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AH Challenge: Put a professional con artist in high office

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
Let's skip the part where we joke about all politicians being con artists by another name and where we mention a recent US president, to get to the challenge itself:

There was no shortage of famous con artists throughout the 20th century--international adventurers with a gift of a gab and a keen eye for easy money, who took to heart P.T. Barnum's apocryphal quip that there's a sucker born every minute. Some of them were quite ambitious in their schemes, and a few even ventured into political power games. Your challenge is to get one to achieve high office, whether by electoral or undemocratic means, and preferably not get ousted right away.

Possible contenders include:

Boris Skossyreff (1896-1989), who briefly claimed the title of King of Andorra;
Victor Lustig (1890-1947), who sold the Eiffel Tower (twice);
Ignaz Trebitsh-Lincoln (1879-1943), who was at one point a British MP and at another a Buddhist abbot in China.
 

Yokai Man

Well-known member
Let's skip the part where we joke about all politicians being con artists by another name and where we mention a recent US president, to get to the challenge itself:

There was no shortage of famous con artists throughout the 20th century--international adventurers with a gift of a gab and a keen eye for easy money, who took to heart P.T. Barnum's apocryphal quip that there's a sucker born every minute. Some of them were quite ambitious in their schemes, and a few even ventured into political power games. Your challenge is to get one to achieve high office, whether by electoral or undemocratic means, and preferably not get ousted right away.

Possible contenders include:

Boris Skossyreff (1896-1989), who briefly claimed the title of King of Andorra;
Victor Lustig (1890-1947), who sold the Eiffel Tower (twice);
Ignaz Trebitsh-Lincoln (1879-1943), who was at one point a British MP and at another a Buddhist abbot in China.
Alexandru Bogdan-Pitesti nearly got elected as a MP in 1899 by conning rural voters that he's the secret son of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and if they voted for him that will be the first step in bringing back the Cuza Dynasty and giving every peasant all the land they want from other richer land owners.

Unfortunately the scam failed because people were too naive and actually thought that Cuza's son was coming back to the throne,starting to argue over who gets how much land and starting an uprising that led to Bogdan-Pitesti being arrested because of it,averting being sentenced when the prosecutors were unable to conclusively prove his involvement in the uprisings.

It was one of the few times a con failed because people believed in it too much.
 

BClick

couboi suet
Location
Little Beirut
Pronouns
He/him
Barnum himself had a political career, although I'm not sure you could consider him a con artist - his audiences were expecting puffery and showmanship, after all.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
Barnum himself had a political career, although I'm not sure you could consider him a con artist - his audiences were expecting puffery and showmanship, after all.
Indeed, Barnum had some of traits of a con artist and he did go into politics, but for the reasons you stated he doesn't qualify for the purpose of this discussion, fascinating as he was in other regards.
 

BClick

couboi suet
Location
Little Beirut
Pronouns
He/him
Soapy Smith is another character that comes to mind. A con man in the most literal shell-game sense who parlayed it into large-scale organized crime and political influence in the Old West. @Burton K Wheeler

Then there's Lansford Hastings, grifty promoter of Manifest Destiny whose bestselling and completely invented "guidebook" led the Donner Party to their doom - Hastings was an old-school filibuster and wanted to run a Pacific coast nation as his personal fiefdom.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
he/him
The best options here are Bottomley and Marcus Garvey.
Don't think that's fair on Garvey, I know he was convicted for mail fraud but that was issuing a brochure which included a ship they were trying to buy but had not yet, which I wouldn't call full on con trickery.

I don't think anything sums up the man more than the anecdote that with the black star line losing money hand over fist, the UNIA started hiring out ships to deliver goods. They picked up a bunch of coconuts to sell in new york, but Garvey decided the ship needed to be part of a large pr campaign and had it make other stops on the way to show the faithful what had been achieved. And thus the coconuts arrived in new york rotten and had to be thrown out.

And that's Garvey, a man whose reach always exceeded his grasp and who provided more of the image than the substance. But the coconuts existed, the ship was one they were trying to buy.

If every man selling an unrealistic utopian dream without being able to back it up is a con man, than there's lots of them.
 

Venocara

[Space for something nice and patriotic]
Pronouns
He/him
Not AH, but how about David Lloyd George (and his accomplices) due to their involvement in the Marconi and cash-for-honours scandals?

Alternatively (also not AH), it is known that several members of the Albanian government participated in the pyramid schemes that would lead the country to civil war in the 1990s...
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
he/him
Not AH, but how about David Lloyd George (and his accomplices) due to their involvement in the Marconi and cash-for-honours scandals?

Alternatively (also not AH), it is known that several members of the Albanian government participated in the pyramid schemes that would lead the country to civil war in the 1990s...
It's a thin line but I think there's a distinction between politicians using their positions as a part of con schemes, which as you say is very otl, to add another example the beninese government of Boni Yayi promoted ponzi schemes that bankrupted thousands and an actually full on con artist being elected to head of government.
 

Makemakean

Rootless Rōnin
Pronouns
Logical, unlike those in German
@Makemakean, can you with the first Swedish Treasurer of Gustav Vasa?
He wasn't the Treasurer! :p

Conrad von Pyhy was Realm Chancellor! The first one, as a matter of fact, and he more or less invented the position!

It is fair to say that few other other people in Swedish history have really shown quite the level of talent for statescraft and organizational ingenuity as he did, at the very least, few have left behind a legacy that was as enduring as his. The Sweden that Gustav Vasa wrestled from the hands of the Danish King Christian II in 1521 was an utter mess. There really was no state to speak of when Sweden entered the Kalmar Union in 1397, and stuff had only become more confused and disorganized during that century and a little more.

Conrad von Pyhy played a significant role in remedying that, helping Gustav Vasa turn Sweden from the backwaters of Europe into a thoroughly organized, aggressively modernizing state that a century down the line could launch the military campaigns of Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII. The great nobles were brought firmly to kneel before the Crown, a clear system of laws and jurisprudence was introduced, the realm finances were established and organized, foreign policy and correspondence was organized into an actual thing.

It would not be unfair to compare him to his English contemporaries Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, and Thomas Cromwell.

That said, he is the singularly most audacious and daring con man in Swedish history. He originally came from somewhere in Southern Germany (it's all a bit murky, he probably was from Frankfurt originally), but one day he showed up at the Swedish court, claiming to be a German nobleman, a university-educated Doctor of Law, a former counsellor to the Holy Roman Emperor, and he presented to the King a letter of recommendation signed by no one less an authority than Martin Luther himself.

And so, obviously, the King hired him, not bothering to check up whether any of this was true. And, well, the Swedish state prospered as a consequence.

Of course, the charade would not last forever. Conrad von Pyhy (his real name was probably Conrad Peutinger) eventually went on a diplomatic mission in Germany, and when he returned (having failed in the objectives of the mission), King Gustav Vasa decided to start look into his rather troubling travelling expenses. And from thereon, the whole bloody, sordid affair started to unravel. Nothing checked out. When they eventually contacted Martin Luther, he said he had never heard of the man.

I suppose it speaks to the credit of Gustav Vasa that unlike Henry VIII he could not quite bring himself to having Conrad von Pyhy executed. He allowed him to rot away imprisoned at Västerås Castle.

He wasn't the last con man to get appointed to high office in Sweden, of course, but he certainly was the most flamboyant, the most undaunted, and the most memorable.
 

Makemakean

Rootless Rōnin
Pronouns
Logical, unlike those in German
Alternatively (also not AH), it is known that several members of the Albanian government participated in the pyramid schemes that would lead the country to civil war in the 1990s...
Most politicians participate in pyramid schemes.

Though of course, they prefer to call them "systems of pension funds".
 

BClick

couboi suet
Location
Little Beirut
Pronouns
He/him
Does the underbelly of internet culture count? I'm not weird enough to know specific names, but you could almost certainly get a 'pickup artist'/grifter/'Influencer' into a congressional seat during the age of Trump. OTL did throw up a Qanon supporter after all.
Joshua Collins is the obvious example - although it's hard to tell if he was incredibly naive and believed he was a serious politician, or if he was always intending to run off with the money.
 
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