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10 Of The Most Disturbing Deceptions

by Caroline Coupe
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Some of us would never go beyond a white lie, but for many, deception’s a fact of life, an easy way to get what they want through fraud or theft. And some go above and beyond, playing on human vulnerability and emotion to commit horrifying deceptions. They leave victims and those who hear the tale shaking their heads and wondering how people can be so cruel.

10Thomas Parkin


Photo credit: DMV

This 49-year-old New York man didn’t let his mother’s death stop him from collecting her benefits for six years.

Thomas Parkin’s mother Irene died in 2003. He provided the funeral director with the wrong Social Security number and date of birth, so her death wasn’t properly registered, and Parkin went on to collect $115,000 in benefits and rent subsidies. But Parkin didn’t simply forge paperwork to carry out his deception. He dressed up as his deceased 77-year-old mother.

Disguised in a blonde wig, heavy makeup, and nail polish, he cashed government checks and even renewed her driver’s license at the DMV. He was accompanied by friend Mhilton Rimolo, who called himself Mrs. Prusik’s nephew.

The scheme came to light when Parkin became the subject of a mortgage fraud investigation. Parkin met with investigators from the District Attorney’s office twice, once as himself and once as his deceased mother. Unlike so many agencies before, the DA wasn’t fooled and discovered the forged death certificate, along with the many frauds Parkin had committed.

Thomas Parkin was charged with 47 counts, including grand larceny, forgery, and criminal impersonation. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. As he was arrested, Parkin told officers, “I held my mother when she was dying and breathed in her last breath, so I am my mother.”

9Aurora Berrara


In 2012, the assistant manager of a Bank of America branch in Los Angeles frantically called 911 to report that two men had broken into her garage and had strapped explosives to her at gunpoint. Aurora Berrara said that they’d told her to rob her own bank and hand the money off to them, or they would detonate the device. Entering the closed bank, she’d enlisted the help of the only other employee present and emptied the vault, passing the money out a side door to a waiting vehicle.

On examining the device attached to Berrara, however, the bomb squad determined that it was a flashlight wrapped in duct tape. It contained no explosives.

Police investigating the robbery reviewed the crime scene and surveillance footage. Barrera was seen on camera repeatedly fiddling with the supposedly deadly device taped under her shirt, and she loaded all the larger bills into the bags first, leaving behind all the singles. Not only that, but the other employee had run to the window and caught a glimpse of the getaway car’s license plate. It belonged to the father of Barrera’s then-boyfriend, Ray Vega.

Aurora Berrara was sentenced to nine years in prison, while mastermind Vega received 14 years, and the getaway drivers each got five years’ probation. Most of the half a million dollars stolen from her employer was never recovered.

8Guerdwich Montimere


Jerry Joseph was a 16-year-old high school basketball player living in Texas, an orphan from Haiti who had fled to the United States—or so he’d claimed. But Jerry Joseph didn’t exist. The man’s name was Guerdwich Montimere, and he was 22 years old. He stood 195 centimeters (6’5″) and had no trace of a Haitian accent. He even stayed in his coach’s home, and yet no one had suspected that “Jerry” was anything other than what he claimed to be.

Montimere actually was born in Haiti, but he’d immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of five and was a naturalized citizen. He was from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and had previously played basketball for Dillard High School.

Guerdwich Montimere created false government documents and committed fraud by accepting free lunches and other services due to his supposed orphan status. He also had sex with a 15-year-old girl, who’d thought that he was the same age.

The deception was uncovered when coaches from Fort Lauderdale recognized him at a basketball tournament in Arkansas. When first confronted by school officials, Guerdwich Montimere still insisted that he was Jerry Joseph, denying that the photos of Montimere looked like him. He even attempted to sign the name “Jerry Joseph” to court documents, until he was forced to admit his true identity (which had already been proven through fingerprint analysis) to accept a plea deal.

Guerdwich Montimere was released from prison in 2013 after serving two years of a three-year sentence. As part of his plea, he will remain registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

7Jessica Vega


Photo credit: Mandon Productions

A 25-year-old woman faked having terminal cancer to keep her relationship from ending, deceiving not only her partner but their entire community.

Jessica Vega faked a doctor’s letter containing the diagnosis, shaved her head, and pretended to attend chemotherapy sessions. When news spread about Vega’s supposed condition, her community came together to throw a dream wedding for her and fiance, Michael O’Connell, donating a dress, flowers, wedding bands, and even a honeymoon to Aruba. She kept up the charade at the wedding, wearing a wig and referring to her impending death during the vows. She raised some eyebrows at the reception, however, with her energetic dancing and partying.

Encouraged by his friends, O’Connell did some investigating into his wife’s condition and discovered the deception. He immediately ended the marriage, and Jessica Vega was charged with seven counts of fraud. She spent two months in jail and was ordered to pay back $13,000 to those who had donated to her plight, including some whose relatives had truly suffered from cancer.

And yet the man she’d deceived into marrying her forgave her. They are now back together.

6Lewis Howell

Back in 1988, a shocking discovery was made at the Morning Glory Chapel funeral home in Florida. Inspectors arriving unannounced due to previous issues with sanitation at the mortuary discovered scores of unburied bodies. Owner Lewis Howell had been accepting government money for burying or cremating those with little means, without following through.

Forty-four bodies were found inside the building, along with the cremated remains of 26 others. Two bodies were found in a hearse parked outside, untreated and decomposing, wrapped in bed sheets and plastic. More bodies were later found in a closet. One had been in the funeral home for as long as 10 years. Exhumations found multiple bodies in a single casket.

It’s thought that Howell, then 53, had fallen behind due a staff shortage—his only two employees were both elderly—and non-payment for services by those who couldn’t afford it. He had previously been cited for sanitation violations and operating with a lapsed license.

Howell had committed theft by accepting $27,000 from the city for services that were not performed. His deception had also caused additional suffering for the people whose family members had died and were discarded without a proper burial.

Howell was stripped of his mortuary license and later worked as a janitor and a pizza delivery driver.

5Nicholas Francisco


Photo credit: Christine Carter

Nicholas and Christine Francisco seemed like the perfect couple. College sweethearts, they had married and had two adorable children, with another on the way. The morning of February 13, 2008, Nicholas Francisco kissed his wife goodbye and promised to bake Valentine’s Day cookies with the kids after work. He never came home.

Christine called 911, and the next day, Francisco’s family, friends, and coworkers organized a massive search. Donations flooded in, and Francisco’s disappearance was featured on America’s Most Wanted. Two psychics declared that Francisco was dead, and his wife was interrogated, with suggestions made that she had murdered her husband or was scamming the public for donation money. But when police delved further into the family man’s life, they made some disturbing discoveries.

First, they found a receipt on his desk for a box of condoms; Christine was pregnant and the couple had been trying to conceive for a year. They then discovered various accounts on dating and hookup sites, where Francisco was soliciting sex. His cell phone records revealed a double life of other women, sex clubs, and swingers parties. While the couple struggled to get by, he had been stashing money in a secret bank account and using it to pay for dates and adult websites.

Christine filed for divorce, and Francisco was classified as a deadbeat dad. She was shocked months later when she received a single child support check. Francisco had opened a bank account in another state, and his wages had been garnished by the government. He tried to get the money back before closing the account and disappearing again.

Christine never saw another cent from her ex-husband. She lost their home to foreclosure, and she is responsible for repaying his students loans, which she co-signed.

Two years after his disappearance, a news station found Nicholas Francisco living under an assumed name outside Los Angeles. He showed little remorse for his actions.

4‘Officer Scott’

Opie & Anthony – Louise Ogborn McDonalds Security Tape

Warning: The above video depicts actual sexual assault.

In 2004, 18-year-old Louise Ogborn was called into her manager’s office at McDonald’s and was accused of stealing from a customer’s purse. A man calling himself “Officer Scott” had phoned the office and described the suspect to assistant manager Donna Summers. Summers thought the description matched Ogborn, who had worked at the McDonald’s for four months.

Scott told Summers to call the girl into the office and strip search her, or else Ogborn would be arrested and taken to jail. On the caller’s instructions, Summers took away Ogborn’s cell phone and car keys and locked the office door. Then Officer Scott commanded Summers to remove Ogborn’s clothes and place them in a plastic bag to “preserve evidence.”

Summers did as she was told. And she continued to do as she was told without question for more than four hours—even as the demands grew more and more bizarre. Ogborn was made to dance and then to do jumping jacks and knee bends naked. Another assistant manager and two other employees witnessed what was happening and did nothing.

When the caller instructed Summers to let her fiance Walter Nix take over, the orders became truly perverse. Nix was told to spank Ogborn’s buttocks and force her to kiss him, sit on his lap, and perform oral sex on him. Only when another male employee refused to take over supervising Ogborn and told Summers to call the area manager did she realize it had all been a cruel hoax. No money had been stolen, and Scott was not an officer performing an investigation—he was just a man at home prank-calling the restaurant.

Similar hoax calls had been made to 70 fast food outlets around the US, though not all had been successful. Several lawsuits were launched, and seven people who followed the caller’s orders to strip search their coworkers were convicted of crimes. Donna Summers was fired and charged with false imprisonment. She later controversially received a $400,000 settlement from McDonald’s. Walter Nix was sentenced to five years in prison. He was dumped by fiance Summers when she saw CCTV footage of what he had done.

The man thought to be responsible for causing so much damage, prison warden and aspiring police officer David Stewart, was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. The 2012 film Compliance was based on the events surrounding Louise Ogborn’s ordeal.

3Biurny Peguero


Photo credit: Hermann For News

Biurny Peguero got into a car with construction worker William McCaffrey and his friends outside a nightclub in 2005, after they invited her to a party. When she rejoined her friends at the club, Peguero told them she’d been raped at knifepoint. McCaffrey was arrested and tried, and though he said that he and his friends had dropped Peguero off unharmed after she had changed her mind about going to the party, he was convicted of rape and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

After McCaffrey had served almost four years behind bars, Biurny Peguero, having found religion, recanted her story and admitted it was all a lie. New DNA tests showed that saliva recovered from bite marks on her arm had come from two female friends she had fought with on the night of the incident. She had made up the tragic story so they would feel sorry for her.

Peguero expressed extreme remorse, saying, “I question myself every day as to how I could have done this.” She said she had been so drunk that night that she eventually started to believe her own lie about what had occurred.

Biurny Peguero was sentenced to one to three years behind bars. McCaffrey was released and launched a $30 million lawsuit against the city of New York over their questionable handling of the case.

2Farid Fata


Photo credit: Michigan Cancer Center

Oncologist Farid Fata broke the trust of his seriously ill patients and their families by ordering invasive treatments that were medically unnecessary to scam Medicare for profit. Dr. Fata prescribed chemotherapy to cancer patients who could not benefit from it, as they were terminal or in remission. He also made deliberate misdiagnoses. He made false cancer diagnoses to justify expensive testing and misreported anemia and fatigue to prescribe powerful and costly drugs.

The criminal complaint against Dr. Fata reads like a laundry list of incompetence and disregard for patient welfare, including improper sanitation, falsified or disorganized documentation, and unlicensed personnel. One patient with lymphoma should have received 12 doses of a powerful drug over a two-year period. Fata administered a whopping 56. Another patient had a serious fall outside Fata’s office, striking his head, and Fata insisted that the man receive his chemotherapy treatment before going to the hospital. The man later died from his head injury.

Though relatives of the victims hoped for murder convictions and life imprisonment, Dr. Fata pleaded guilty to 16 counts including health care fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. He’ll be sentenced in 2015.

1Tania Head


Photo credit: National Geographic

Tania Head was working in the Merrill Lynch offices on the 96th floor of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. When the plane crashed into the South Tower, her arm was horrifically burned and nearly amputated. She witnessed unspeakable horror as those around her lay dead or dying. She only escaped because of the actions of a heroic young man in a red bandana, who got her out but did not make it himself.

Head was carried away from the building by a firefighter and sheltered from debris under a fire truck. She later learned that her fiance Dave died in the north tower.

Head became involved with (and later president of) a 9/11 survivors support group, volunteered at Ground Zero as a tour guide, and attended the memorial service at the World Trade Center site every year. She hosted fundraisers, made emotional speeches at memorial events, and met two New York mayors and a governor. Her story was devastating—and it was all a lie.

Her real name was Alicia Esteve Head. She came from a wealthy family in Spain and was in Barcelona on September 11. Though Dave was a real man and died in the north tower, she had never met him. The injuries to her arm had occurred when she was in a car accident in her native country years before.

A few fellow survivors had noted some discrepancies in Head’s story, but none had the heart to challenge her. Tania Head lived this lie for six years, until a reporter from the New York Times wanted to tell her story in an in-depth piece commemorating the attacks and its survivors. After years of deception, Tania Head confessed then fled, leaving her friends and fellow survivors stunned and numb.

Who could do such a thing, and why? With no financial gain, was this six-year charade enacted merely for attention and sympathy? For now, only Tania knows.

Caroline Coupe is a freelance writer enjoying life as an expat in Copenhagen, Denmark. You can read about her adventures around the world and check out her travel photography at or on Twitter.

fact checked by Jamie Frater