Throwback Thursday: Real-life con artists and their stories of duplicity

Bizarre, Crime, Money, NakedLaw

If you thought fraud, corruption and con artists lived only on Wall Street, think again. They’ve infiltrated every aspect of our society, from Hollywood to hospitals to the hallowed halls of some of the country’s finest universities. Here, a roundup of some truly dubious characters and their stories of deceit.



Ferdinand Waldo Demara. Demara wore many hats, assuming the identity of a Benedictine monk, a cancer researcher and a prison warden, and earning him the well-deserved name “the Great Imposter.” But he is perhaps best known for his impersonation of a surgical doctor on a Canadian naval destroyer during the Korean War.

When injured soldiers were brought aboard, Demara — with no medical training — was required to spring into action. He purportedly told staff to prep the soldiers for surgery while he dodged in a back room and read medical textbooks.

While it’s not clear how the soldiers under his care fared, it is known that none of them died, probably thanks to the medical miracle of penicillin. In explaining his penchant for trying on different professions, Demara reportedly said it was due to “rascality, pure rascality.” 

Oneal Ron Morris. Oneal gained a lot of press in 2011 when she falsely presented herself as a plastic surgeon and injected cement, mineral oil and flat-tire sealant into the buttocks of a “patient” who paid $700 for the procedure to make her bottom curvier. Another patient died in 2012 from similar treatments, and Oneal was arrested, charged with manslaughter and sentenced to one year in prison. 



Milli Vanilli. It’s no crime being a talentless pop star, but you might catch the ire of the public if you get caught on camera lip-synching to a song you never actually recorded. Models and dancers Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus were the face — and not much more — of Milli Vanilli.

No doubt whoever sang on their album was talented — the duo won a Grammy in 1990 for best new artist. But the lie was revealed when the two, performing live at a concert aired by MTV, panicked when the recording they were lip-synching to skipped. Finally outed by the media and the real singers, their Grammy was withdrawn in late 1990. 



James Hogue. In 1988, Hogue enrolled at Princeton University, claiming to be a self-educated orphan from Utah. He managed to keep the ruse going for three years, becoming a member of the track team and Ivy Club.

He was outed in 1991 by someone he went to high school with. He was arrested on fraud charges — the university had given him $30,000 in financial aid — and sentenced to three years in prison in addition to five years probation and 100 hours of community service.

It seems Hogue really had a thing for elite colleges, and upon his release he was hired as a security guard at a Harvard University art museum. He was later arrested for stealing gems from a museum exhibit and replacing them with fakes. 



Paul Crouch. Sometimes, it’s a lot easier to preach about resisting temptation than to actually do it yourself. One of the flock who really went astray was Paul Crouch, founder of the wildly popular and lucrative Trinity Broadcasting Network, the country’s most successful Christian network.

Crouch died in 2013, but he’s left a legacy of deceit and corruption. A granddaughter who was in charge of TBN’s finances provided detailed information to The New York Times about financial improprieties and misappropriations. Although the company was listed as a non-profit, the granddaughter alleged that donations, which reached $93 million in 2010, went to pay for lavish homes, corporate jets and dinners totaling over $1,000.

What’s more, said the granddaughter and others within in the company, many staff were ordained as ministers, thereby allowing TBN to forego paying Social Security taxes on their salaries. Lord help us.