Friday, March 23, 2012

The Con Man Who Tried To Buy Writer Beware's Silence

Posted by A.C. Crispin for Writer Beware

I thought Writer Beware's readers might be interested in hearing about the only time I’ve ever had a face to face meeting with a known writing scammer. I still laugh when I remember that day.

You see, once upon a time the perpetrator of a bogus writing contest tried to bribe me into keeping mum about his chicanery.

Remember Mitchell Graham--real name Mitchell Gross--the writer who set up a fake writing contest in order to promote his debut fantasy novel, and later on--much later--turned out to be a serial con artist? (Victoria blogged about Mitchell a few weeks ago, in connection with his indictment on charges of wire fraud and money laundering for allegedly luring a woman into investing millions of dollars in a phony company.)

The contest was the Delmont-Ross Writing Contest, with a $5000 prize, and prominent s.f. writer Ben Bova was hired to judge it. Trouble was, there was only one entry...Mitchell's own. So of course Ben declared the sole entrant to be the winner, which was according to the rules. (Ben thought this odd, but rules are rules, and most writers aren't as scam conscious as Victoria and I are.)

So Mitchell Gross won his own contest. Writer Beware did a lot of computer searching and tracing before we were able to link the contest with Mitchell's own financial projects, because it was pretty well hidden. We also verified that the contest had no link (as had been implied to us) to Merrill Lynch--though it was linked to Mitchell's own "front" business, the Merrill Company.

Aha. When I went to DragonCon that year, I was on a panel with Mitchell, the brand new shiny contest winning author who'd just had his brand new "award winning" book released from HarperCollins. Matter of fact, I sat next to him. When the time came for me to do my usual brief Writer Beware summary, I was careful to mention that the "Delmont-Ross Writing Contest" was bogus, and by all means don't send them any entries.

I didn't look at Mitchell as I was talking. But I'd stationed a friend in the second row of the audience, with orders to watch his expression. The moment I said the contest's name, his face took on a startled, then panicky expression, then smoothed out very quickly. Con artists get good at that.

Heh heh, I thought. So he knows we're on to him. He won't attempt to milk anyone else with his "contest." And he didn't.

But that's not the end of the story. Returning from DragonCon, I had barely walked in the door of my house when my home phone rang. It was Mitchell.

"Say, Ann," he said in a breezy tone, "I found your cellphone case right below where you were sitting at the panel. Did you miss it yet?"

"Can't be mine," I said, puzzled.

"Oh, you need to check," Mitchell insisted. "I'm sure I saw it while we were sitting there. And there's five hundred bucks in the front compartment. I'll send it right up to you, Fed Ex. You'll have it tomorrow."

OHO!

For a moment I was struck speechless by the sheer ballsiness of a guy who assumed everyone was as dishonest as himself. Then I shook my head and grinned an evil grin.

"Nope, Mitchell. Can't be mine. I don't have a cellphone case."

"Are you sure?" He sounded less sure of himself now.

"Yes, positive. Oh...and congratulations on winning such a...prestigious...contest."

Silence on the other end. Then he said, quietly, "Thank you."

"I have to go now," I said. "Bye."

And that was my only face to face encounter with a writing scammer. Of http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifcourse, since that time, Mitchell has gone on to bigger and better things. He now faces up to 20 years in prison.

-A.C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com

28 comments:

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

That is both shudderific and delightful.

Hiroko said...

That must have been an enjoyable experience!

CatSlave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CatSlave said...

Congratulations. It's nice to know there are honest people in the world in spite of the proliferation of scammers.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Kind of silly of him to try to buy your silence after the fact. Even if you had never mentioned it again, word about what happens at such panels gets around.

AlvaradoFrazier said...

Face to face with a sociopath. And you weren't scammed. You're one of the luckier one. Thanks for posting about this incident.

S.M. Carrière said...

That was...

Wow.

I had no idea these things happened in real life!

Kelly James-Enger said...

Great story, and I loved how you handled it. :)

Sean Roney said...

This just goes to show that contests in themselves aren't a good indicator of the value of any piece of art. A majority of contests are a waste of time. Unfortunately, too many people get suckered into thinking "award-winning" means something.

Good for you for exposing what a scam this particular "award-winning" author was cooking up. It's great that he's facing charges for his scamming nature. However, when he gets out of prison, he'll likely use it as yet another bullet point on his self advertisement. That will sell more books.

Sadly, there are likely many more like him. Companies, groups, and individuals cook up their own bogus contests all the time, many with widespread acceptance (Grammies, Emmies, etc).

At least this one got his due. Good for you for not falling prey to the silencing!

Kathy said...

In a word - wow.

CharmedLassie said...

I feel like clapping. What an idiot!

Karl said...

I think I would have said, "Gee, I could have sworn it was five thousand dollars I left in that case... Or was it fifty thousand?"

Jill said...

People continue to amaze me (and disappoint...) What a jerk!

adan said...

wow, what a great story!

true and read like a short ;-) thanks so much a.c.

P.N. Elrod said...

I so love you. I would NEVER have been that cool!

marla miller said...

what a great story-!!
one question about this:
The contest was the Delmont-Ross Writing Contest, with a $5000 prize, and prominent s.f. writer Ben Bova was hired to judge it. Trouble was, there was only one entry...Mitchell's own..
How did he get Ben Bova to judge a contest with one entry?
As always, you 2 rock!
Marla

A. C. Crispin said...

What Ben Bova commented to me was that he was hired, given the rules, and sent one entry. Under the rules, that one entry had to be the winner. Ben was paid for judging.

As I said earlier, he probably wasn't very concerned or suspicious that anything really untoward was going on.

Mitchell Gross used his "award" to get attention from Harper, and they bought his novel and published it...and a couple of others. I wonder whether anyone has told HarperCollins what a scallywag their author turned out to be?

-Ann C. Crispin

Bonnee Crawford said...

What a pathetic excuse of a person right there. That is just disgusting. Claps to you for knocking back $500 too :D Hahaha.

Anonymous said...

"Ben thought this odd, . . ."

While he may have only been paid for judging, it seems unlikely that he could be stupid enough to merely think it 'odd'. More likely, he found himself in a bad spot and hoped that it would fade away and that he never have reason to know whatever the truth was.

Patrick said...

Way to go, Ann! It's good you had the awareness to immediately figure out what this scammer was trying to pull.

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widdershins said...

Wonderful story ... thank you for fighting the good fight!

Rolli said...

WOW! This makes my recent wrangling with a scam-anthologist seem like child's play. What a story!

-Rolli

A. C. Crispin said...

Writer Beware had thoroughly investigated both the Delmont-Ross "contest" and the "Merrill Corporation" long before that particular DragonCon. I knew "Mitchell Graham" had pulled a fast one before I ever met him. I couldn't really call him out in public, since he was a fellow DragonCon guest, but there was no reason I couldn't warn about the contest (which was pretty much defunct by then, I think...though I didn't know it at that time). Mitchell had already gotten what he'd wanted from the "contest" he set up. There was no reason to continue.

But there were still solicitations for the contest on the internet at the time of that DragonCon. I wanted him to know that Writer Beware had found him out.

The fact that he tried to bribe me seems to me an act of retroactive desperation. Scammers can't believe that not everyone is motivated by money.

-Ann C. Crispin

Charles Specht said...

The nerve of some people!

Mel said...

Did anyone pay to enter the contest? If not, then he technically didn't hurt anyone. He just put on a shady promotional deal.

A. C. Crispin said...

There was no entry fee to enter the contest. However, if anyone DID enter, their entry was not given to the judge. Only one entry was given to the judge -- Mitchell's own.

I also believe that HarperCollins was defrauded, in that they acquired Mitchell Graham's book under the belief that it had won a legitimate writing contest.


-Ann C. Crispin

Anonymous said...

......prestigious...contest! That is one smart and totally hilarious comment! Just love love your attitude! Thank you for dedicating so much of your time by helping others not to fall for such scams!