This report aired Sunday, Aug. 12, on Dateline NBC.
Say hello to Fred Brito, a smiling cherubic liar.
One day he was known as Father Fred, while on another, he was a high-profile fundraiser, getting chummy with Hollywood stars. And there’s another legal document saying that on the same day, he was really a court-appointed psychiatrist.
They’re all Fred Brito. And they’re all assumed identities, products of the fertile imagination of a confidence man.
Fred Brito: A good con will go for the highest profile job he can possibly get.
And that’s exactly what Fred did or still does; no one’s quite sure. What is certain is that along the way, Fred has made his share of friends—and more than a few enemies.
Tonight, we’ll take you on the hunt for the real Fred Brito—inside the mind and the world of someone who’s not just a con man but a world-class imposter.He tricked state senators, the Red Cross, the courts, celebrities, a prestigious medical school, and the Catholic Church. Tonight, he’ll even try to trick you. And you’ll meet some of his victims, who only learned they’d been conned... when WE told them.
If you’re watching and you recognize Fred Brito, you might be in for a surprise. If that happens, give us a call.
In fact, we were in for a surprise, as we did our best to untangle a huge web of lies.
Born Frederick Brito, Fred grew up with five brothers and a sister in a small house in Los Angeles. It turned out that Fred as a child was a lot like Fred the adult. His brother and stepfather:
Stepfather: He was kinda...”
Stepfather: “...mischievous boy.”
Brother: “Life didn’t move fast enough for him.”
That longing for the fast life drew a 20-year-old Fred to the Hollywood night club scene in the mid 70’s. That’s where Fred says he met and began a close friendship with Paul Lynde, best known for his TV roles on “Bewitched” and “The Hollywood Squares.”
Brito: I learned a lifestyle that I’d never participated in before. The lifestyle of Mercedes Benzes, living in the Hollywood hills, going to Beverly Hills restaurants, doing all the things movie stars would do. And I got to meet a lot of movie stars.
But the fast life ended as suddenly as it began.
Brito: Paul Lynde, you know, he had an entourage of people. He had usually five or six people that were friends of his and I at one time was lucky enough to be the the favorite chosen one, until I got older ...and I was cast off.
With no money, no fast cars, and no place to live, Fred moved back home with his parents.
Brito: It was a major major culture shock. And I had to get a job and the first job I got was at a bank. And I had this lifestyle that I had to play and I had no money to do it. And I winded up borrowing, at that point the word was borrowing, I took $1000 of Traveler’s Checks. And that was my first crime.
That’s only partially true: that was his first federal crime. Fred had already been convicted of forgery and arrested and charged with theft—that charge was later dismissed. After he took the thousand dollars, the FBI arrested him for embezzlement of bank funds and Fred spent time behind bars. He was later ordered to stay in a half-way house. But before completing the program, Fred decided to skip town, violating his parole.
Brito: I started a whole new life in Vancouver, a wonderful city. I met lots of people and did some things I probably shouldn’t have done and ended up in jail in Bernaby, British Columbia.
Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent: Are you thinking to yourself somewhere along the way here, ‘I’m a smart guy but I’m not a very good criminal, maybe I should stop doing this?’
Brito: Once you’ve had the lifestyle that I led, it’s hard to come back. The Hollywood lifestyle was the drug that I became addicted to. I was in the fast lane and all of a sudden I’m now in the slow lane, on the soft shoulder in a sense, and I wanted to be in the fast lane. And I would have done anything to get back in the fast lane.
And when Fred says anything, he means just that. Over the next few years, Fred found himself in and out of prison for renting luxury cars, driving them around town as if they were his own and never returning them back to the place where he rented them.
Still in his 20s, Fred was already a five-time convicted felon.
Mankiewicz: It doesn’t seem like the criminal justice system was really teaching you a lesson.
Brito: They were trying to teach me a lesson, but I wasn’t willing to listen, that was the problem.
In fact, Fred spent so much time in the hands of the legal system that he ended up learning some lessons that made his life as a criminal a lot easier.
'Dr. Mark Esparza'
And this is where Fred starts — from smalltime crook to big-time impersonator. He uses the name Dr. F. Mark Esparza and his new job, psychiatrist.
Brito: Having sat in so many different courtrooms, trials, my own preliminary hearing, I learned to master the vocabulary of the district attorney, the public defender.
One day, while waiting for his own case to be heard, Fred heard a court-appointed psychiatrist persuade a judge to release a defendant into the psychiatrist’s custody.
Brito: I replayed that for a friend of mine. I portrayed myself as a psychiatrist and used all of the different vocabularies that doctors use.
Mankiewicz: Nobody asked you for ID?
Mankiewicz: Or to see a medical license?
Mankiewicz: Or any proof at all that you were a psychiatrist?
Brito: No. And it all happened in one day.
And Fred says the judge released his friend.
Mankiewicz: You’re good.
Brito: Back then, I guess I thought I was.
But after serving another sentence for grand theft auto, Fred vowed to turn over a new leaf—to stop living a life of crime and get a job like everyone else.
Mankiewicz: Was there a time after one of these prison stints where you thought to yourself, “I’m going straight, I’m not doing this anymore.”
Brito: Yes. Everytime.
Mankiewicz: And every time you go back to it?
Mankiewicz: Because you couldn’t stop?
Brito: It wasn’t that I couldn’t stop, it’s just that I had to survive. I had to find a way to either get a job, to get some money, or I had to do something to keep myself busy.
That decision gave birth to a lot of people—all of whom were part of one giant lie. Fred landed prestigious jobs, and in some cases received high accolades for his good work, all under different names.
The story of 'Mark Gomez'
Ken Sanchez: Mark Gomez was an incredible individual. And he gave so much back to this community. His generosity and his giving made life for so many individuals much better.
And that’s part of what makes the story of Fred Brito so difficult to tell. Because he tried to hide by doing good work. And in the process, he lied to nearly everyone.
As this man was about to find out on camera.
Mankiewicz: The world would be a better place if there were more people like Mark Gomez?
Sanchez: It would be.
Mankiewicz: Let me tell you a couple of things about Mark Gomez. First of all, his name is not Mark Gomez.
The year was 1985 and Fred Brito was a 32-year-old man who had spent most of his 20s behind bars. So Fred tried to make a fresh start, moving with his parents to Lancaster, California. To his family and to himself, Fred promised to clean up his act.
That was easier said than done. Soon, unbeknownst to his family, Fred did begin a whole new life with a whole new name: Marc Esparza, a made-up man with no criminal record and now with a job in local government. Could the imposter succeed as a small-town official?
As Marc Esparza, Fred began to speak out at city council meetings and his constant presence caught the attention of Lancaster’s Mayor.
Fred Brito: The mayor, Fred Hann, nicest guy ever, he was the mayor he came and says, “You know Fred, I really like what you’re doing to help the disenfranchised. And I’d like to see if you’d be, interested in being a commissioner of the city of Lancaster.”
Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent: This was not some scam you were working.
Mankiewicz: This was something you actually wanted to do?
Brito: I actually wanted to do it and I did it well. Being a city commissioner was a big thing. In my mom and dad’s eyes, it’s like wow, it was like being president.
The only problem was that Fred, a.k. a Marc Esparza was still on parole, but he never revealed that to the mayor who was Fred’s new champion.
Brito: I knew that if I did, he would have never appointed me. So I didn’t tell him. He didn’t find out about it until it blew up on the front page.
And blow up it did, all because of Fred’s moth-like attraction to the spotlight and his inability to stop telling lies.
Brito: I held a press conference. And in that press conference was an announcement that President Reagan had appointed me to a position at the white house. And that’s when the press did the background—found out that there was no such position and the president did not appoint me to a position at the white house.
Mankiewicz: Okay, what are you, some kind of compulsive liar? You had to know that people were gonna check that out and discover it wasn’t true.
Brito: At that point, I probably still thought I was slick, able to pull this one off.
Fred’s latest lie was laid bare, and soon he left Lancaster a seemingly shamed man. Later, Fred landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he created another imaginary identity. The new role would put him not just in the local spotlight, but would make him a hero statewide. And this one might have lasted forever if WE hadn’t shown up, 10 years later, to reveal the truth.
Fred’s new name was Mark Gomez. His job? Advocate for the poor.
Ken Sanchez: Mark Gomez was an incredible individual. And he gave so much back to this community.
In 1998, Ken Sanchez was the Vice Chair for the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners in Albuquerque, New Mexico when he first heard about Mark Gomez.
Sanchez: There was a family of nine who didn’t have a vehicle. And he purchased a vehicle for the father to get to and from work. There were families who could not pay the rent and he paid the rent and utilities so those families would not be homeless.
Mankiewicz: You’re describing a very genuine guy with a good heart.
Sanchez: Unconditionally a good heart.
Mankiewicz: And what had he done before that?
Sanchez: I didn’t know that. I had never heard of Mark Gomez prior to that.
That’s because the man named Mark Gomez was a product, once again of Fred’s inventively dishonest urges. But the glowing calls and letters that came into the commission about Gomez were apparently both genuine and numerous... and Sanchez said, the commission felt it was time to recognize Gomez for all his inspiring, giving work.
In April 1998, Sanchez and the other commissioners celebrated Mark Gomez’s good work by awarding him a County Proclamation. Not only that, Gomez received commendations from the New Mexico House of Representatives and the State Senate.
Mankiewicz: Mark Gomez works and spends not only his money but also his time and energy performing little acts of kindness because the extent and compassion he possesses for human kind is immeasurable. You’re laying it on pretty thick. Or else this guy is really a wonderful guy.
Sanchez: Based on what we were told and when we met Mark, we think he did a remarkable job.
Mankiewicz: Well, you have told me a lot about Mark Gomez. Let me tell you a couple of things about Mark Gomez. First of all his name is not Mark Gomez. His name’s Fred Brito. Surprised?
Sanchez: Very surprised.
Mankiewicz: Mr. Brito is a con man. He acknowledges it. That’s not my description. He’s been to prison. He’s committed white collar crime. He’s been investigated for all kinds of things.
Sanchez: I am very stunned.
Mankiewicz: This guy’s a con man and he conned you.
Sanchez: He conned the five county commissioners.
He conned a lot of people because Fred is both cunning and charming and not afraid to take a chance. All of that will buy a con man a lot of good will. Fred left New Mexico and continued to lie his way to a new job. Most of the time, no one bothered to check his references. And if they did, Fred had it covered.
Mankiewicz: Did you have references?
Brito: I had lots of references. But the references were to a cell phone that would come to me, and I would give myself the reference.
Mankiewicz: People who wanted to check your references would call a number that you had given them, and that number was to a cell phone that you had?
Mankiewicz: And you get on the phone and say, “Oh, Fred, he’s terrific.”
Brito: That’s right.
Mankiewicz: You can count on him.
And who’d be saying that? A new persona Fred had created—named Harrison Winslow. His occupation: Fred’s loyal, but completely imaginary reference.
The name Harrison Winslow was taken from the movie “Heart and Souls.” In the film, Harrison Winslow is a guardian angel. In real life, he did the same for Fred Brito.
Brito: I knew when they asked for Harrison Winslow, it was the code word was for a reference. And that’s when I would talk about how great Fred was. So who would not hire Fred after this glowing reference?
This would be a great story if it ended right here. But of course, it doesn’t. At this point, Fred was on a personal high; he’d gotten away with creating and playing several different roles. He’d also figured out how to get the kind of work he wanted, the kind of work that’s not usually available when you have a prison record. Now, Fred decided it was time to take all of this a step further—to start impersonating more, sophisticated, important people.
A few years back, Fred applied for and was accepted into a religious training program at a Catholic Seminary outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He used that knowledge not to become a priest but to impersonate one so he could escape some new embezzlement charges back in California. Wearing a collar, Fred headed to Yuma, Arizona.
The imposter would attempt weddings, confessions, baptisms, and Sunday mass.
An immaculate deception
The year was 2002, and Fred Brito had adopted a new personality: his name Father Federico B. Gomez de Esparza, a Catholic Priest.
The monsignor didn’t stand a chance. The imposter had him at “hello.”
Monsignior O’ Keefe: Fred came in here with very good credentials, supposedly good credentials. And wanted to really help out as a priest.
Monsignior Richard O’Keefe has been in the priesthood for 48 years. Over those years, he’s heard it all, some of the worst and most hurtful things people can do to each other. Maybe that’s why the man O’Keefe knew as Father Fred seemed such a breath of fresh air.
Monsignior O’ Keefe: He had a great knowledge of the workings of the Church, great knowledge of the history of the Church. He knew the Scriptures and he was able to come up with some very good answers.
Father Fred came highly recommended, or so it seemed. He carried a letter of introduction from a small church in Mexico and just the right papers to accompany that. Fred was proud of those documents because he created all of them just a few days earlier, on his laptop.
Brito: The reason why I picked the Catholic Church was because who—what FBI agent would look at a Catholic Church for me?
Fred was assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in Yuma, in part because he speaks Spanish and there was a real shortage of priests who could do that.
Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent: Was there ever a time when your suspicions were aroused?
Monsignior O’ Keefe: No. He was very compassionate. He wanted to help people. He put up a very, very good show when he celebrated mass or attempted to celebrate mass and when he dealt with people.
Mankiewicz: I kinda get the feeling that if it hadn’t turned out that he was a fraud and that he wasn’t really a priest...
Monsignior O’ Keefe: He’d still be here.
Mankiewicz: And you’d be happy to have him?
Monsignior O’Keefe: Be still here, no question about it.
While posing as a priest, Fred presided over Sunday masses, baptisms, confessions and weddings. He did well. Just ask Maria and Gene Doten.
Maria Doten, parishoner: Everybody loved him, thought he was a great priest. He’s great, gave a great homily…
Father Fred's homily: “The big day arrived and the test of how strong this marriage is begins the moment they leave this church.”
Maria Doten: I mean he was just... fantastic.
Gene Doten: Amazing.
Maria and Gene met Father Fred just a few weeks before they were to be married. The priest who was originally was supposed to marry them became ill, so Father Fred stepped in.
Gene Doten: Here’s a man that when he gave a homily, he had so much truth to it. I mean, he says I’m not gonna put icing on the cake basically and tell you, “You guys are lovey-dovey getting married. It’s gonna be tough. And the only way to hold that marriage together is through your faith, through god. And when the tough times hit you know you are going to need something to draw on.” And you’re just listening to this man and you’re going “Wow, he’s telling it like it is.”
Mankiewicz: So in terms of being a priest, he more than delivered.
Gene Doten: More than delivered.
“...and for Gene and Maria don’t lose sight of him because with God all things are possible.”
The Dotens say they never suspected Father Fred wasn’t a real priest even though some things about him struck them as a little odd—like the time Maria went to confession.
Maria Doten: When I came in, I had come in after my husband, he said something about “Well, I know your last name begins with a ‘D’ and I know you’re getting married tomorrow.” So I thought that’s kind of strange, that he’s kind of playing this guessing game with me.
Mankiewicz: Because it’s supposed to be anonymous.
Maria Doten: Yeah.
And then there was the wedding ceremony.
Maria Doten: At our wedding, he actually walked down the aisle behind my maid of honor. The maid of honor is the last one to go and then the flower girls and then comes the bride. Well before the bride came the priest (laughs)…
In Catholic ceremonies, the priest is normally waiting at the alter, but in the excitement of the day, the Doten’s didn’t notice it until they saw their wedding video. Looking back at it now, they wish that had been the only thing wrong with Father Fred.
Maria Doten: I was depressed for like three days, crying. It was just very upsetting to me.
The year was 2002 and Fred Brito was on the lam, posing as Father Fred, a Catholic priest in Yuma, Arizona. He fooled the local monsignior. He fooled Gene and Maria Doten, the couple he married and sent off on a honeymoon. But it turned out Fred couldn’t fool U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
When traveling back from a trip to Mexico, Fred was stopped at the border and a computer check revealed Father Fred had a warrant out for his arrest in California. With the help of another priest who innocently vouched for him, Fred talked his way through the border checkpoint—but he knew he’d soon be found out. So in the middle of the night, Fred left Yuma and headed up the highway to Phoenix, where he prepared to once again pass himself off as a man of the cloth.
Fred Brito: I went out to Staples. And I ordered a seal. I designed a seal. Stamped the seal so it looked really official. And I went to “The Diocese of Phoenix.” And no background check. No nothing. “Do you speak Spanish?” “Yes.” They had an empty parish that needed a priest.
In Phoenix, Fred performed all priestly duties. Until one day, without warning, U.S Marshalls arrested him on those embezzlement charges in California. Fred was sentenced to 16 months in state prison. He had some time to think about the people he had fooled while he was a priest.
Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent: Did you ever think about the families that you were working with that they’re gonna find out later? Maybe tonight when they see this interview? They’re gonna realize that the person that married them wasn’t a real priest? You have any conscience about that at all? Do you feel bad?
Fred Brito: There’s no way that I could repair the damage that I did.
Mankiewicz: Did you feel bad about it at the time or are you just, it was a part of avoiding capture?
Brito: I was playing the role of a priest, but at the same time, that I was doing those baptisms and those funerals and those weddings, I knew what I was doing. But somebody had to do it.
Mankiewicz: So your argument is “Yeah, I feel bad about it but, on the other hand, I did provide a service to those people. And they wanted a priest and I gave ‘em a priest.”
Brito: That’s true. If I were to die today, I have that to bear. I have that ton of weight to bear, that I played with god. That’s a penalty I’ll have to pay one day.
Some people are already paying that penalty. Gene and Maria Doten returned from their honeymoon to the shocking news that Father Fred, the wonderful priest who married them, was in fact not a priest at all.
Maria Doten: So then I started crying. It was really devastating to me.
Devastating because the Dotens are strict Catholics. And that since Father Fred was really ex-con Fred, the Eucharist or the body and blood of Christ was therefore missing from their marriage ceremony.
Mankiewicz: So you ended up doing the whole wedding all over again?
Maria Doten: Uh-huh.
Mankiewicz: At the cost of?
Gene Doten: Just redoing it, $10,000.
Mankiewicz: $10,000 because he was a fraud.
Gene Doten: Yes.
Fred married other couples too—but we couldn’t find them. So if you’re watching tonight...and this is the face of the priest who married you, give us a call. You also might want to check with your church to make sure your marriage is valid.
That news was very hard for the Dotens to hear. But at the time, Fred was not filled with remorse about the Dotens or anyone else. Instead, he was full of optimism that he would be able to continue to lie his way into job after job.
Brito: I was leading two different lives. One was the life I wanted to live and the other life was the life that I hope I would never have gotten started with in the first place. But you know what, this is the key, is that when you come out of prison, I have the deck is stacked so far against me. One, I’m an ex felon, who’s gonna hire me? So I had to dream up these other identities to get a job.
'Frederiqkoe DiBritto' at UCLA, Red Cross
And so it was time for a new persona—the riskiest yet. The name: Federiqkoe DiBritto the Third. The title was Director of Development for the Division of Digestive Diseases at UCLA. He would raise money for one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the world.
Fred had gained entre’ to that world with an imposter’s tools: brains, charm, and the gift of gab.
He’d never gone to business school, but he laid out a step by step plan. And convinced his audience he had the right numbers. Fred began earning a six figure salary and working for a doctor named Gary Gitnick.
Brito: UCLA. was almost like a dream come true. I didn’t know it at that point, but Gary Gitnick was the doctor to the stars. I mean that job, I escorted everybody that you can think of that was on a who’s who’s book went to Dr. Gitnick’s office.
True? Or another Fred Brito fantasy? UCLA will neither confirm or deny that Fred did in fact rub elbows with the stars.
UCLA did confirm that they fired Fred after learning he was an ex-con. Fred was never accused of any crime while he was there. Remember, it may be dishonest and stupid, but it is not illegal to lie on your resume.
Brito: I was not stealing ‘cause I didn’t steal. I just portrayed somebody that I wasn’t.
And that’s Fred’s argument in a nutshell— that he only lied to get work because ex-cons can’t get work. And Fred claims that while he may not always have been on the side of the angels, he never hurt anyone.
Dereck Andrade: This guy was absolutely amazing in what he pulled. And he has damaged so many people. He’s damaged so many reputations, including myself, that I don’t know if I’m ever going to regroup from this situation on a professional level.
Dereck Andrade met Fred Brito in August 2005. Andrade was part of a panel evaluating Fred in his final interview for a position with the Red Cross in Pasadena, California.
Andrade: In Fred’s case, it was an amazing interview. The man was very charming, he was very personable, he answered questions immediately, he didn’t hem, he didn’t haw. He seemed very intelligent.
But at the same time, Andrade thought Fred was just too good to be true and that worried him.
Andrade: He was a little bit too polished. And this person was coming in with amazing credentials. He had been executive director of several organizations, he had pedigree that you wouldn’t see, generally, applying for a position like this.
And the Red Cross hired him even though Andrade says he recommended against it. And within weeks, Fred Brito had a new line on his long, dishonest resume. The name: Frederiq Brito-Gomez. The title? Chief Financial Development Officer.
It was late August of 2005. Fred was just getting settled in his new job when Hurricane Katrina hit.
Suddenly, Fred had two challenges. He had to keep his real identity hidden—but at the same time, he had to deliver as a fund-raiser or risk being exposed as a fraud. Had he finally gone too far?
Andrade: This man is just out of control. As I’m concerned, Fred Brito is a monster. He’s an absolute monster.
Fred Gomez, a.k.a Fred Brito, was a conman walking a tightrope, trying to hide his past in plain sight as a fundraiser for the Red Cross in the days just after hurricane Katrina.
Fluent in Spanish, Fred appeared on NBC’s Spanish-language network Telemundo to talk about the Katrina relief efforts.
Fred also participated in the production of this public-service announcement, featuring actor Rob Schneider. In a behind-the-scenes video, you can see Fred at work—giving Schneider a tour of the Red Cross facility. Fred was playing his part perfectly.
In the same piece of tape, you can see Dereck Andrade, at the time the Director of Public Affairs for the Pasadena Red Cross. And right about this time is when Andrade began to see through Fred’s shiny resume.
Derek Andrade: He did not even know how to facilitate a fundraising event. He had no concept whatsoever. And I knew right then something was wrong.
Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent: Because a guy with his qualifications should have known how to put on a fundraiser?
Andrade: He should have been able to do it in his sleep.
But, if you ask Fred, he’ll tell you he not only did that job, he aced it.
Brito: I raised more money than probably any other development person did, thanks to Katrina. obviously, we raised a lot of money. It wasn’t really just Fred Brito.
Once again, there are no charges that Fred stole or embezzled any money while at the Red Cross, just that in his job, he was flying blind.
Mankiewicz: He says you had absolutely no idea how to put together a fund raiser.
Brito: It goes back to Derek Andrade wanting to be the star. And he’ll step on anybody he can to make sure he is the star. But I know what I did.
Andrade contends that he also knew what Fred did and because of that decided to look into Fred’s background a little more carefully.
Andrade: I did a Google search and up pops his picture, slowly downloading (laughs) with him smiling with a UCLA baseball cap on. Here’ s this Los Angeles Times story talking about this imposter, this felon. And I couldn’t believe it.
It was a front page spread on the life of Fred Brito, the con man, published just 10 days after Fred began his new job with the Red Cross.
It’s a newspaper widely read in Pasadena, an LA suburb. Could Fred’s bosses have somehow missed it? We tried to contact Fred’s supervisor at the time, but she no longer works at the Red Cross and actually more than half of the staff that worked with Brito isn’t there either.
Andrade: Did I ever dream that this man was a felon and had pulled stunts like this at other places of employment? No. I never, ever would have dreamt that. I’m just absolutely shocked and speechless.
In the wake of that discovery, Fred was dismissed, but so was Dereck Andrade for allegedly leaking word of Fred’s scam at the Red Cross to the media. At the time, Andrade’s boss told her staff not to talk about Fred to reporters. Andrade denies he was the leak.
Andrade: I’ve had people within the community of Pasadena who won’t even return my phone calls or emails because somehow they think that I snitched out this man and placed the Red Cross in a negative light. And that’s not even true. So it’s very hurtful.
So how much can a lie hurt? Ask Maria and Gene Doten, whose marriage started with one huge lie. Or ask Dereck Andrade, who wishes he’d never met Fred Brito.
Andrade: I just can’t imagine what this man thinks. that he just haphazardly goes through life—going into companies, businesses, wreaking havoc and thinking that it’s all fun and games. This man is just out of control. As I’m concerned, Fred Brito is a monster. He’s an absolute monster.
But Fred now says he’s once again ready to change. Is that true?He was about to try to con us.
It’s been a long trail for the man who began life as Fred Brito and who along the way has been known as a court-appointed psychiatrist, a much-admired community organizer, a trusted priest, and a high-profile fundraiser.
Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent: What’s the secret to a successful con?
Fred Brito: One, I’ve done my homework. Two, I know the different jobs that I was going after. And two and three, it’s being able to look in your eye and become so believable that people won’t second guess you because when people are lying, they don’t look at your eyes. But, they don’t look directly. But, if I’m looking straight at your eyes, and all these people that are at this panel, “Gosh, he was so believable. He was great.”
Mankiewicz: Let’s not bother checking his references.
Brito: That’s right. That’s right.
Fred wants you to remember that while he doesn’t deny having committed numerous crimes, most of his role-playing was just to secure the kind of work that’s not usually available to an ex-con. To hear Fred tell it, lying about his background was a matter of honor.
Brito: Our prisons are overloaded. The last thing they want is another body in there. I’m not gonna go to welfare. I’m not gonna have people feeding me. I’m gonna go out and earn a decent living. And that’s what I did. The only thing is is that I didn’t do it under who I really was.
But since 1974, the part Fred has played most often and most convincingly has been a prison inmate. He's had at least 12 convictions, and sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars.
Over the years, he’s reinvented himself time and again. Usually, he’s successful at first, but Fred Brito’s past has what must be to him an annoying habit of coming back to haunt him.
Now Fred says he’s ready for his latest and most challenging role: an honest man.
Brito: Redemption is hard. Every time I wake up I have to make sure that I’m doing the right thing and saying the right things. Because it’s like a drug addict. If I take one sip of alcohol, I’m just asking for more problems. So I try to stay away from mistruths. I try to stay away from things that are dishonest as much as I can.
Mankiewicz: Have you told me anything that wasn’t true?
Brito: Not that I remember.
Mankiewicz: This would be a good time to admit it if you did.
Brito: Consciously? No. I don’t think so. I think I’ve been as up-front and honest with you as I possibly can.
But here’s the problem, Fred and the truth are only casual friends.
Mankiewicz: Is it possible you’ve told so many lies in your life that you don’t even remember what the truth is anymore in certain instances?
Brito: You hit it on the button. That’s true. I have forgotten the lies that I’ve told. And I forget what is the truth anymore.
In part because of that, and in part because we are, after all, dealing with a con man here, we tried to check as much of Fred’s story as we could. His rap sheet is full of convictions for forgery, theft, embezzlement, and credit card fraud. Is that Fred Brito— a charming, small time thief? Maybe. We also found, all the way back in 1974 an arrest on child-molestation charges. That is the only sex crime on Fred Brito’s record. And he says he can explain it.
Brito: I was at my aunt’s house, which is the front of our house. I was on the porch. We looked up and there was a police car. And they were pointing my way. They came down. And they said that there was an allegation from some young person under—I don’t know what age he was. It was a he. And that I had molested him on my property in 1974. We went to court. We went to the preliminary hearing. They did not appear. The case was dropped. And that was an allegation that was not accurate. Had it been accurate, where were they? Why didn’t they show up in court and proceed with the allegation that I had molested their son? They didn’t show up. The case was dismissed. But I never ever—sexually assaulted anybody. And that was an allegation that I think he had the wrong person, frankly.
We checked again and again, but we couldn’t find out anything more about that strange episode from Fred’s past. Keep in mind that he’s been quite upfront about his criminal history... to us, at least. Fred hasn’t been as forthcoming to prospective employers. But he says now, he is a changed man.
He now offers himself up as sort of anti-Fred Brito.
Mankiewicz: I see by your website here that you’ve also hired yourself out as a motivational speaker sort of telling people how to avoid being conned.
Brito: That’s right. I’m wanting to give what I’ve taken. Give back to what I’ve taken away in a sense.
Mankiewicz: Good resume, bad resume. How to spot somebody who isn’t what they claimed?
Brito: That’s right.
Mankiewicz: How to overcome adversity?
Brito: Which is what I’ve done.
It sounds quite encouraging, maybe even truly inspirational. But then we checked some more—and we found this.
Mankiewicz: “After surviving a near fatal accident resulting in a broken neck, Fred shares how business in a fast paced world can suddenly experience dramatic change. He explains how his real life tortoise and the hare tale applies to the success of business and the satisfaction of one’s personal life.” You were not in an accident that resulted in—right?
Mankiewicz: Who’s John Futrell?
Brito: I have no idea.
Mankiewicz: John Futrell is the guy whose Web site you took that from. You will see here on his website it says “that after an accident that resulted in a broken neck, John now shows how you can apply those same techniques to business,” which says to me that you’re up to your old tricks here.
Brito: No. I just copied his Web site and modified it to fit mine.
Mankiewicz: It’s a little tough here to believe that you—
Brito: When this was made, I was still having to concoct a story in order to get myself employed. I don’t have to do that anymore because it’s out.
A new leaf?
For the record, Fred stopped borrowing John Futrell’s inspirational story after we confronted him about it. And he says now, he’s committed...to going straight. Again.
Mankiewicz: Fred, [sigh] am I gonna read the paper in a couple of years and find out you’ve been charged with another crime?
Brito: This is what you’re probably gonna read in a couple a years: My days of being crook Fred, or bad Fred, or you know? I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
Mankiewicz: Fred Brito The Conman?
Brito: Fred Brito, conman, is no longer. The old Fred didn’t get me anywhere. The new Fred of being the advocate for those people who are disenfranchised and who are suffering in today’s crowded streets. That’s who I will become the voice for. I may not be able to be Father Fred. But I can do Father Fred stuff. And what do priests do? They defend. They protect. They insure that people have a place to live and food to eat. That is what I wanna do. And that’s what I will do.
It sounds good. But then, it always did. So we’ll end with a warning: If any of these men apply for a job with you, you might want to check them out. And don’t bother calling the references.
Fred Brito has since been hired -- and fired -- from another job, this time at a performing arts academy in New Mexico.
He now has a literary agent and is working on a book about his life, with advice on how -not- to get conned.
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