A Cautionary Tale: The Story Behind My Twitter Rant

** Editors Note: I asked Rick if he would publish this story here. The reason being, I was a victim of one of this woman’s scams. In the story you’ll see a reference to a political consulting firm. That’s me and another friend – a real friend. The con artist used to be affiliated with this site, but no longer. – Jay Caruso **

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This is a cautionary social media tale and the story of a long con, executed over months and years.  It was a con pulled on a network of smart, capable people with good hearts, with us at its center. I’ll let you look up this con artist’s name if you want to know it.  By now, if you’re following this story, you’ll already know it or could find her with a Google search.

She was active in Florida politics and conservative Twitter. She would impress anyone as intelligent, kind, funny, always brimming with good humor and hot gossip. We considered her a close family friend. She’d been a houseguest many times.

She came to my grandmother’s funeral.

She boasted of her friendships, online and off, with notable figures like Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and PGA golfer Paul Azinger. She took lovely photographs of our of kids, our dogs and our parties.

About two years ago, this dear family friend asked my wife Molly for money. She came to her, humble, nervous, upset and remorseful.  She was embarrassed to ask.  She was mortified I’d find out.  She had a tale of financial hardship that was believable, and told in a painful, heart-wrenching way. My wife loaned her the money from her own accounts. This was the sort of thing a friend does for a friend in dire need.

Then, as the tales of terrible health crises and financial setbacks grew, more money was lent. It became vaguely uncomfortable, knowing that our dear, poor, broke friend was still somehow affording things like season tickets to baseball games and high-end camera equiment.  Even for smart people, hindsight is perfectly clear.

I’ve learned a lot about sociopaths and con artists in researching this matter.  I’ve learned that short cons work on dumb people, but long cons work on smart people.  I learned that one of the strongest weapons in the con artist’s arsenal is the silence of their victims. People are embarrassed to say they’ve been cheated. They don’t want their friends or spouse to look at them as dumb or gullible. They sometimes feel complicit in something illegal. They fear the con artist will reveal secrets. That’s why I’m telling this story.

After some time, Molly asked to be repaid. She asked her friend to make a good-faith effort, and was promised one. Molly continued their friendship; supporting her, comforting her, talking or texting almost every day. When her “friend” would put her off, and never attempt to repay, or even discuss the subject, Molly stopped asking, feeling she’d made an error in judgment by loaning a friend more than could possibly be repaid.

Then the rumors started.

First, a trickle. By late last year, a flood.  I’m not even going to address the multiple terrible, utterly false things she told our friends about me, about Molly, and about our family and our business. Inevitably, people told us what she’d told them, and it was both lurid and revolting.  Many of them stood by us, telling the con artist what she was saying to them was absurd. Some though, we lost touch with for reasons we couldn’t discern.

As we started to peel back the scams, we have had long conversations with friends deeply relieved to unburden themselves of her poison. They tried not to believe her stories about us, but she was persistent, convincing and relentless at spreading her version of reality.  Politics is full of rumors and gossip, and as a couple, we’re used to it..  The stories she spread were so far out of bounds that we didn’t believe the first sources, but as the second, third, and tenth sources told us what she was saying, we were first stunned, then furious.  Molly revealed to me that she had been directly warned off of lending money to this person by a third party at the time, but her “friend” convinced her that the source wasn’t credible, and was in fact trying to manipulate her.

As a frequent guest in our home, she spun a great story, just like her sob-stories about money and medical crises; detailed, believable, and dramatic. We finally understood their purpose; these were lies told to our friends to stop them from being in contact with us as she worked them for money.  It was smart.  Tell an outrageous lie about why she can’t ask Rick and Molly for money, then plead for help from others.

That was our real value  to her — our network.

For a con artist, our network looks like a raw meat buffet for a timber wolf.  We’re fortunate. We entertain frequently. Our home is large;  the scene of meetings, parties, skeet shooting, big dinners on the porch. We have a wide, diverse social circle spanning politics, media, lobbyists and attorneys, hunting friends, horse and dog-sports friends. Some in high office, some not. Some young, some established.  Some wealthy, some not.  We jokingly call it “Team Wilson.”

Ironically, she was using her connections to us to open doors for herself at the same time she was working to destroy our reputations and bilking us of money. She inserted herself into the lives of our friends, first through social media and then by direct contact, often using our friendship and credibility as a calling card. When the thread started to unravel, we discovered she borrowed money from many people, usually in sums not as large as what she took from us (though in one case, more). It was remorseless, and constant. She took money from people barely making ends meet. She adjusted her lies to the mark, as a good con artist will do.  The woman who told us countless times she was infertile told one online mark she needed a $50 gift card to feed her children.

There are always clues even the most insightful people miss. She possessed an endless store of juicy gossip (often of a very racy nature) about seemingly everyone she met.  She also had a particular obsession with collecting and sharing screenshots of direct messages, texts, emails, and NSFW photos. She was constantly pulling up screen captures on her phone of conversations with friends to prove some lurid gossip item was true. It was an off-note, and she seemed to have thousands of these private conversations saved. Some of them seemed too improbable to be true, and in retrospect, given her uncanny skill with Photoshop, they may have been. (As for the NSFW photos, her “alternative” Twitter account was discovered only recently, and before she deleted it, we observed that it was chock full of porn at great variance with the conservative nice-girl image she projected to us and others.)

While the con artist was working on a Congressional race, another friend on that campaign called me to say the campaign’s credit card number was used, among other things, to charge hotel rooms in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign was in a state almost 1500 miles from Alabama. When this broke, the con artist called me, tearfully claiming to be the victim of a power struggle with the person who complained to me, and asserting that this was all just a terrible misunderstanding. At the time, I defended her.  She promised to repay the campaign, and eventually did, apparently with the money she conned from Molly.  What the con artist was doing in Birmingham has  since been made explicitly clear to us, but that’s not our story to tell.

More recently, she formed a consulting firm with two other people, who opened a business checking account with a minimum deposit.  She busted out that account soon after, writing bad checks that left the account severely overdrawn.  Her marks (“partners” is con-speak for “victims”) were left with handfuls of angry notices from the bank and emails full of excuses from the con artist, blaming it all on an error by the online payment system Square. Naturally.

Other times she claimed a major national organization hadn’t paid her for work.  She claimed various campaigns and consultants owed her large sums of money.  She claimed to several marks she was just days away from receiving a large settlement in a lawsuit.  Always, she claimed to be the victim of infighting and power plays.  Each time, there was villain or a conspiracy against her designed to crush and destroy her. And there still is. Behind her “apology” on Twitter is a less-than-contrite effort to identify and enlist allies to retaliate against us for outing her.

These are only a handful of stories of people conned, burned, ripped-off, and slandered by this woman. As my rant launched last week, my emails and DMs started pinging.  People she’d tried to hit up for money. People she worked over with the same kind of sob story she used on Molly.  Some hits, some near misses. Some said no, many said yes.  When the whole thing peaked and she confessed on Twitter, she was working other people at that moment, casting herself as the victim of (wait for it) an evil conspiracy. Sociopaths don’t change.

They don’t feel regret.  They’re not burdened by guilt. They keep conning, even as the law is at the door.

That’s why I’m telling this story; silence and private anger amount to complicity.  

I don’t want more of our friends (and for that matter, complete strangers) to get taken by her. At this point, I don’t care what she does or says.  I expect nothing will ever come of her bogus promissory notes and empty vows to “make us whole.”  I’m giving you our story; raw and open and embarrassing because con artists depend on silence to continue their schemes. It’s not because we want revenge on her, and not because it will make us feel any better for having let a viper into our home and our circle of friends. It doesn’t make us feel vindicated that we finally pieced together her lies and her games years after she infected our circle. It doesn’t make me feel smart that my oppo guys found her criminal record in minutes with minimal Googling.

She tried to destroy our reputations after taking us for a good piece of change. We’re not angry about the amount.

This is about the betrayal, the con, the scam.

She can never repay what she tried to do to our reputations. She failed in that, because character matters. We have it. She doesn’t. Molly is a generous, kind, and open-hearted person and was willing to write off the debt.  She sensed it couldn’t be repaid, but felt, in those months before the betrayal and smears started, that the friendship was more important than the money.  She had to face the horrible reality that she had been used by a person who had not only never returned the friendship she had freely given, but set out to destroy her family in the process.

Here’s the upside of this story.  After today, we’re still us, and she’s still a con artist.  She’s still the same grubby little grifter who oiled her way into our lives and the lives of our friends.  When this is over, she’ll still have an arrest record. She’ll still have a reputation for fraud and dishonesty.  She’ll still be a miserable sociopath, and Team Wilson will still be Team Wilson; awesome on every axis. She can’t scam her way into it again.  She’ll never run a big con again without knowing we’re watching her. She’ll live the rest of her squalid life knowing she’s one Google search away from exposure.

More importantly, what she won’t have is a group of the kind of friends we’re honored to have around us. She knows them. She tried to divide us from them, but only built a stronger bond. They’re people who will stand up for you when you’re down. People who will lift you when you fall. People who repay kindness and friendship with kindness and friendship, not exploitation and evil. People with whom you can share a meal, a problem, or a story over our big, loud dinner table, and who comprise our huge, wonderful extended family.

You’re not Team Wilson any more, con artist.