Celebrity

Jussie Smollett charged for faking assault: Here are some other infamous hoaxes

Chicago police finally ended weeks of suspicion and speculation Wednesday when they laid charges against Empire actor, Jussie Smollett.

Smollett is charged with making a false police report after allegedly staging a racist, homophobic attack on himself. Police allege he paid two brothers as part of the hoax. 

As with past hoaxes that have captured international attention, some people felt from the start that something was fishy, while others fully believed Smollett’s account of what happened (his lawyers say he’s not guilty of staging the attack).

Here are a few others notable hoaxes you may — or may not have — fallen for. 

Balloon Boy  

Falcon Heene, better known as Balloon Boy, is shown with his father, Richard, outside the family’s home in Fort Collins, Colo. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

On Oct. 15, 2009, Richard and Mayumi Heene told police their six-year-old son, Falcon, was trapped in a free-floating helium balloon which had taken off.

The family became instant TV stars, as cameras followed the balloon floating through the air for two hours over 80 kilometres. When it landed, the boy was nowhere to be found. Police mounted a search after reports that something had been seen falling out of the balloon shortly before it landed.

A few hours later, Falcon was found hiding in his family’s garage.

In an infamous Larry King Live appearance, Falcon himself seemed to out his family telling guest host Wolf Blitzer: “We did this for the show.”

Days later, police announced it was all a hoax.

On Nov. 13, 2009, Richard Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay $36,000 US in restitution. Mayumi Heene was sentenced to 20 days of weekend jail.

Morton Downey Jr.

Morton Downey Jr. claimed he was attacked by neo-Nazis. (Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press)

On April 24, 1989, as ratings for his talk show floundered, Downey staggered out of a washroom at the San Francisco airport, claiming he had been attacked by neo-Nazis.

He said they tried to shave his head and painted a swastika on his face.

Trouble was, the swastika was reversed. Sort of as though Downey had painted it while looking at himself in a mirror.

Police never found any evidence that supported his claim that he was attacked.

Downey was never charged, but his show was cancelled five months later. He tried several times to revive his career, to no avail.

Ryan Lochte

U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed he was held up at gunpoint in Brazil after competing in the Olympics. (Michael Sohn/Associated Press)

On Aug. 14, 2017, days after competing at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte told NBC News he and three fellow swimmers had been held up at gun point at a gas station.

“The guy pulled out his gun,” he said. “He cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.”

Brazilian police were unable to find the taxi driver in whose cab Lochte had claimed to be in just before he was robbed. And they couldn’t corroborate his claims.

A few days later, Brazilian authorities suggested Lochte and the others had vandalized a washroom at the gas station and been forced to pay the attendant for the damage. Lochte was eventually charged with communicating a false event to police, but was later cleared.

Charles Stuart

Charles Stuart told police in 1989 that he and his wife had just left a birthing class at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston when she was shot by a black gunman. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

On Oct. 23, 1989, Charles Stuart told Boston police he and his pregnant wife were attacked by a black gunman as they were returning from a childbirth class.

His wife died, and 17 days later, so did their infant son, who had been delivered prematurely.

The incident sparked racially-charged anger across the city and the case garnered attention across the U.S. The mayor vowed the killer would be found and ordered his police commissioner to put every officer on the case. 

Stuart reportedly received life insurance payments of more than $80,000 US.

In late December, Stuart picked a black man out of a police line-up.

But days later, on Jan. 3, 1990, Stuart jumped off a bridge. Hours earlier, his brother told police that Charles Stuart had confessed to killing his wife.

Jayson Blair

Jayson Blair was found to have fabricated quotes, stories and other elements of his reporting for the New York Times over his 4 years at the newspaper. (Mayita Mendez/Newsday/Associated Press)

Journalist Jayson Blair began his career at the New York Times as an intern in the summer of 1998. By the time he resigned four years later, he had plagiarized on numerous occasions, and faked entire events, interviews and comments.

According to the Times, he “selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.”

An investigation into his work uncovered issues with at least 36 of the 73 pieces he wrote as a national reporter.

The Go Fund Me scam

Johnny Bobbitt Jr., left, Kate McClure and Mark D’Amico were charged after orchestrating a fake Go Fund Me campaign and pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Elizabeth Robertson/Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

In the fall of 2018, Kate McClure and Mark D’Amico set up a Go Fund Me page after saying a homeless man had given them his last $20 after finding them stranded on the side of the road with no gas. The couple said they wanted to raise money to thank the man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr.

People donated more than $400,000 US. McClure and D’Amico gave Bobbitt $75,000, which apparently didn’t sit too well with him. He sued, and the whole story started to unravel.

The couple had blown most of the money on cars and trips by the time police caught up to them. All three were charged with second-degree conspiracy and theft by deception. They face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Joe Gliniewicz

People pay respects to Lt. Joe Gliniewicz who was believed to have been shot and killed while pursuing a group of suspicious men. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

On Sept. 1, 2015, Chicago police officer Joe Gliniewicz was found dead in the woods, after he had radioed in that he was in pursuit of three suspects — two white and one black. It was immediately assumed that he had been killed in the line of duty.

But a few weeks later, Lake County Major Crimes Task Force commander George Filenko announced it had all been “a carefully staged suicide.”

Gliniewicz had been stealing and laundering money from a police mentoring program for youth he ran with his wife. Three months later, his wife was indicted on charges related to the same crimes.


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