitchell appears to have gutted a real Donkey Kong arcade cabinet and installed an emulator inside of it in order to convince the world he was better at this ape-themed video game from 1981 than he actually was. He even had a judge on hand to verify his run, except that guy has also been implicated in the fraud and lost his own records after someone proved one of his record-breaking runs at another game is literally impossible with the software. It was an entire Kongspiracy!
An Author Turned Their Pseudonym Into An Entire New Person, Complete With Fake Public Appearances
It's a little-known fact that I've written two very real novels, including my latest about the ghosts of a clown and Harry Houdini saving the world from the Antichrist's brother that pretty much no one has ever read because I'm trying to find representation (hint hint). Meanwhile, a very not-real author called JT Leroy wrote three novels which it seems like everyone read. Is it possible I'm not as talented as a fake person? Seems very likely.
Jeremiah "Terminator" Leroy wrote the novels Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things in the 1990s, and people dug them. Lou Reed dug them. Remember Lou Reed? Dude was the source of cool for several well-documented years. Leroy's books -- semi-autobiographical tales of poverty, drug use, and abuse -- struck a chord with people and became cult phenomena. Asia Argento directed a film adaptation of the second book, and Leroy was schmoozing with people like Marilyn Manson and earning praise from Tom Waits and John Waters. Leroy was smooth as a silky ass made of butter. He was also a woman named Laura Albert.
Albert used "JT Leroy" as her author pseudonym, which is a thing many writers do and is usually OK. Except she took it a step further. Her sister-in-law made public appearances in disguise as "Leroy" when people started questioning the author's existence. It turned out that Leroy was the product of Albert's therapy sessions, in which she was encouraged to write to express herself. When she got famous, she made herself a member of JT's entourage, going everywhere with her disguised sister-in-law and using a fake cockney accent. Which sounds a hell of a lot like how Queen Amidala conducted business in The Phantom Menace.
Where Leroy/Albert crossed the line from pen name to utter fraud seems to be somewhere around the backstage passes to U2 concerts, the special request Peruvian bananas, and the autobiographical story of a boy that a woman from New York never actually was. She'd previously had a habit of calling emergency hotlines set up for children in dangerous and abusive situations, pretending to be this abused boy she'd invented.
After the press investigated Leroy and discovered he wasn't a real person, the whole thing fell apart. Albert doesn't consider any of what she did to be a hoax, just part of the whole construction of a story. Which is exactly what someone who got called out for hoaxing an entire life story would probably say.
Police Created A Fake Recording Studio For A Sting Operation
If you want to find out who on the streets has drugs, guns, and military-grade explosives, what's the perfect cover story? Mobster? Cartel boss? Head of a recording studio? Yeah, it's the last one. That's why D.C. police set up Manic Enterprises to catch criminals.
Over the course of 2011, Washington, D.C. police and the ATF posed as a recording studio and managed to rope in more criminals than you'd think. By the end of the year, they had 70 arrests, $7 million in confiscated drugs, and 161 illegal guns seized. The face of the studio was Richie "Not His Real Name" Valdez, who of course wasn't really a promoter or producer, but still liked to buy lots of guns and drugs from criminals because he ... maybe needed them to make cool videos? If anyone asked why, they were obviously satisfied with the answers, as they kept coming back.
And note that this operation didn't just exist on paper. Manic Enterprises had a real location which the police built to look like a recording studio. "Executives" there were undercover for the whole year, and they bought the astounding amount of meth, PCP, and guns it requires to record modern music (real acts kept showing up wanting to record there, and they had to turn them away). It was going so well that eventually suppliers were offering to sell the undercover agents things like hand grenades and rocket launchers. The whole deal only came to an end when an officer overheard on a bugged phone that people were planning to rob the studio because clearly, it was full of drugs, guns, and cash.
The sting was wrapped up quickly and many arrests were made, probably weeks before they'd have been forced to put out a fake album with a bunch of cops trying to rap.
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