Exposing the Art of the Scam in Lie, Cheat & Steal
Comics Pat Sirois and Kath Barbadaro school you on the grift in their podcast
Heard any good crimes lately? Pat Sirois and Kath Barbadoro have, and they're eager to tell you all about them. The two comics are helping feed the public's seemingly insatiable appetite for true crime with an Austin-generated podcast that tickles the palate in an atypical way. Instead of another dish of true crime's meat and potatoes, murder, Barbadoro and Sirois' show is a soufflé of frauds, scams, and hoaxes. Each episode delves into a tale of deception or double-dealing that one of the hosts has uncovered and shares with the other. (In time-honored podcast tradition, Sirois and Barbadoro switch off who tells the story and who listens to it from episode to episode.) Over the 16 months they've been making Lie, Cheat & Steal, the two have covered cons as varied as a Robert De Niro impersonator (Ep. 3), Janet Cooke's bogus Washington Post story about an 8-year-old heroin addict (Ep. 20), the Fyre Festival fiasco (Ep. 35), and the "Hipster Grifter" of Brooklyn (Ep. 42). With the podcast's 47th episode (about Spain's Paralympic basketball team) released earlier in the Chronicle's Crime Month and Episode 48 dropping this week, I tracked down the show hosts to get the lowdown on their fascination with hustles and rip-offs.
Austin Chronicle: The crime podcasts that most people know of involve murder. Were you deliberately carving out a different niche in that landscape, or was there some other reason that drew you two to con artists and grifters as the basis for your podcast?
Pat Sirois: I liked the idea of a funny true crime podcast with subject matter that you could joke about without having to be super dark. Kath had posted that Theranos article from Wired that totally blew me away and the phrase "non-murder true crime" kinda popped in my head and I thought, "Man ... I bet people would like that." So, yeah, totally shallow cash grab, for sure.
Kath Barbadoro: The idea for the podcast was Pat's, but he asked me to co-host it with him because I've been very public about my love of liars. For me, the fascination comes not only from the scam itself but from the narrative power the story of a scam has, the way a writer or documentarian – or hopefully, podcaster – can unravel it in a compelling way. I love a good murder podcast, too, but the nice thing about Lie, Cheat & Steal is that due to the nature of the stories we're telling, there's always a narrative twist, which murder stories don't always have.
AC: Have either of you been on the receiving end of a real con? If so, what was it?
PS: Our listeners hear me talk about the pawn shops I've worked in, so every day people were trying to scam me. For years. But one time I tried to buy a car off a customer, and since I didn't have all the cash up front, I talked my boss into letting me pay the guy what I had and then give him a loan for the rest that I would pay off back to the store in installments. It wasn't illegal, but it was creative to say the least and may have turned the heads of our internal auditors. So my boss let me do the loan, but we did it in the customer's name with his permission so it all looked aboveboard. Well, after I paid him the money we agreed on, he promptly came in on my day off, picked up the car since it was in his name, and disappeared with the car and my money. Like the best scams, I got played because I thought I found a shortcut around actually saving enough money to buy the car.
AC: Do you choose your subjects in any set way? Like, do you read books that tell good Lie, Cheat & Steal-type stories or comb the news feed looking for them?
PS: I've definitely Googled keywords and the word "scam" or "fraud" and seen if something cool came up that correlated with current events. Some of them are wild stories I read in tabloids or heard on the news from years ago and have always thought about. A cool thing to happen more recently is that we get a bunch of suggestions from our awesome listeners.
AC: You alternate telling the story in various episodes. Do you prefer telling the story or having it told to you?
KB: Both are fun for different reasons! It's fun to take Pat along for the ride of a crazy story I'm excited about. But if you're hearing the story, you get to be lazy – we keep each other in the dark on the details of our stories until we record – which is also nice.
AC: What's the con/grift/theft/crime that you were most impressed by, that left you going, "Whoa, I can't believe someone tried this"?
PS: That would be Carlos Kaiser, the soccer player who couldn't play soccer (Ep. 9). Just the idea that he lasted 20 years and made good money and bounced from club to club and never once learned to even kind of play is amazing. Plus, he only screwed over the international soccer organizations, which by my estimation deserve every bad thing that happens to them. So good on him.
KB: Pat did a story recently about a father and son art forgery team in England (Ep. 45) that blew me away. The son was the forger and was clearly a brilliantly gifted artist – he forged things in a bunch of different mediums and from across many different time periods, escaping detection for years. It was such a tragic story, because his dad manipulated his son's talent for his own gain.
AC: Life lessons you've learned from covering so many liars, cheaters, and stealers?
KB: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
PS: When you choose to advance yourself by dishonest means, there's going to be a ton of stress involved. It seems like at a certain point, if you're making any real money through deceit, your days just turn into the day Ray Liotta got busted in Goodfellas. You're making sauce, there's helicopters, you're totally out of your mind on blow, you're driving all over town. There's almost no way it can end that's not you getting arrested. I hate being stressed out, and that just seems like an absolute nightmare. So I guess I've learned that the key to being relaxed is not doing a bunch of shit that can get you arrested. It's a novel concept I may look into some day.
Lie, Cheat & Steal can be found at www.bodytapeintl.com/lie-cheat-steal and on iTunes.