It was an unsigned email entitled “Fraud Cowboy” that tipped us off.
Richard Fipps poses with his dog after his suspect ride from Alabama to Utah.
Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph courtesy of The Cullman Times.
The message came rattling in at dawn on July 16th, 2005 and it didn’t pull any punches.
“Follow the link to Nevada
Public Radio to hear Richard Fipps’ admission of guilt at
Then contact Las Vegas channel 13 for more information. They have also done an expose on Fipps. The television channel has a wealth of important information on his last charity ride. He states he raised over 1 million dollars during his ride, yet records show less than five hundred dollars were received by the mission. As Fipps is a convicted felon, it should come as no real surprise that this has occurred.”
That’s the kind of message
that grabs our attention here at Long Riders HQ.
We put aside our morning coffee and called Ky Plaskon, the National Public Radio reporter, who had just stumbled into the biggest horse-heist in modern history.
Ky Plaskon is a radio man who doesn’t know the difference between a bay and a bosal. But he’s a good reporter with a nose for news. So when he got a tip that a Las Vegas-based equestrian traveller was involved in a charity ride scam, Ky did what any news hound would do.
He went hunting.
What Ky quickly discovered was a guy called Richard Fipps, who claimed to be a cowboy celebrity. According to his spiffy new website, Fipps, who said he had made a record ride from Alabama to Utah, was now riding from Mexico to Canada to raise a mountain of cash for orphans and battered women.
It all sounded good.
Maybe too good.
Especially when Ky discovered that the charity cowboy might not actually be riding the range. According to a neighbor, Fipps was soaking up the rays in a Las Vegas back yard.
“I realized that I had been seeing this guy here (in Las Vegas) and yet his website says he is in Bozeman, Montana in the middle of this big charity ride. It just didn’t add up,” the neighbor, Shane Landry, told the NPR reporter.
Realizing the public was being conned, Landry complained to National Public Radio that the cowboy who claimed to be sleeping under the stars was actually camped out in an air conditioned house on the north west side of Las Vegas.
Ky’s hunch was about to be confirmed.
The radio reporter discovered that Fipps was not riding across Montana, as his on-line diary stated, but was in fact residing with his girlfriend in Las Vegas.
So Ky called Fipps on the cell phone number listed on his website.
“Where are you now?” the reporter asked.
“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.”
When Ky rang off, he checked Fipps website.
Sure enough, the charity cowboy claimed to be in Montana that very day.
It didn’t take long for the radio reporter to grab a video camera, drive across town, and film Richard Fipps at his girlfriend’s home in Las Vegas.
"I know there are people who claim to be a cowboy because of the hat they wear, but that's disgusting," the irate radio reporter told The Guild.
And there was more bad news for Fipps.
The film boys were on his trail too.
Las Vegas based Channel 13 had assigned the story to their chief investigative reporter, Glen Meek.
"The ride was supposed to raise awareness and money but ended up raising a lot of questions," Meek told his audience in the first of two special television broadcasts.
The reporter discovered that the cowboy, who claimed to be riding from Mexicali, Mexico to Alberta, Canada to raise money for battered women’s shelters, had been arrested in Las Vegas for domestic violence against a woman.
So what was it?
Was Fipps in court or in the saddle?
That’s when The Long Riders’ Guild received the anonymous email and started asking questions of our own.
As the world's first international association of equestrian explorers The Guild takes such reports very seriously. The Long Riders' Guild has Members in 32 countries, all of whom have ridden a minimum of 1,000 miles in a single equestrian journey. Moreover, our primary website contains more than 1,000 pages of equestrian travel information and we publish more than 100 equestrian travel books in five languages.
Consequently, when a person claiming to be a "Long Rider" defrauds the public, as well as a long list of trusting merchants and charitable organizations, The Guild does everything in our power to alert the international equestrian community, as well as immediately ejecting the culprit from our midst.
Because Fipps had been listed as a Member after he supposedly made his 1,900 mile ride from Centre, Alabama to Vernal, Utah, we started asking questions about both that ride, as well as the second ride he had supposedly just completed from Mexico to Canada.
What we immediately discovered was that the idea for the border to border ride was apparently lifted from well-known cowboy poet, T.J. Casey.
According to Casey, Fipps attended a meeting in Midland, Texas where the poet revealed plans to organize a cattle drive between Canada and Mexico. When he went to raise support, the mounted poet was surprised to learn that Fipps had appropriated his idea, turning it instead into a Christian-charity-cowboy ride.
“It’s the most underhanded thing anyone ever did to me. I can’t believe he (Fipps) can do what he does to people, then turn around and do it some more,” Casey told The Guild.
What the poet didn’t realize was that Fipps had come away from his first journey armed with an important realization. You stand a better chance in fooling the public, if you’ve first fooled the media.
And that, we discovered, is what Fipps did soon after he launched his new charity ride scheme in Nevada.
Here’s a little rule of thumb.
If you want average people to believe you’re a genuine Long Rider, just pull out a battered newspaper article which says you are.
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 battered 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.
|Counterfeit cowboy, Richard
Fipps, conned newspapers in several states into believing he was a
legitimate Long Rider.
Click on photograph to enlarge - courtesy of the Vernal Express.
If you don’t believe me, ask Helen Afrasiabi.
She’s the Las Vegas Sun reporter whom Fipps fooled in December of 2004.
Mind you, Helen wasn’t the first reporter to fall for Fipps’ fairytales.
He had already conned the Vernal Express and the Cullman Times into believing he hung the moon.
All three papers were victims of an elaborate fraud, once which Fipps carefully constructed to entwine eager reporters into writing a feel-good feature story that would eventually aid his cause.
Yet, while the earlier stories were written after the fact, one of the reasons Fipps’ second ride nearly succeeded was because of Helen’s well-meaning, albeit naďve, reporting. Fipps fits the profile of a classic equestrian liar, in that he invented a long list of fantastic equestrian stories, none of which the reporter thought to verify. Afrasiabi, for example, believed Fipps when he said his ride from Alabama to Utah set a world record that was recognized by the Horsemen’s Association of the United States. That claim was as phony as the $1 million he said he raised for charity.
The man who claimed to be an Old West hero, out to raise money for needy children and battered women, played the Sun reporter for a fool.
Even worse, once the story was published, Fipps elaborated his hoax, moving on to incorporate the power of the internet in his effort to falsely lure sponsors and unwitting financial donors into his equestrian net.
The internet is like the rain. It lends fragrance to the rose but also strengthens the poison of the deadly nightshade.
Patrick McCarrick at the Las Vegas based Absolute Internet Marketing knows all about that power. In an effort to help the needy in his adopted hometown, the soft-spoken Irishman donates the services of his company to a different charity every year.
Thus, it seemed like a natural fit when the charity-minded website wizard met the man who claimed he was about to raise money for hungry kids and battered women. Of course the article in the Las Vegas Sun helped convince the webmaster that Fipps was legit.
McCarrick’s company created a beautiful website entitled “Cowboys Helping Kids.” It contained a biography of our “hero,” a map showing the route Fipps planned to take from Mexicali to Alberta, a guest book, a list of sponsors, photos taken of Fipps riding outside Las Vegas and most importantly, an on-line diary.
It also cost McCarrick more than $5,000.
But if it was the cowboy myth that helped elevate Fipps into power, it was thanks to McCarrick’s website, and the click of Fipps’ suspicious neighbor’s computer mouse, that laid bare the internet based deception.
According to Fipps’ diary,
his second ride began on April, 26th, 2005.
“Today the ride started…We crossed the border from Mexico into the USA this a.m. There is nothing but beautiful scenery down here…” Fipps reported to his webmaster.
But nothing in the supposedly 72-day-long journey was true.
Fipps was able to maintain his fraud by duping the webmaster into posting phony travel reports on the website. These reports were telephoned in every morning.
“We would come in at 8 a.m. and find messages that had been called in at five thirty that morning” McCarrick told The Long Riders’ Guild.
The on-line diary thus purported to document Fipps’ 2,140 mile journey.
When his neighbors and the local media became suspicious, Fipps sent in a week’s worth of updates in a single day. After Ky Plaskon, the radio reporter discovered him in Las Vegas, Fipps suddenly informed his webmaster that the Canadian authorities had said his horses would not be allowed to enter that country.
With the heat on, Fipps was trying to end the imaginary ride.
All the while the webmaster was becoming suspicious.
Though he couldn’t actually prove that Fipps had ridden every step of the way, McCarrick turned his internet sleuthing abilities to the material he had on hand.
When he began inspecting the website he had created, the webmaster discovered that two of the Montana guest book entries actually originated at Fipps’ Las Vegas address.
“Cowboy I have enjoyed meeting you. You are a blessing. Anytime you are in Montana you are welcome around my fire. Keep going and God be with you,” Carl Richardson supposedly wrote on July 8.
Likewise a second message, reportedly from Mike Jones on June 27th, stated, “I seen you this morning with all the horses while on my way to work. You’re a true cowboy.”
|In this posed photograph,
Richard Fipps, the "true cowboy," can be seen trying to pull his reluctant
horse over the edge of a cliff.
Click on picture to enlarge - photo courtesy of AIM.
“I was genuinely shocked when I learned we had been duped.” McCarrick told The Guild.
But the damage was done and this time the internet had helped Fipps move into a bigger league of deception. Merchants in several states had donated t-shirts, signs, clothing, an RV, truck accessories, a combination horse trailer and equestrian equipment to the cowboy crook.
That’s when The Long Riders’ Guild called Allen Russell.
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