In 2005 the Long Riders’ Guild released overwhelming evidence documenting how a rogue equestrian traveller named Richard Fipps had deliberately deceived the American public, repeatedly lied to members of the press, obtained money and equipment under false pretences, pretended to being raising funds for famous charities, misappropriated the reputation of cowboy organizations and fallaciously used the names of Christian groups without their knowledge or approval.
The Long Riders’ Guild first became aware of Fipps in April, 2002 when he said he was going to ride 1,900 miles from Alabama to Utah in order to collect food and money to feed America’s hungry children. With such a worthy goal at the heart of his journey, the Long Riders’ Guild placed Fipps’ “Riding for the Children” equestrian journey on our “Current Expeditions” page. Fipps then set off, promptly dropped out of sight and the victims began to fall.
The first casualty was the very charity who had helped put him on the road. The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions annually provides more than 33 million meals to needy people. The AGRM agreed to link up with Fipps so that he could bring awareness to their need to collect canned goods for food banks located along his route. But soon after the ride began officers of the charity began receiving complaints about people associated with the ride drinking heavily. There was also growing suspicions that the ride was a logistical deception. Fipps was discovered hauling his horses from town to town and sleeping in an air-conditioned trailer. With mounting calls of disreputable behaviour and suspicions of travel fraud, the alarmed charity alerted their missions that AGRM had severed all ties to Fipps.
It was too late.
Small-town newspapers were already carrying flamboyant stories wherein Fipps bragged that he had collected “more than $1 million, all of which went to orphanages and missions.” The AGRM strongly denied the validity of this claim, saying that their organization only received $225 in donations from two individuals associated with Fipps’ ride.
|Richard Fipps was photographed in Alabama soon after he claimed to be making his first ride across the United States. Though he claimed to own a large plantation in that state, it was later revealed that his criminal record stretched across the nation.|
Because Fipps had stayed well off the Guild’s radar, his fraudulent activities eluded us. In late 2002, when word reached the Guild that Fipps had reached Utah, and therefore had ridden more than a thousand miles, he was listed as a Member. What we didn’t know was that if Fipps’ first journey had underlying troubles, his second ride was about to strangle truth in its cot.
In 2005 Fipps laid plans to betray the American public and the press in the most flamboyant equestrian travel deception ever seen.
It would be a mistake not to realize how clever Fipps was, as he had learned valuable tricks during his first fraudulent journey. Like other equestrian travel outlaws before him, Fipps had quickly realized that the strong emotional appeal created by a beautiful horse could win over normally suspicious strangers.
|To strengthen his deception Fipps donned the mythical symbolism of cowboy clothes|
To strengthen his deception Fipps donned the mythical symbolism of cowboy clothes. He hid his true nature under the cloak of charity. And in an act of unprecedented treachery, he misused the spiritual power of Christianity in order to deceive.
Additionally, Fipps enlisted cutting-edge technology into his effort. To strengthen his chances of success, prior to his departure Fipps had conned an internet expert into creating an attractive website entitled “Cowboys Helping Kids.” This internet connection was of vital importance because the website provided Fipps with what appeared to be a symbol of credibility. Thus, believing they were dealing with a “Christian Cowboy, “ merchants in several states donated t-shirts, signs, clothing, an RV, truck accessories, a combination horse trailer and equestrian equipment to the cowboy crook. It also provided Fipps with another important tool.
|Richard Fipps visits children in hospital.|
Fipps had come away from his first journey armed with an important realization. Nothing impresses the average person into believing you’re a genuine Long Rider like a battered newspaper article which says you are. Thus an equestrian travel criminal stands a better chance of fooling the public if he has first deceived the media.
But to obtain a news story which carries with it the air of authenticity you’ve got to fool a normally sceptical journalist. It’s a funny thing about reporters. Tell them your grand-daddy played baseball with Babe Ruth, and they’ll demand to see photographs, old uniforms, a battered bat, and maybe even dental records. But lower your eyes modestly, hold your tatty cowboy hat in your hands, scuff your beat-up boots back and forth slowly through the dust, then tell the reporter in a humble voice that you’re a cowboy riding for Christ, out to help suffering women and starving kids, and you’ll hook ’em every time.
|Richard Fipps (centre) appears on the Fox News network.|
Fipps had perfected the art of misleading reporters during his first journey. He falsely told an Alabama newspaper that he had been inducted into the “Cowboy Walk of Fame” and was a guest on the David Letterman television show. In an interview with London’s Horse & Hound magazine he bragged about how he had been “sleeping under the stars for the whole trip.”
But as Fipps was soon to discover, God help you if the journalists and their editors realize they’ve been deceived.
As the summer of 2005 began Richard Fipps set about perpetrating a cold-blooded financial deception on a trusting American public.
Having learned how to successfully hide in the shadows and to masquerade as a Long Rider, Fipps supposedly set to ride from Mexicali, Mexico to Alberta, Canada. This time he claimed to be raising money for battered women’s shelters. His true objective was to prey on the goodwill, the charity, the trust, the generosity, the religious conviction, and the love of others.
It was an unsigned email entitled “Fraud Cowboy” that tipped off the Guild. The message arrived at dawn on July 16th, 2005 and it didn’t pull any punches. A reporter for National Public Radio in Las Vegas had busted Fipps for fraud. This discovery came about when a neighbour complained to National Public Radio that the cowboy who pretended to be sleeping under the stars was actually hiding in an air conditioned house on the north-west side of Las Vegas.
Thanks to the website Fipps had created, it didn’t take long for the radio reporter to discover that the false Long Rider claimed to have ridden all the way to Montana. The reporter grabbed a video camera, drove across town, went inside the neighbour’s house, aimed the camera out the window and telephoned Fipps. The counterfeit traveller was standing in the front yard of his girlfriend’s home in Las Vegas when he took the call.
When the reporter called Fipps on the cell phone number listed on his website, he asked “Where are you now?”
“Oh, sitting about 200 yards away from my camp here in Montana,” Fipps replied.
“Can you describe what you see to me?”
“Oh, rolling hills, the Rockies and a lot of blue sky.”
Fipps was filmed talking into his cell phone in Las Vegas while telling the reporter this lie.
|While pretending to be in Montana, Fipps was actually filmed at his girlfriend’s home in Las Vegas, Nevada.|
Within hours of being busted by the radio station, a prominent local television reporter was on the case. He discovered that Fipps claimed to have raised more than a million dollars during his last ride, yet records showed less than five hundred dollars had been received by any charity. The television reporter also discovered that Fipps was a convicted felon. According to court documents, Fipps had been arrested for armed burglary. During the course of the trial, Fipps carried a Bible with him. On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked the defendant whether he had carried the Bible with him when he committed the offence. The judge wrote, “The evidence of the defendant’s guilt was overwhelming.” Fipps, the so-called “Christian Cowboy,” was sentenced to several years in Florida state prison.
The Las Vegas reporter also revealed that Fipps, the man who claimed to be riding from Mexico to Canada to raise money for battered women’s shelters, had been arrested locally for domestic violence against a woman.
Not to be outdone the Las Vegas newspaper published an article entitled, “Cowboy Charity ride called Hoax.” Once the local media began releasing their stories, Fipps’ house of cards began to rapidly collapse. A local woman contacted the authorities to say that during the time he claimed to be riding to Canada Fipps’ horses had actually been on her property.
As the story spread across America, other victims came forward. According to various accounts provided to the press, Fipps claimed to be descended from an Alabama ranching family and to have owned a 2,700 acre plantation. Court records revealed he had been connected to the crimes of armed burglary, grand theft auto, domestic abuse and horse theft.
|Richard Fipps' mug shot.|
When the Guild learned about Fipps’ deception, we contacted Senior North American Long Rider Allen Russell, who had indeed made a solo ride from Canada to Mexico. After studying the misleading website, Russell reported that he believed Fipps had created an internet-driven Old West fantasy designed to hoodwink his urban donors and readers. Tales of soaring bald eagles, glorious sunsets in the Rocky Mountains, galloping herds of mustangs, and cowboys roasting marshmallows around the campfire make for pleasant reading, but have little to do with the harsh realities of equestrian reality, Russell said.
“My favourite story was how Fipps cooked up jack rabbit dumplings in his Dutch oven after a long day in the saddle. Jack rabbit? Give me a break! Listen, when I made my ride I was so tired that I lived on oatmeal and rice 90% of the trip. The bottom line is that Fipps doesn’t speak the language of a real Long Rider,” Russell said emphatically.
Armed with his conclusions, Long Rider Allen Russell telephoned Richard Fipps at his home in Las Vegas. When the equestrian explorer informed Fipps of the fact that he had actually made the ride from Canada to Mexico, and that he was calling on behalf of the Long Riders’ Guild, Fipps refused to discuss the journey, put Allen on hold for ten minutes, and thereafter refused to answer his phone.
There is one other singular aspect about Fipps’ deception. He profaned God.
Though he claimed to be a devout Christian cowboy, this architect of deceit systematically wounded and victimized a series of well-meaning people. One of the ways he did this was by his heavy handed misuse of the Christian community. Listed as one of the “Sponsors” of the Mexico to Canada ride was the “Cowboys for Christ” organization. Yet Ted Pressley, the Founder of the biblical outfit, told the Long Riders’ Guild that Fipps was not associated with them, nor had they authorized him to list them as sponsors on his website.
|A photo from Richard Fipps’ website supposedly showing him praying.|
Another well-known charity that felt Fipps’ sting is the “Happy Trails Children’s Foundation,” started by legendary western entertainer Roy Rogers. Fipps had also falsely listed the Roy Rogers charity on his “Cowboys Helping Kids” website.
The Long Riders’ Guild has never encountered a more deliberate modern attempt to deceive the public and mislead the press on such a national scale. The collective harm caused by Fipps left a string of emotional and financial victims along a trail of equestrian treachery which stretched from Florida to Montana. Because of his actions Fipps was the first living fraud listed in the Guild’s Hall of Shame, guaranteeing that future generations of Long Riders will recall the lasting legacy of this equestrian knave.
To view the extensive Fipps file, which includes documentation exposing his false claims, extensive coverage in the press and a collection of images, please click here.
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