CITY HALL — When Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades isn’t prosecuting scams, he’s creating them.
While Rhoades, who works in City Hall’s Consumer Protection Unit, isn’t actually ripping off unsuspecting clients, he has embarked on a new creative venture that through a series of bogus Web sites tells the story of a thieving fictional character named Edgar Scattergood, who dupes grieving families of unpublished poets into paying him for so-called Posthumous Vanity Publishing services.
“I write poetry myself and know other poets,” he said. “It seemed like a fun thing to make fun of.”
The project involves Rhoades’ brother Alex, who designed the sites, and fellow Deputy City Attorney Barbara Greenstein, who has written several posts from the perspective of the fictional Deputy District Attorney Carla Found, who is prosecuting Scattergood and a complicit UCLA English professor, and the defendant’s attorney, Simon Singh.
The idea for the dark comedy came more than a year ago after Rhoades, who was curious from prosecuting a number of cases involving scam artists, decided to take on the mindset of such a criminal. An unpublished poet himself, Rhoades spent some time at a hay farm he owns in Missouri with Alex to brainstorm a plot and figure out the best medium to tell the story.
They ended up creating four connected Web sites — www.foreverprized.com, www.thecartooncowgirlforever.com, www.seeminglyforever.com, and www.thehayfieldforever.com. The multiple Web sites are actually an attribute commonly found in scams, Rhoades said.
“Scam artists will create a cluster of Web sites that when people are going through them and clicking on the links, will go to another Web site and get this illusion of depth,” he said.
The sites each include a fake press release issued by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office detailing the case and listing the terms of an injunction order by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge out of the Santa Monica Courthouse, including ceasing all solicitations of new contracts and fulfilling those that have been disputed. Those works are published on some of the Web sites, including a poem on The Cartoon Cowgirl Forever.
One of those cases involves a family from the Missouri Ozarks who paid at least $20,000 to create the Hayfield Forever where their deceased poet’s piece, “The Hayfield,” was to be published. The UCLA professor also promised to provide annotations and commentary to assist the family in understanding the poem. One of the terms of the injunction orders the UCLA English Department to fulfill that service, forcing Scattergood to pay for scholars to travel to the Ozarks.
Through his online business, Scattergood also offers other services, including eGraves and Grexting, which allows families to send text messages to their deceased loved ones. One of the sites, Forever Prized, includes samples of text messages sent from prior clients, none of which obviously include a response from the decedent.
“I think we’ve created a new service that people can’t do without,” Rhoades joked.
Rhoades added that he has not received any e-mails from visitors who thought the services were legitimate.
“We hope that some of the over the top nature of some of the stuff clues them in … that this isn’t a real service,” he said.
The project is scheduled to last until mid-September when the fictional case is set to conclude. The story will take on several themes, including one comparing country and city life, and another that will be an adaptation of “LOST,” instead focusing on a team of scholars stuck out in the Ozarks. Rhoades said the site will remain thereafter as a full story in its finished form.
Greenstein, who works in the municipal law division, said she did some research before taking on the project, talking to Rhoades and several other Consumer Protection attorneys.
“I’ve been trying to imagine Carla’s character and imagine other cases that she’s working on,” Greenstein, who has been taking creative writing workshops for about seven years, said. “I’m imagining a journal that she wrote when she was 20, trying to fill out who she is as a person, and that is a fun thing to do.”