What do Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o have in common?

They are the reverse sides of the same coin.


Ruthless, remorseless, relentless emotional manipulation. Armstrong was the perp, Te’o a victim.

English: Photo of Notre Dame linebacker Manti ...
English: Photo of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o taken in 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sad truth is this: Liars at the level of Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o’s “girlfriend” — a catfisher extraordinaire — have as much resemblance to the rest of us as ice to fire. (To those of you not in the U.S., the Te’o saga is the big news story right now, a star Notre Dame college football player who had a two-year relationship by phone and email with a woman who said she had cancer and died.)

She never existed.

To the normal person, i.e. not a sociopath, who by definition is incapable of empathy (hmmm, how might have it felt to the journalists Armstrong sued, knowing they were right? Hey, who cares?), a lie is usually fairly minor:

That dress looks great! I love my new job! The kids? They’re terrific!

Sociopaths are a whole other breed. They see the rest of the world as prey, they the predators. Trying to get them to explain their behavior in rational terms — as Oprah Winfrey did in her interview — is like trying to get your dog to sing opera. No matter how much you wish it could happen, it won’t.

They just can’t do it. They don’t operate from the same essential principles as the rest of us.

High-level liars count on our goodwill, our good nature, our trust, our wish to believe that what people tell us is actually true.

I know this because in 1998 I became the victim of a con man, a convicted felon who left Chicago, where his exploits made front page news (working in tandem with his mother) and moved to New York in search of fresh and unsuspecting victims. I became one when, in December 1997, I answered a personal ad in a local paper.

You can’t make this bit up: “Honesty and integrity paramount” he wrote. He pretended to be a successful lawyer — in Chicago, he was a “doctor” with a “business card”, one so amateur the most junior health reporter would have known was fake.

We see what we want to see. We hear what we want to hear. If we can’t move through the world with some balance of open-heartedness to cynicism, we’re toast.

I don’t want to rehash all the details here of what happened to me. I figured he was a liar very early on, but — lonely, broke, isolated, my self-confidence at an all-time low — I was roadkill. Easy pickings! I stayed because his behavior appeared, initially, kind and attentive: he brought me a pot of home-made soup to my door, for heaven’s sake. He was funny, smart, well-dressed, physically attractive.

It got much darker and then he opened my mail and stole a credit card and used my phone to activate it and forged my signature — there’s four felonies right there. The cops laughed and the DA did nothing.

But he fooled a lot of people, including my friend with the Columbia Phd in psychology and her multiply-published author boyfriend. I kept waiting for someone else to second my fears.

Only my mother, raised in NY, did. But by then it was too late.

Here’s the backstory on Te’o.

31 thoughts on “What do Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o have in common?

  1. What I want to know, is why, after we know they are lying, we keep allowing them to lie to us? How can they keep getting away with it? I guess we always want to give them one more chance…

  2. That is THE question i think we need to really address…How many of us trust our employers or governments or schools or hospitals; i.e. the institutions that control our lives and health? I suspect we are increasingly hungry to feel secure in trusting someone! But who?

    1. I have no idea. Last I knew of him, he was “wooing” multiple victims in NY and Connecticut simultaneously while the cops, banks and DA’s turned a blind eye. He’s got a very effective system going and it works efficiently for him. Many victims are too scared, ashamed or embarrassed — which he counts on — to say anything to anyone, let alone the cops, DA or a reporter. I was very lucky to have found a private detective, a former NYPD cop, to help me. But I could not afford to pay him long enough to gather enough evidence to get the SOB. It’s complicated.

      1. I wonder if he will finally make the, literally, fatal error of trying to scare the hell out of a woman who just goes after him with a weapon. I doubt it — he knows how to pick the weak and wounded.

        Truly sick shit.

      2. If the cops refuse to investigate, (which they did), then there is no evidence or potential case for the district attorney. If the DA chooses — using prosecutorial discretion (oh, the things I’ve learned) — not to take your case, (i.e. they actually have no legal [wtf?!] obligation to do so), you are toast. Pure 100% cooked toast. The DA and cops *laughed* at me. Told me “there’s no harm here. It’s just fraud.” Six felonies for which I collected evidence, including forging my signature and using my own credit card in front of me…You cannot make this stuff up!

        The con man who targeted me knows that: 1) 99% of his victims were too weak, scared, cowardly to take him on and have him arrested; 2) the banks don’t care if the fraud is less than $1,000, because the cost of prosecution is too high so he could scam multiple victims and their cards, scoop up $5,000 or $10,000 or whatever he could to finance himself; 3) the credit card companies don’t care either…once their software shut him down, he already had $$$ from cash advances, “gifts” for his victims, shiny new clothes and shoes to look the part of the prosperous doctor of lawyer he pretended to be, 4) even if he was arrested, charged and indicted (as my hired PI warned me severely) — what would be do in court? LIE! Who would the court believe? 5) Because it’s a “he-said-she-said.” None of it is provable. He would have alleged that I gave him the use of my card…although forging my signature would be an unlikely permission for me to give.

        It’s like asking to play a little touch football with a Heisman winner. NOT a good idea. You will be flattened.

        Been there, did it, barely survived it.

      3. I’m not trying to be an a-hole about this — people have NO idea how skilful these con men/women are. They are professionals. We are, by being honest, rank amateurs, and they rely on that. It is very ugly and very unpleasant to experience firsthand. My heart goes out to Te’o, no matter how much people are sneering at him.

  3. First, damn. I’m sorry to hear about that dude in your life. He sounds like a predator, too. The kind of person who specifically targets people who are either not going to stand up for themselves ever or who are having some stuff going on in their lives that puts them in a weak position.

    Second–y’know, that cancer-by-internet thing is sort of a weird trope among some con artists on the web. Well, not just on the web. There are people in real life who fake cancer. But when someone online does it, and pretends to be either someone with cancer or someone who has a friend or close family member with cancer and uses that to con…well, whatever out of people (sympathy? Money? whatever?), the term that I’ve seen for it is Munchausen by Internet.

    A few years back, I was corresponding online with someone (person X), who then completely made up another person and then started corresponding with me from another email account as this other person. Person X fabricated introductions between me and Person Y. Then, person Y, the made-up person, was diagnosed with cancer and then tragically died after a couple months of correspondence with me. Person X was devastated (and for reals–I actually spoke with person X on the phone to express my condolences).

    And then things didn’t add up. Suffice it to say, I got suspicious and figured out that person Y was a complete fabrication and that, in fact, it had been person X all along. Seriously creepy and weird. Point being, there are cons out there everywhere. Be careful!

    1. Thanks.

      Oh, he is indeed a predator! The only people who ever truly get it about these ***sociopaths*** is that they are NOT like us. They do not “play by the rules” so all the outrage and indignation when they break them is a total waste of energy. Rules, they know, do not apply to them. Once you get that, you know that all sane, rational bets are off.

      The only people who get it? REALLY get it? Professionals who work in psychology, law enforcement/military or the judicial system. They see the dregs up close every single day.

  4. That’s mad, but it’s never easy to extricate yourself enough to view the situation objectively, when caught up in the snare of people like that though. Hope he meets his due someday, if he hasn’t already!

    I’ve not watched the Armstrong interview on Oprah. Must get on YouTube and check it out. From everything I’ve read about Lance Armstrong, it sounds like it would be fascinating. The Te’o story though – my god!

    1. Thanks, missy!

      It was, for me, a very useful and overdue wake-up call. I changed many things in my life after that. Not my address or phone number, but my locks and credit cards and bank accounts. I also began attending church to heal the deep scars it left. I was a lonely, isolated woman. It made me very vulnerable. I also had to really examine what I found “attractive” in a man.

  5. I see so much petty con work at my job, it’s ridiculous. You think that no one could believe the lies, but everyone – EVERYONE – has a way in and it only takes the right conman to find the chink. And the good ones are scary good at finding chinks…

    1. Exactly my point. People yammer on about “how COULD” anyone (gasp, facepalm, sneer, snigger) be fooled, and for so long. Yes, the person who was fooled may well have been somewhat complicit but there are people who learn (or know) what chinks we have and dig in deep and fast. The con man who snared me knew my first husband had had neck surgery (absolutely terrifying for both of us then) — when I was far away on holiday/work (and he could not control my behavior in person), CM made sure I called him collect (back in the day) from NZ to NY because he suddenly faced — yup!! — neck surgery. I returned to a $5,000 phone bill (theirs), that he tried to stick me with.

      What no one gets is how raped (yes, I use that word deliberately) you feel. Your intellect and emotions, your empathy and kindness (the best qualities we possess) have been (mis)used like toilet paper. I dreamt last night I had a very costly fur coat that had fallen on the ground and some *&#@#)) tromped right across it. Like that…

  6. welshcyclist

    I agree with you, these people are expert manipulators, who can fool the majority continuously, a bit like politicians.They just get away with it. Look at Jimmy Saville here in the UK. He fooled every layer of society, and got away with it, as he’s now deceased.

  7. That is some effed up stuff. I can’t believe you can’t get anything done about that scammer. The system seems really messed up. If you go after someone like that yourself you run the risk of getting involved in something that you likely have no skill for or able to get any recourse. Sheesh.

    Yea, Lance is a liar. Plain and simple. He can say whatever he wants now. He’s done in my books. The other dude, Manti, all I have to say is “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

    1. I can tell you that my worldview was forever altered by that experience. I have no patience with people who don’t understand that sociopaths are essentially a separate species and we are their prey. So when the cops and judicial system shrug, you are SOL. I simply could not fathom how it was acceptable (morally) and possible (professionally) to ignore clear evidence of multiple crimes committed in your jurisdiction! The only consolation — and it was huge — was making friends about a month later (through my new church) with a DA in the Bronx who said “You have a case. They just refuse to take it.”

      Until or unless you become a crime victim, (and this is a very specific crime for which, like rape, you are often blamed a great deal for your own stupidity or complicity or lack of suspicion) you just can’t know what it’s like. You come away feeling angry, ashamed and have a VERY hard time re-learning to trust your own judgment of people. (Imagine being a journo who can’t do that…it’s about 75% of every assignment I take…is what I am learning truthful?)

  8. Predators, and predatory behaviors, are frightening. These aren’t creepy guys in dirty raincoats who can easily be avoided. We all have and or have had vulnerable times in our lives. Anyone who says they haven’t is 12, a liar, or delusional. I’m sorry this happened.

    I didn’t actually pay any attention to the Notre Dame story, so I won’t comment. Lance Armstrong…every single journalist he sued should immediately lay claim to the profits from the memoir he’s sure to come out with.

    1. “These aren’t creepy guys in dirty raincoats who can easily be avoided. We all have and or have had vulnerable times in our lives. Anyone who says they haven’t is 12, a liar, or delusional. I’m sorry this happened.”

      Thanks much. People either discover this or live in a fantasy world where it is somehow impossible.

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