Modus Operandi for “Dharma Con”
We were pretty embarrassed at being taken in by this con man, William Cassidy! He claimed to be a “secretly recognized” American tulku (“Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche”), and he claimed to be dying. He perpetrated his con using his own blog, commenting on the blog of one of our monks, and creating a presence of several participating “sock puppets” on a very popular (now defunct) forum for Buddhist practitioners. We took him in to take care of him in what we thought were his final days–and he took us for all that he could!
And this activity all predated Facebook and Twitter peak popularity. Imagine how these new social networking sites extend his reach! We now see very similar patterns within spiritually-minded Tweet Lists and Twitter traffic. So we are sharing our painful experience in an effort to help others who may come into contact with him to avoid falling for his confidence game. Here’s his modus operandi:
- Cassidy initiated contact via Internet posing as a revered lama with a title within the tradition of Varayana Buddhism. He was praising our work in Mongolia. He said that he had a partnership with Toyota and was putting together a caravan to bring services to remote areas of Mongolia. Later we found out it is a pattern for him to engage with various communities, befriend them, and infiltrate them to the core.
- Initially engaged us through cyber communication and very occasional phone contact. Gave many “logical” reasons for his privacy.
- Provided no photos – and claimed it was for reasons of humility as a “secret” Rinpoche (another term for reincarnate lama.)
- Claimed major medical issues before ever meeting with any member of our organization in person. During actual visits later – was very inconsistent about embodying “symptoms” of illness. (Claimed low energy but showed himself able of great physical exertion, etc.) Once when we thought he quite ill, he was very agitated when we called the paramedics. Their comment: if he hadn’t told them about his heart problem they would never have guessed it.
- Was very secretive about where and how to pick him up, telephone numbers, addresses, recognition. When he finally arrived–at our invitation – reluctant initially to be photographed, and wanted his vehicle driven by someone else and hidden off-street while in the town where we hosted him. He gave us instruction not to say where he was staying and if anybody came to the door say that he wasn’t there. His host had to put new locks on the house and keep the doors locked all the time. Before he came, the household didn’t even have a key for the front door. All to protect him from surveillance because he claimed to have worked deep covert positions establishing refuge for Tibetan-Indian commerce to USA.
- He told drivers what to do every turn, claiming that his ex-wife had hit men and lawyers after him, and he had to stay undercover or he’d get “whacked.”
- Gave us a false name (William Sanderson). Only discovered real name later when he sent us to pick up his personal effects.
- Soon after his arrival and observation of the respect our organization has achieved in the community, he organized a HUGE public event that our organization endorsed – which generated lucrative donations – and the day after this large event our donation box mysteriously got broken into. Using jargon about karmic ripenings, told us not to report the theft to the authorities.
- While hosted in a private home, and provided care for the “illness” he claimed to be undergoing, he blogged extensively and otherwise used internet a great deal. Claiming his high profile online, he insisted on overseeing a revamp of the household computer setup at host location so he could maintain his cyber obligations. He was paranoid about his privacy,and claimed that his host was looking into his room. When he insisted on a separate internet access, his host bought him a separate router. He took advantage of his host’s lack of expertise to leave the house network unsecured.
- He would be online hours at a time and come out charged and angry, as if fighting with someone online. He would not allow anyone to be in the room when he was online.
- When he was made COO, he requested a financial report from every area. All the financial information that he obtained was given freely. However, records that were not entrusted to his custody disappeared and later were published on his blog.
- Finally, in the personal interactions we witnessed, he maintains a very likeable and jovial demeano–in the beginning. He made up nicknames for most important and prominent figure in the organization, developed colloquial terminology and metaphors for those things considered important to the community. (For instance, he was a rabbit lover and had many rabbit-isms, if you will, to describe health, prosperity, etc.)
- Later, people around him witnessed his being “mean,” verbally attacking a member of the host’s household, then refusing to talk to her for days. He treated her in a very demeaning way, and played her against another member of the community who was also looking after him.
- Showed an interest and fascination with hocus pocus, “black arts,” and mind trickery. Moreover, all the statues he brought with him had their eyes closed, which in Vajrayana Buddhism signifies that they are sleeping or dead. Someone who picked one up and moved around reported that it felt as if it was filled with rocks.
- At the beginning, he would say that he had been recognized and was going to be enthroned but had refused because he wanted to stay “low key.” He always refused to be photographed. When in our town, he was adamant about being referred to as a visitor from California.
- When he realized the kind of event we were able to put together, he proclaimed himself the “12th incarnation of Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche” and was suddenly okay about getting his picture and name in the newspaper. This claim caused our spiritual leader to investigate his credentials more deeply within the school of Buddhism with which he claimed to be affiliated. Upon receiving word from the head of our lineage that our visitor was not the lama he claimed to be, that he was definitely an ordinary person, not a Tulku.
- Our spiritual leader instructed us to be kind, as he was ill and possibly dying, and care for him until the end. He, however, refused to stay, saying that our spiritual leader had betrayed him.
Watch for more information about this confidence man: and remember that “con” is the short form for “confidence.” He will attempt to build your confidence in him through flattery (ouch!), offering favors and connections, and lots of insider gossip. Don’t let him! Be “con”scious of fraud, and don’t be conned!