Author and TV producer Lee Goldberg wrote on his blog recently about one James Strauss (AKA James Robert Straus), who has been going around to writing conferences as an expert on writing for TV. Some of these gigs have involved free travel and speaking fees. Well, when you look at the great TV shows he's written, you'd be impressed, too...except that he made it all up.
He's never written for any of those shows and he's no expert. He claims that sure, he did write them, but he didn't take a writing credit because he was paid under the table...by some of the top TV producers in Hollywood, who belong the Writer's Guild...yeah, sure.
In a new post, Goldberg reveals that this con is small potatoes compared to Strauss' past. In 1998 he admitted defrauding a school out of $400,000 and while waiting to go to jail for that, he was charged with embezzling $20,000 from a company in Santa Fe.
I found an earlier case where he was sued for professional negligence relating to an insurance business.
The curious thing, as Goldberg pointed out, is that none of the people who hired or invited Strauss to speak checked on his credits. It's easy to look at imdb.com or to contact the Writer's Guild to see what somebody has written. Apparently Strauss is a smooth enough talker that nobody thought to check his credentials. Goldberg said, however, that as soon as Strauss started describing how TV writing works it was obvious he didn't know what he was talking about.
By the way, the money Strauss stole from that school was for the teachers' retirement fund. He got a sentence of 21 months and was ordered to pay back the money he embezzled. It's not clear whether he did the latter.
Stranger than fiction, indeed!