The Nuns Who Gambled And Stole Half A Million From A Catholic School, And More Of The Week’s Best Scam Stories

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It seems like we’re living in a society that’s full of scams, hoaxes and questionable practices committed by individuals or corporations these days. Some scams are purely horrible, some are more incredible than egregious, and some are just really, really weird.

Welcome to Cons And Pros, a weekly roundup of the most outrageous scam stories we have come across this week.

Thou Shall Not Steal

The imagery of gambling nuns is already a peculiar one enough on its own, but add to that imagery two nuns who stole money from the school they worked at to fund their gambling habits and you get one helluva weird scam.

According to GQ’s Sean Flynn, Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana Chung allegedly misappropriated the school funds of St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California to support their penchant for gambling. The amount of money they stole — measured to be around $500,000 — seems especially egregious considering how Sister Mary Margaret, who ran St. James, often claimed that the school had no money and was operating on a shoestring budget.

“Our education was affected,” a girl who graduated from St. James in 2015 said at the meeting. “We sat there day after day in class being berated verbally on what to do, what to say, what to wear, and how to act by Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana, who were telling us we did everything wrong,” she said. “Yet they were over here committing federal crimes and stealing our parents’ hard-earned money for their personal benefit.

“I was called a liar,” she said, “by a woman who’s the biggest liar I’ve ever known.”


‘Operation Meltdown’

It’s not every day that we get a scam that involves ice cream trucks, but this week we were treated with the news that around 50 ice cream trucks in New York City were seized for participating in a traffic fine-dodging scam.

Instead of paying up the fines that these trucks had racked up over the years — which has amounted to over 22,000 violations and a staggering $4.5 million in fines — the owners would transfer ownership of the trucks to fake companies to avoid paying.

“It’s not only the money, it’s the deterrence factor,” New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito said. “Summonses act as a deterrence. If there’s no deterrence, then there’s no reason to follow any of the traffic laws.”

The owners avoided paying fines by transferring ownership of the trucks between dozens of fake companies. They were caught when the Department of Finance tried to collect those debts and learned the companies didn’t exist.

[CBS New York]

Putting The Artist In ‘Con Artist’

From the 1930s to the early 1950s, Peter Christian Barrie had a remarkable trick that ensured he and his backers would win on the racetrack: he would enter a fast horse in a race disguised as a slow horse. 

And how did he pull off such a disguise? With great artistry and lots and lots of bleach and dye.

The art of the con is in making the track stewards and the bettors believe the winner really was the slow horse having an inexplicably good day. That’s where Barrie came in. He was a horse painter, perhaps the best in the world. His tools were simple: bleach, ammonia, bandages, silver nitrate, and henna in shades from blood to chocolate. He could turn a bay with a white star on its face into a dappled gray, and he could do it so convincingly that the gray’s last trainer would swear it was his horse.


The Grindr Grifter Who Stole His Dates’ Identities

The story of Daniel Spence, a conman who bilked his friends and romantic partners of hundreds of thousands of dollars, is a perplexing one. His methods of financial exploitation were numerous: he would convince his victims to invest in a fake trust fund for asbestos victims, steal their social security numbers and credit cards or use their identity to rack up more debt, and in one case, even steal a $6,000 diamond ring while staying at a friend’s house.

One of the interesting wrinkles in Spence’s story is that he almost acquired the Brooklyn-based Northside Media Group after becoming interested in the company through a Grindr date. Spence was eventually caught by the police before he had the chance to officially take over the company, but what a weird turn of events that would have been if he had not.

While his crimes have largely been uncovered, Spence’s motive remains a mystery:

More than anything, like almost everyone else I spoke with as I reported this story, they couldn’t figure out Spence’s endgame. Had he been planning to use the Northside deal to obtain a bank loan, disappear and pop up in another state with his mother? Was he after Stedman’s identity? Or was it all just a delusional ego trip—the fake asbestos ad guy reinventing himself as the fake badass magazine owner?


I Use My Learning Disorder Diagnosis To Cheat On Tests

A college student diagnosed with auditory and visual sensory processing disorder and ADHD recounts how she or he uses a special testing room to cheat on exams:

The privacy of that special room gave me a great opportunity to start cheating. When I take a test, I have to check my bag and leave my phone on a rack in the hallway before going into the room with a computer that has no internet access. But what I do is print out a study guide and notes and stick everything under my shirt or under my coat or a denim jacket with internal pockets. I’ve snuck in 30 pages of notes and even a full textbook this way.


The Things We Do For Truffles

In his new book “The Truffle Underground,” Ryan Jacobs documents the troubling lengths people go to in order to thrive in the truffle market, a market estimated to be worth around $330 million in Europe alone. To capitalize on the high value of truffles, there are people who steal and people who try to pass off lesser-valued truffles as highly sought-after species. There are also people who have killed for truffles.

Remo Damosso, a veterinarian with a practice near Alba, estimated he sees three or four poisoned dogs per week during the truffle-hunting season from September to December, killed by everything from rat poison to shards of glass. Truffle-hunting dogs are also regularly stolen.

[New York Post]

And when it comes to fraud, even some of the biggest truffle companies in the world are suspect:

In 1998, one of the world’s largest truffle companies, Urbani Tartufi, got caught mislabeling their produce when Italian officials discovered 47 tons of Chinese truffles in the company’s warehouse.

They had been purchased for $20 per kilo and looked nearly identical to European black winter truffles, which, at the time, were worth about $400 per kilo. If the company were to successfully sell all 47 tons of Chinese truffles they would have made roughly $18 million in fraudulent profit.

[New York Post]

Pang-Chieh Ho is an associate editor at Digg.


Digg · Updated:

From an image of a puma hunting down a guanaco to a capturing of a mysterious deep-sea colony of garden eels, here are the best wildlife photos of the year, from the UK’s Natural History Museum’s annual contest.

All of the winning photos of the contest have seized upon moments that are both arresting and rarely seen by humans. Take, for instance, this surreal image from David Doubilet of garden eels popping up from their burrows in the sand that won the prize for best “underwater” photo. The photo, according to Doubilet, took him several days to shoot, as the eels would quickly disappear once they detected his presence:

© David Doubilet. All rights reserved.

Or this stunning shot from photographer Shangzhen Fan of a herd of chiru antelopes making their way through China’s Kumukuli Desert:

© Shangzhen Fan. All rights reserved.

And this image of a a golden eagle in flight by photographer Audun Rikardson. According to Rikardson, it took three years for the eagle to become used to the presence of a camera.

© Audun Rikardson. All rights reserved.

Or this striking image of a puma attempting to hunt down a guanaco. According to photographer Ingo Arndt, the guanaco in this image was able to escape from its predator.

© Ingo Arndt. All rights reserved.

And then there are the winning photos that focus on the tinier beings in our ecosystem, such as this image from Daniel Kronauer of an ant colony in a Costa Rican forest.

© Daniel Kronauer. All rights reserved.

And this photo of a cypress tree in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California that’s covered in lichen and algae. The photo by Zorica Kovacevic won in the “plants and fungi” category of the contest.

© Zorica Kovacevic. All rights reserved.

For a more urban taste of wildlife, here’s this incredible photo from Jasper Doest of Riku, a Japanese monkey that has been performing comedic routines in a theater in Tokyo for the past 17 years. Doest took this photo in part to shed light on the level of exploitation that has occurred with these once revered Japanese macaques. 

© Jasper Doest. All rights reserved.

And here’s a sight that will be all too familiar to New Yorkers — Charlie Hamilton James’ shot of rats in New York City. After spending a period of time photographing these rodents, Hamilton James says, “I started to respect them. I’d never say I love them, but I do quite like them.”

© Charlie Hamilton James. All rights reserved.

And finally, here’s the photo from photographer Yongqing Bao that won the honor of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. The image is aptly titled “The Moment” and captures a fight between a Tibetan fox and a marmot on China’s Tibetan Plateau.

© Yongqing Bao. All rights reserved.

[See more of the winning photos here]

This Week’s Top Memes, Ranked

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Here at Digg, we try our best to cover the most important and confounding memes that come across the timeline. But the web is littered with tons of great memes that never quite hit the mainstream, instead bouncing around the weird corners of Twitter or Reddit.

Enter: our recurring feature, Memes, Ranked, where we not only rank the funniest memes each week, we also keep a running top 10 of the best memes of 2019. Skip to that here.

For the week of October 7, we have a handful of contenders: “Joker” Car Window Memes, Society Memes, Two Wolves Insider Of You memes and Avengers TikToks.

4. Society Memes

The meme: With the advent of a certain movie about society upon us (more on that later), memes about the society we live in were bound to pop up. One meme in particular stands out among them: an image of a load of people in line for one thing, and a single person in a tiny line for another. Label both lines, and you’ve got a society on your hands.

The examples: 

Verdict: A meme that simply has not had that much time to take off, though I believe there is potential here. Will we see it fully realized? Not likely, but we can all hope for a better society, can we not?

3. There Are Two Wolves Inside Of You

The meme: A truly simple meme based on an often repeated Cherokee proverb. The meme takes the wise-sounding words of the saying -- “There are two wolves inside you and they are always fighting. One is darkness and despair, the other is light and hope” -- and swaps out “darkness and despair” and “light and hope” for punchlines.

Jokes like these have been made on the internet for a few years, but they’re really starting to bubble over these past few weeks.

The examples: 

[sierraseybold via tumblr]

Verdict: Good memes. Simple memes. Easy to iterate on. The trickle on these has been slow. I hope someone something comes along and breaks the seal on these, because they have the capacity to be really funny without punching down or hurting any feelings.

Feed this meme, folks.

2. Joker Car Window Memes

The meme: Memes about the new Joaquin Phoenix “Joker” movie fired up last month, but the movie didn’t actually come out until last week. Since then, a new, hyper specific meme has emerged from the online chatter around the movie, all parodying this slightly-too-earnest tweet about a perceived homage to a former Joker:

This already extremely viral tweet has gotten the parody boost by folks all over the web comparing this shot from “Joker” to other backseat-bound movie characters.

The examples: 

Verdict: Good memes. Slightly improved on the edgelord ilk we got about this movie earlier. As much as I hate to dog pile on someone for their earnest movie takes, this one seems pretty good natured. Fun meme for a weird week on the internet.

1. Avengers TikToks

The meme: Even thought “Avengers: Endgame” came out in May and it’s too cold to swim in half of the US, a new meme has emerged in only the past few weeks: teens and other young people reversing video of themselves jumping out of pools, all set to the “Avengers” theme. These videos are big on TikTok, and they’re starting to get to other places too.

The examples: 

Verdict: It’s never wise to underestimate the meme prowess of the teens. They have a lot of time on their hands and are savvy with internet/meme making tools that Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials could never dream of. These Avengers memes are a great example of that -- they have huge production value, loads of personality and they’re bite-sized, so you can watch a dozen of them and still be hungry for one more. Excellent memes. If you like funny internet stuff, this might be your cue to finally download TikTok.

The Official Josco™ 2019 Meme Power Ranking

Click each entry on the ranking to see when it debuted.

  1. Vibes
  2. The Girl Drinking Kombucha Reaction GIF
  3. Untitled Goose Game
  4. Avengers TikToks
  5. Trump Featuring Nickelback
  6. Joker Looking Out The Window
  7. No One Can Have Both
  8. There Are Two Wolves Inside You
  9. UR Single To Me
  10. Society

Memes In The News: Bret Stephens Is A Bedbug

Bret Stephens Is A Bedbug first made Digg’s meme roundup on August 30. Since then, a couple things have happened. Stephens and the man who originally called him a bedbug, George Washington University professor Dave Karpf set up a meeting at GWU to discuss civil discourse online. Set to take place on the college’s campus on October 28, Stephens pulled out this week because Karpf and George Washington refused to close the talk to the public. What a bedbug! Read more about this big dumb thing over at Slate.

Like staying on top of your memes? I could never blame you. Sign up for our new Weekly Meme Roundup newsletter to get the week's best memes sent directly to your inbox.

Joey Cosco is Digg's Social and Branded Content Editor.

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