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Con Men And Crooks

<B><I>60 Minutes</B></I> Uncovers Scams And The Characters Who Come Up With Them

Over the years, 60 Minutes made a reputation for uncovering scams and the confidence men who come up with them.

From the con men we love, to the con men we love to hate, no one loves shining a spotlight on those characters more than Don Hewitt.

"There were so many of them," recalls Hewitt. "There was the great one with Steve [Kroft], when you caught the guy with odometers, and you had a hidden camera."

"If I remember correctly, somebody had written you a letter saying there's a guy down here rolling back odometers," recalls Correspondent Steve Kroft.

"And it turned out to be a classic story in part just because Bill Whitlow was such an interesting character. … We had the camera concealed behind a wall. I put on sunglasses and posed as a friend of theirs who might want to invest $100,000 in Whitlow's rollback operation."

"There's a TV camera back there. … We've been taping this whole thing," Kroft told Whitlow when he was caught on tape. "The good news is we're not the cops. ... The bad news is we're 60 Minutes."

Hewitt says the guy went to jail and blamed Kroft for getting caught: "He's out looking for you when he comes out."

"He's out. I'm not sure he's looking for me," says Kroft. "Somebody came to me and said, 'You know, we have to try and find that guy.' And I said, 'No. No. Leave him alone.'"

"No, leave him alone," says Hewitt. "We don't want to find him."

Correspondent Morley Safer remembered a guy named Kirby Hensley, who ran the Universal Life Church in California and was selling theology degrees. He was also a tax rebel.

"All you gotta do is call your garage or your house a church and you live tax-free," says Hewitt.

Safer: Your paper, Universal Life, does go make a great deal of the whole question of tax exemption. … A lot of the ads in here, I must say, are kind of dubious, slightly, you know, con man…

Hensley: Oh, I'm sure there's a lot of the con man. Sure. I'm just as sure as I'm sitting here that…

Safer: Odd sorts of therapy.

Hensley: Why sure, I'm a con man.

Correspondent Ed Bradley remembered Doc Blay-Miezah: "We called him the ultimate con man. … I knew he was a crook. I talked to people who had given him $2 million, got nothing in return. One guy had given him $7 million, got nothing in return."

When Bradley met him for an interview in London, he dressed in robes, had a golden staff and had his servant come out with a tray of Beefeaters gin. "And he takes the gin, and he spits, sprays the staff, sprays his man servant," recalls Bradley. "And he's swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

He denied, however, ever defrauding people, and told Bradley: "My word is better than my bond. When I promise you that if you give me $100,000, I'll give you $1 million, I will never, never, never never dishonor it. That's my word."

"Now, I know that this guy is a crook," says Bradley. "I've seen the evidence, but he was so good that when he finished, I wanted to join up."

Hewitt looks back at a second interview Bradley did with Muhammad Ali.

"I remember the day I went into his office and I said, 'Muhammad Ali, the most virile man on earth, is a shell. He can't even talk anymore. That's gotta be a story,'" says Hewitt. "He says to me, 'How am I gonna interview him if he can't talk. I said, 'Stupid, if he could talk, there wouldn't be a story. The story is he can't talk."

Bradley was able to make contact with Ali, who didn't say much, but in the end, he realized he was set up. "I mean, this went on for a period of two or three days where they told me that Muhammad, you know, sometimes he has problems sleeping."

Ali's wife, Loni, told Bradley that it happened after the Frazier fight in Manila. "He'll just start sleeping, but he'll have these flashbacks, and he'll have--it's like nightmares. And his face will twist up like he's boxing and he'll throw punches at people," said Loni Ali.

While she was telling her story, Ali scared Bradley. "And I just jumped. I mean, I jumped," recalls Bradley. "And he was so – he looked, 'Got you sucker.'"

Here's a tale of another hit man, Jimmy Fratiano. "You said, 'Let's do Fratiano,'" recalls Hewitt to Wallace. "I think if we were gonna go to lunch in an Italian restaurant."

Fratiano was in the witness protection program and 60 Minutes had to put him in disguise. "So we went someplace in a warehouse out on the Potomac River in Washington and we walk in. 'Frankie Nicoli is the first guy I killed. I'll be happy to talk to ya,'" recalls Wallace.

Fratiano told Wallace he strangled Nicoli in his living room.

Wallace: You smile when you think back about it?

Fratiano: Well, what are you going to do?

"I always remember being in Philadelphia, and a guy got up and he said, 'Why does someone who's quite obviously a crook decide to go on 60 Minutes,'" recalls Hewitt. "And Morley said, 'Crook doesn't believe he's made it as a crook until he's been on 60 Minutes'."