A Brief History
On December 13, 1294, Pope Celestine V, also known as Saint Celestine, resigned from the office of Pope of the Roman Catholic Church after only five months as pope. An ineffective and incompetent pope, Celestine pulled stunts such as appointing several people to the same high position and acting as a puppet for King Charles II of Naples. The successor to Celestine as Pope, Boniface VIII, imprisoned Celestine and overturned the various decrees Celestine managed to publish. One of these decrees was the right of a Pope to abdicate, the right under which Celestine quit. Obviously, both men could not possibly have been righteous, so at least one of them was something of a fraud. Allegations that Boniface had actually abused and executed Celestine have not been corroborated by historical evidence. Celestine was later made a saint, which if he deserved such status, must certainly brand Boniface as something less than the holy head of the Church and pipeline to God. So many Popes and Anti-Popes have been revealed as criminals and phonies through the years the list would be too long for this website.
So called holy men and those professing supernatural powers have often been exposed as frauds throughout history, and here we list 10 such creeps. Some are convicted of fraud, others have only been informally exposed. Some may not be frauds at all and we are being fed lies to believe they are. Who knows? There is no significance to the order in which they appear.
10. Miss Cleo, psychic and shaman.
Actually Youree Dell Harris, an American woman born in 1962, this charlatan pretended to be a Jamaican fortune teller on television commercials for her pay per call telephone service. Obviously, she was ripping off gullible customers from 1997-2003, and prior to that had worked other scams under various names and absconded owing money. She escaped indictment by having her promoters settle with the Federal Trade Commission over deceptive advertising, billing, and collection. Ever the hustler, Harris has done TV ads under her Miss Cleo persona to sell cars and has made a documentary in 2014.
9. L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.
Actually Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, this science fiction writer turned religion/cult founder is presumably somewhere up in space in one of his many existences experiencing clarity. A mediocre science fiction writer, it seems much of his life was failure and lies, with a blatantly phony military record presented as part of his churches propaganda. His cult like church (where of course members are required to be totally obedient and turn over their wealth) is actually still considered a religion in the US, but has lost that status in some other countries due to overt fraud. Considered “mentally ill” by the FBI, Hubbard spent his late couple decades dodging authorities over various shady schemes. In 1979 several church officials were convicted of stealing US government information, the largest such case in US history. In France, other church officials have been convicted of manslaughter, tampering with witnesses, and fraud, and in Canada some officials have been in trouble for libel and espionage. A staggering amount of information is available about the shady nature of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, far to much for detail here. You will quickly and easily find sources on the internet and can make up your own mind about the man and his creation.
8. James Hydrick, psychic.
A stage performer and career criminal (including kidnap, torture, escape x 3, burglary and assault), Hydrick had an act where he seemed to be able to move objects only with his brain power (telekinesis), and other cheap magician type tricks. He was debunked on national television on That’s Incredible and also on What’s My Line. He later confessed to being a fraud. This phony was arrested on an outstanding warrant in 1989 when cops saw him on the Sally Jessie Raphael Show on television. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison for child molesting. After serving his prison time, he was sent to a mental hospital and has failed to trick them into releasing him.
7. John Edward, medium.
The star of television shows for idiots (Crossing Over With John Edward and John Edward Cross Country), this guy was parodied on the cartoon South Park to illustrate how ridiculous his act is, calling that episode “The Biggest Douche in the Universe”. His act is easily repeated by anyone familiar with manipulating suggestible audiences, and no evidence exists that he has any true psychic abilities. His real name is John Edward McGee, Jr.
6. Joseph Smith, founder of Church of Latter Day Saints.
Convicted of fraud in 1826, Smith was an enterprising treasure hunter that sold his services to help people find hidden riches. Apparently they did not find them, and Smith was convicted in court. As far as whether or not the whole Book of Mormon and the founding of the Mormon Church is another scam, we cannot as easily say and it is best left up to the reader to determine for himself/herself. Of course, the circumstances where Smith allegedly found gold tablets (that no one else ever saw) that he translated into The Book of Mormon are a little suspicious. The man he translated the secret text to had a skeptical wife that advised him to tell Smith the transcripts had been accidentally burned up, and if the second interpretation varied, the scribe and his wife would be aware that Smith was playing a trick. Of course, the second transcript varied, but though “caught,” Smith explained it with some kind of excuse that apparently the scribe bought into. This sequence was heartily made fun of in the episode of the television cartoon, South Park, aptly titled “All About The Mormons”. Obviously, the Latter Day Saints have an official response to this stuff, so feel free to consult their website or discuss this with a church official before you come to any conclusions.
5. Uri Geller, psychic.
Telekinesis, Psychokinesis, psychic and television magician, this guy made a living largely by seeming to bend spoons with only his mind. Despite being called out as a phony and refusing to work with spoons not provided by himself (clue right there, eh?) he continues to make a living faking people out. Oh, and he got his “abilities” from extra-terrestrials (aka, aliens). In 1996 hidden cameras were used to catch Geller in the act of bending spoons by hand when he thought no one could see. Geller has continuously defended himself against skeptics and critics such as the magician Randi and Gerard Majax.
4. Peter Popoff, faith healer and televangelist.
This crook used a secret ear phone where his wife could feed him information about suckers (faithful people that came to be healed) that made it appear he magically knew so much about the subjects. The Trinity Foundation described him as “fundamentally evil, because he knows he‘s a con man.” This phony technique of “healing” before a live and television audience was parodied in the 1989 film, Fletch Lives with Chevy Chase as an investigative reporter and R. Lee Ermey as the fake healer preacher, and the 1992 film, Leap of Faith with Steve Martin. Once again, James Randi, the magician, debunked this fake as he did so many others. Sadly, by 1998 this jerk was at it again, this time targeting an African-American audience that apparently was unfamiliar with him being exposed a decade prior.
3. Sylvia Browne, author, medium, psychic.
How this goof managed to stay on television and in the spot light so long is truly a miracle, because so many of her predictions were proven wrong. Her “ability” to help locate missing people was way off as well, but none of this stopped her company from making about $3 million a year from telephone “readings,” books, and television appearances. Once again, James Randi debunked this phony, and in 1992 she finally got indicted and convicted of fraud and grand larceny, for which she got a sentence of one year probation, perhaps her greatest trick of all. If records were kept of wrong predictions and readings, this lady would definitely be in the running.
2. Earnest Angley, Televangelist.
This TV preacher is known for his phony “healing” of people with various serious afflictions, and went too far when he claimed he had been curing AIDS. The Advertising Standards of South Africa found his claims fraudulent and would not allow his ads to run in newspapers. Also, the preacher of clean living and family values has been outed by his own followers for encouraging abortions and leading an organization rife with sexual abuse that he is accused of personally covering up. Claiming not to be homosexual despite long rumored claims that he is indeed gay, Angley has no children and is known for allegedly examining the genitalia of male followers. (No criminal or civil charges have been filed.) Honorable mention to Jimmy Swaggart.
1. Jim Bakker, televangelist.
This con artist reaped millions from his “ministry” (called PTL) as a television preacher, which was basically one big fund raising event. His hideous wife Tammy Faye Bakker (now Messner) with her caked on make up was part of the act. Bakker went to prison in 1989, convicted of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy, being sentenced to 45 years in jail. The convictions were upheld on appeal, but he won a re-sentencing to only 8 years in jail. Fellow TV preacher Jerry Falwell called Bakker “a liar, embezzler, and sexual deviant.” Did we mention he also was having an affair that he tried to cover up by bribing the young lady with church money? On top of that, the woman accused him of rape. Bakker is allegedly still paying off a $6 million tax bill to IRS, and not surprisingly is back in the preaching and begging for money business. Tammy Faye divorced her convicted husband and married a guy that was later accused of stealing over $5 million from PTL through fraudulent construction bills and was sentenced to 27 months in jail for bankruptcy fraud. Honorable mention to Tammy Faye Bakker/Messner who somehow stayed out of jail.
Question for students (and subscribers): Has someone ever tried to scam you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Asimov, Isaac and James Randi. Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. Prometheus, 1982.
Clarke, Arthur C. and James Randi. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. St Martins Press, 1995.
Cornell, Keith, Christopher Poole, David Wechter, et al., dirs. Penn & Teller – Bullsh*t! – The First Season. Showtime Entertainment, 2004. DVD.
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