Special: Crooks and Con Men

The Best Moments And Most Unforgettable Characters

When someone once asked Morley Safer why so many crooks and con men are willing to come on 60 Minutes , he said, “A crook doesn't believe he's made it as a crook until he's been on 60 Minutes.”
Here are some examples of crooks who made it big on 60 Minutes.


Ernest Sinclair is head of California Pacifica University, where anyone could buy a degree for $2,150 - a diploma mill with a brochure as impressive as any in the Ivy League.

There’s a picture of the California Pacifica University campus, but the school is actually in a much smaller building, above a wig shop. The brochure also highlights an impressive looking display of faculty members. But Sinclair can’t locate any of them any more.

Mario Ugarte, the dean of the college of education, is no longer here. Administrative assistant Rosalba Riano is, according to Sinclair, “alive and well in New York in the garment district.”

And is Terrel Harvey, still dean of the college of law? “I could probably say yes, and I could probably say no," says Sinclair.


Wallace has never met a diploma he didn't like. And sometimes, it's on the wall of a bogus health clinic.

Take, for instance, R. J. Rudd, who says he has a Ph.D. in economics and philosophy from Tennessee University and Christian Tennessee University. “Then I got one from Florida - Tennessee - let's see. Trinity Christian College in Florida,” adds Rudd, which he says is located in Fort Lauderdale.

Rudd told Wallace that Trinity Christian College was located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But Wallace noticed that the diploma was signed and sealed in Brownsville, Texas, back in 1973.

“OK,” admits Rudd. “That was a branch of that operation, you see."


Then, there's Christopher Rocancourt, who made a life’s work conning millions from the rich and famous from Hollywood to the Hamptons, sometimes passing himself off as a Rockefeller.

But even he had trouble believing he got away with it, especially with a French accent so thick he needs English subtitles. Steve Kroft met with Rocancourt in a Canadian jail.

"Right now I say to you, 'My name is Christopher Rockefeller,'” Rocancourt tells Kroft. “You will believe it. No, you will not. You will laugh.”

But that’s not the only name Rocancourt has used. He’s also been known as Prince Galitzine Christo, Christopher De Laurentis, Christopher de Laurenta, Fabien Ortuno and Christopher Reyes.

“I think it's great to change your name,” says Rocancourt.


In some cases, however, even being behind bars doesn't stop a true con artist like Danny Faries. Faries was a convicted murderer who ran a credit card scam out of his Miami jail cell. But he told Mike Wallace he'd quit running his frauds since moving to state prison.

Mike Wallace: You don't do it anymore. That's what you just told me, Danny.

Danny Fairies: I know. I know. Well, you know, here's what I've got...

Mike Wallace: But somehow you're in touch with a lady in Fort Lauderdale, renting an apartment which is going to be a drop site where you are ordering or she is ordering or somebody is ordering camcorders and things like this. I mean, you're a crook. And a murderer.

Danny Fairies: That's what they say. Doggone, I wish they didn't say that, though."


But when it comes to scammers, Ed Bradley found a doozey in Dr. John Acka Blay-Miezah. No one was bigger - literally or financially. Blay-Miezah humbly billed himself as the richest man in the world, the sole beneficiary of the Oman Ghana fund, a $27 billion dollar trust.

Trouble was, he said, he needed other people's money to free up the funds, and promised them ten dollars for every dollar they gave him.

By the time Bradley came to call on Blay-Miezah, he was living in luxury in London, thanks to the gullibility and greed of his American investors whom he'd bilked out of more than $200 million dollars.

"Before he agreed to sit on his tribal throne with his scepter and talk with us, Blay-Miezah said he had to carry out an old tribal custom: To vow to speak the truth - the whole truth - and nothing but the truth," says Bradley.

But he didn't tell the truth.


Nor did Sante and Kenneth Kimes. They were a mother-and-son team of grifters, professional con artists, who stopped at nothing, including murder. Steve Kroft interviewed them as they awaited trial for the murder of Irene Silverman, a wealthy New York widow. It was one of the most bizarre interviews we've ever broadcast, constantly interrupted by the Kimes' battery of lawyers.

Steve Kroft: I mean, we saw your college transcript, and I see you got an A in acting.

Kenneth Kimes: Oh...

Matthew Weissman, Kimes’ lawyer: Stop, stop! Come on! That's not a fair question, acting. You're to stop.

Steve Kroft: I didn't even finish the question.


Deception isn't just confined to the characters that 60 Minutes has had to deal with. There have been times when they've been a little deceptive ourselves.

Take Lesley Stahl, complete with a black wig, when she learned of a thriving black market business in Eastern Europe, selling babies for adoption. She went to Romania to negotiate a purchase.

"All you have to do is mill around the hotel lobbies in Bucharest, and it won't be long before a baby broker finds you,” says Stahl.


Steve Kroft didn't need a wig, just a pair of sunglasses, when he passed himself off as a possible investor in a scam run by Bill Whitlow, who made $50,000 a month tax-free rolling back the mileage on used cars.

Steve Kroft:This is not exactly legal, right? What's the downside? I want to know what the downside is.

Bill Whitlow:It's not exactly legal. No.

Steve Kroft:I want to show you one thing.

Bill Whitlow: All right.

Kroft then showed Whitlow a TV camera in the back of the room, which had been taping the entire conversation. “The good news is we’re not the cops,” says Kroft. “The bad news is we’re 60 Minutes ."

Three years later, 60 Minutes caught up with Whitlow. He was already serving two years into a six-year prison sentence. And he'd lost that jolly demeanor.

"I think you could scrape the bottom of hell with a fine tooth comb and never come up with a man like Steve Kroft," says Whitlow.


As for some of our other con men, Danny Faries remains in prison in Florida. Sante and Kenneth Kimes were found guilty and sentenced respectively to 120 and 125 years in prison. John Acka Blay-Miezah died in 1992. His investors are still waiting for their millions from the Oman Ghana Fund.

As for Andy Rooney, he's been keeping his eye on one scam for more than 15 years, the incredible shrinking one-pound can of coffee. Here’s a transcript of that 1988 broadcast.

Andy Rooney: Chock Full O'Nuts has not only reduced the amount of coffee in the can, but they've also reduced the size of the print telling you how much there is in it. Net weight 16 ounces, one pound; net weight 13 ounces.

Here's the newest update. A one-pound can of Chock Full O'Nuts isn't even as chock-full as it was then, just 11 ounces now. The only one-pound can we found that still has 16 ounces in it may be the best coffee, too: Brown Gold.

There are 17 cans here. They hold a total of 13-1/2 pounds of coffee. Doesn't that seem like cheating? I don't really have any right to complain. The actual content of 60 Minutes is now less than 42 minutes.
  • Rebecca Leung

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