Most people in Dallas, Texas, know William Neil “Doc” Gallagher as the 'Money Doctor.' The radio host and author of financial self-help books holds himself up as a pillar of his close-knit Christian community. Doc uses his smooth radio voice to emcee for Dallas’ much loved Senior Follies singing group. He offers financial advice to anyone willing to lend and ear and lavishes friends and acquaintances with gifts. But all of Doc’s good deeds come with sinister strings attached. The “Money Doctor” is using his power and influence to steal more than $20 million from investors in a Ponzi scheme.
[00:00:01] Michelle: This week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:03] So when we sat there in mid-October at our dining room table to rollover my 401k fund into an annuity, there were no alarms 'cause we'd done it before. We basically emptied our piggy bank.
[00:00:18] He's a total actor. That's what I would have to say. He could play the part like a genius. He knew what to say and how to say it.
[00:00:32] Michelle: Welcome back to AARP's The Perfect Scam and a new season. I always think one day the scams are just going to run out, but you know what, they never do. And trust me, as the scammers might say, this season is just full of spooky scam stories some of which give me actual chills. You wish they were fiction, right. This week's scammer extraordinaire, a smooth, silver-haired and silver-tongued, Scripture spouting, Texan radio show host. This guy made you believe he was literally sent by God to sort our your finances and would go to virtually any length to convince you without you really noticing he's trying. But first, let's check in with our favorite smooth-talking, for all the right reasons, Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale. Hi, Frank.
[00:01:24] Frank Abagnale: Hi, Michelle. Great to be back with you for another session.
[00:01:27] Michelle: You know, since we're still in the age of coronavirus here, let's talk about that fraud scene. I was just talking to another fraud expert days ago who said he had never seen the landscape like this with so many terrible schemes out there and that just made me shudder inside. Just since coronavirus started, Americans have lost nearly 60 million dollars to fraud. And that's so painful considering the many difficulties that people are already facing out there. So tell us, Frank, what is the latest you're seeing? Is, is this coronavirus fraud evolving in any way? What is new?
[00:02:03] Frank Abagnale: It's just a lot of scams, and because of the pandemic, uh, this type of fraud has gone up more than 350% since the pandemic started. They want to sell you the vaccine or a treatment or some kind of cure, and they're offering coronavirus testing, and they're telling you they need your Medicare card number for that and your Social Security number to bill Medicare. They're doing robo-calls to sell you all kinds of products, and then there's the other side of that; people are filing for unemployment using other people's Social Security numbers and information. I had a call a couple of nights ago from an old neighbor of mine, his daughter had got a call from the unemployment office saying that she should be receiving her unemployment check soon. She didn't file for unemployment, so she called me concerned, and I told her someone obviously has gotten your Social Security number, and they filed for unemployment. And there is a Nigerian gang that's responsible for a great deal of that, but there are other criminals out there working by themselves, working in groups, they realize they're not likely to get caught, they're not likely to serve any time because law enforcement has their hands full with many other things going on right now, so this is a great opportunity for criminals to commit fraud, and so they're doing so.
[00:03:20] Michelle: Thanks, Frank, for keeping us all on our guard. And now, this week's story takes us down to Texas - Dallas, where sometimes things are bigger, even the fraud. And Doc Gallagher, by all accounts, has one of those bigger than life personalities.
[00:03:37] Clip: This is Doc Gallagher. Call me at 972-445-0770 with your questions and concerns about anything having to do with mu--, me. I've been doing this for 20 years, been on the radio for about 12.
[00:03:51] Larger as life. Bounces out. Everyone knows him, you know.
[00:03:56] Doc wanted uh, he wanted attention.
[00:03:59] Michelle: And down there in Dallas, Doc knew how to get it. His name is actually William Neil Gallagher. He's 79 years old, and with a PhD in Philosophy from Brown, calls himself Doc. He liked to tell an origin story about a hard scrabble upbringing in New York City, about serving in the Peace Corps in Asia, working on Wall Street but leaving in disgust over the large commissions brokers would take and then starting his own financial group. He gave himself the name, The Money Doctor. On his blog, he calls himself America's Money Doctor. But for the most part, he was known around Dallas, specifically in Christian circles. He would take out ads, billboards, and paid to have shows on four radio stations which is how many investors found him.
[00:04:46] Clip: Let's talk about the uh, that nice surprise that may be sitting in your, your desk drawer. A lot of folks...
[00:04:52] Michelle: Now to listen to his shows, it's a lot of self-promotion and kind of rambling.
[00:04:58] Clip: Well when they're paying 1 to 1½ percent at the bank or credit union, what else do you call them? But that's where a certificate of uh, deposit, which is what it really means, is not peculiar or captive to bank products.
[00:05:11] Michelle: But one thing many of his clients seem to have in common, in addition to being older and Christian, is something called The Spectacular Senior Follies.
[00:05:28] Michelle: This is a big production in Dallas, a rousing musical revue with more than 100 singers, dancers, former professional entertainers, even show girls. And all over 55.
[00:05:47] And guess who's the MC of the whole thing?
[00:05:49] Michelle: Yep, Doc Gallagher was. That's where Allen and Margaret first saw him in action, though Margaret, back in 2014 after hearing his radio show and ads, had called his office. It was around the time they were starting to think seriously about their finances for retirement.
[00:06:06] Margaret: And I called in on that number, left a message, and not even five minutes later my phone rang, and he was on the line. And right away I was really surprised, I wasn't expecting to hear from him. I thought perhaps a secretary, or an assistant would call me, but it was him.
[00:06:26] Michelle: Wow.
[00:06:27] Margaret: And I was surprised. Maybe I should have been a little wary, I don't know. But I was surprised.
[00:06:34] Michelle: Well describe what he's like.
[00:06:36] Margaret: Okay. He has gray hair, he's um, kind of stocky, wears a suit with, his shirt is unbuttoned at the top, and he doesn't look like he comes from New York 5th Avenue at all. He's kind of casual, he's kind of Texas that way. He comes across very strong. He comes across like he's the most fun person to be around.
[00:07:05] Michelle: Yeah, okay.
[00:07:06] Margaret: He's a little bit on the boisterous side and very warm and friendly, and makes you feel like you’re the greatest person he's ever met.
[00:07:14] Michelle: Got it.
[00:07:14] Margaret: That's kind of what he's like.
[00:07:16] Allen: Well he, he seemed very, very well-known on radio shows and on, on events. He'd make himself public. He'd be downtown feeding the hungry and he'd send you articles about it.
[00:07:28] Michelle: He'd name-drop a lot too. People like Zig Ziglar, Joel Osteen. He'd show pictures of himself with all kinds of celebrities.
[00:07:36] Margaret: He tried to cover every base, every base. That also fools you, all those little nuances, you know. Self-promotion, self-promotion everywhere.
[00:07:47] Michelle: And there were his books, several of them, some with forwards done by well-known people. One book is titled uniquely, “Jesus Christ, Money Master,” which is kind of both awesome and sad picturing Jesus behind a desk in some office building with a lot of graphs trying to talk you into the right balance of funds.
[00:08:08] Michelle: (laugh) Jesus Christ, Money Master!
[00:08:10] Allen: We never really read it.
[00:08:12] Margaret: I, I actually read the book. I mean he'd call us, and he'd say, did you read my book? Did you read my book, and so I read it.
[00:08:17] Michelle: How does Jesus figure into the investment scheme?
[00:08:20] Margaret: Well, it was about the fact that Jesus would teach us how to handle our money.
[00:08:25] Michelle: Okay.
[00:08:25] Margaret: He would...
[00:08:25] Michelle: So it was sort of like ethical and...
[00:08:29] Allen: Oh yeah.
[00:08:29] Margaret: And giving to people, and you know.
[00:08:31] Allen: Yeah, it was just good ethical principles of managing life and your resources and your talents and your money wisely.
[00:08:39] Michelle: Oh, this is so ironic that he wrote a book like that. It makes me, now I'm starting to get mad, you know! Ah!
[00:08:47] Margaret: You too.
[00:08:47] Allen: Well, so when he came to our home in September, so he actually, literally sat in our living room. I could see his chair from where I'm sitting right now, he would always come in, sit in the same place, and Michelle, he would come in as large as life, and bouncy, positive, and very Christian in his approach. He knew that that was our perspective. He would come in and he would say as he came in the door, "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it," you know. And, and so I mean that that's the life, that's the world that I had lived in for years, that we had lived in for years.
[00:09:26] Michelle: Yeah.
[00:09:27] Margaret: It just shows what an actor he is, that he knows the trigger works and the trigger ways to respond to people very much.
[00:09:36] Michelle: And Doc works slowly, first simply giving Allen and Margaret good advice to update their will, pay off their mortgage, to put some money in an annuity managed by another financial group. No pressure at all, nothing fancy.
[00:09:53] Michelle: So that was a real investment.
[00:09:55] Allen: That was a real...
[00:09:56] Margaret: A real investment.
[00:09:57] Allen: That was a real investment that I could look up right now and tell you exactly where it's at.
[00:10:00] Michelle: Oh wow. Okay, well then, I think you guys sort of made out okay in this.
[00:10:05] Allen: Well that first investment we made out okay. That's the first one.
[00:10:09] Michelle: Ah, okay. You’re like, wait, there's more.
[00:10:14] Michelle: There is more. But it doesn't come for another four years when Allen was drawing ever closer now to retirement. That initial annuity where he had invested around $40,000 is doing great, so Allen sets up a meeting with Doc to talk next steps. And now things are a little different. Doc suggests Allen and Margaret rollover a 401k into an annuity held by Doc's own firm this time, and now, there's a little more of a sell, a little more pressure.
[00:10:44] Allen: He'd been starting to send the offers, you know, "I could do this for you if you invest in this fund. Let's put that money to work for you." And all his investments were, you know, progressive growth, tax-free, liquid, so he had these charts he would give how it's going to be diversified in five different uh accounts, and it was very, it seemed structured.
[00:11:08] Michelle: Definitely.
[00:11:08] Allen: There's be a 6½ percent bonus for new deposits, and there was this deadline, at the end of October. There was a little fear of loss...
[00:11:16] Michelle: Got it.
[00:11:17] Allen: ...you know, by popular request from people like you, that I have to do it by October 31st, and we understood there was a threshold of, of 50,000 that would be, we had to or be wise to get to. So we had about...
[00:11:28] Michelle: So a little, would you say it was a little bit of pressure or was he coming on real strong on this?
[00:11:34] Allen: No, it was moderate pressure. It wasn't heavy, it was, you know, I have a time deadline. Goodness, we live with that kind of pressure all the time in our world, you know, like this offer, email offers we get is....
[00:11:47] Michelle: Yeah.
[00:11:47] Allen: You know, this offer will last by midnight, you know.
[00:11:51] Michelle: Expires tonight.
[00:11:52] Allen: Then if you got your foot in the door, you could continue to add further investments to it.
[00:11:58] Michelle: This is a little bit Bernie Madoff-ish to me in retrospect.
[00:12:03] Allen: It, it, I think it is a little bit. So when we sat there in mid-October, Michelle, at our dining room table to rollover my 401k funds into an annuity, there were no alarms, 'cause we'd done it before.
[00:12:17] Michelle: And because that initial investment four years prior was fine and safe, they felt they had no reason not to trust him.
[00:12:25] Allen: We basically emptied our piggy banks to take advantage of this.
[00:12:29] Michelle: Doc persuades them to not only invest $65,000 right away, but then he starts trying to get them to tap into an inheritance they had, that they had invested in gold and silver. They are really hesitant about this. This money came from beloved relatives. Also, they find out they'll lose a chunk of change, $13,000, if they take their money out of that and put it with Doc, so their answer is thanks, but no thanks. And that's when Doc swoops in with an elaborate story that he will personally guarantee that the loss will be made up and then some.
[00:13:03] Margaret: He's a total actor. That's what I would have to say. He could play the part like a genius. He knew what to say and how to say it, and when we put stop signs in, like when he wanted our gold and silver, he went off and he came back and he had papers, he had two sets of papers and he got up from his chair and he came along around the other side, and with a flourish, he gave me my set, he gave Allen his set, and he went and sat down again, and he went through it page by page.
[00:13:41] Allen: He says, I think I have an answer. He talked about this Leon Weissman Memorial Fund. And it was, Leon Weissman was a real person. He was, he died, he was 93. I have the obituary from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and, and he had passed. So he was a real person, he was a war hero, he had been in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge and, and I knew all this stuff. But there is no such thing as a memorial fund. But he made it look like he was, and, and that he was on the board and he got permission from the board to grant that $13,000 differential to us and to others who had been in Christian ministry or the military or missionaries or whatever, so I've got this covered for you. And so we thought, well, if it's covered and this is going to be a better return...
[00:14:34] Michelle: Again, Doc has made it so they have no reason not to. Now through all this time of knowing Doc, as we've heard from several of his clients now, the husband seemed to like him okay enough, but the wives have misgivings from the start. Noticed things.
[00:14:52] Michelle: What kinds of things? I'm intrigued.
[00:14:54] Margaret: Okay. The first one was, he gave us tickets to go to The Senior Follies.
[00:14:59] Michelle: Yeah.
[00:15:00] Margaret: And uh, he MC'd in his tuxedo and afterwards, when we came down to the foyer, he was standing there all by himself, and he looked kind of forlorn to me. And I thought, that is really strange. Why wouldn't he be surrounded by people? Because there were people everywhere. And, and that kind of peaked my curiosity right there. But I just, for a minute, and then I let it go.
[00:15:28] Michelle: A little glimpse of loneliness, maybe, but Margaret also noticed that when they first met Doc at one of his offices, it seemed almost as if he had just set it up, though he hadn't.
[00:15:40] Michelle: Oh, like he was sort of a little disorganized?
[00:15:43] Margaret: Yeah, well he is a very disorganized person.
[00:15:47] Michelle: (laugh) How so?
[00:15:48] Margaret: I saw, I saw inside his car one time, and I have never seen a car that had papers strewn all over the place and so much clutter. And I was...
[00:15:59] Michelle: Oh my gosh.
[00:16:00 Margaret: ...surprised, because he drove a very nice car, but it was a mess inside.
[00:16:04Michelle: Still, Doc is the kind of person who makes you feel like you matter. He would send Allen and Margaret little gifts, DVDs, books. He would come to their home. They knew Doc was a man of faith, who had adopted children to give them better lives, adopted his own grandchildren, and was a staunch campaigner for grandparents’ rights. His son, whom he had adopted from Asia, worked with him, and himself had written a book about how great and wise his dad is. They met Doc's wife, too, but everyone we've spoken to said as boisterous as Doc was, she was as quiet, barely said anything. The Gallaghers had some properties, but weren't living large. They had a nice house, but it wasn't some sprawling mansion. Doc wasn't cruising around in Ferraris, he drove like a 6 or 8 year old Cadillac; doing well, not flashy. Margaret's misgivings she put aside, because she and Allen needed the help with finances as retirement loomed.
[00:17:03] Margaret: One time when he came in, he had sort of bruising around, particularly his left eye, and I thought that was kind of strange, but you know, I'm a polite person, I'm not going to ask anybody if somebody punched him in the eye or whatever. And one time we got talking about things, corruption and things like that, and I made the comment, you know, people who are corrupt are going to get found out, and they're going to end up in prison. And, you know, it was just a general statement.
[00:17:39] Michelle: Sure.
[00:17:40] Margaret: And I could see his body language pulling back a bit...
[00:17:45] Michelle: Okay.
[00:17:46] Margaret: ...because if, if you agreed that corrupt people should be held accountable, you wouldn't pull back unless you had a reason to pull back. And I saw that, but I didn't question it.
[00:18:01] Michelle: The questions did come though, very soon after Allen and Margaret made their financial moves with Doc, totaling more than $100,000. He started offering them tax and accounting services, too, wanting them to turn over all their records to him. Allen was preparing to do that. The last time they saw him at their home, they had signed some papers, and something just didn't feel right.
[00:18:26] Allen: She handed over the check, and uh, I think his body language at that time was very, very interesting, wasn't it?
[00:18:34] Margaret: You know, he sort of leaned over, and then he stood up and took a pause, and took a breath, and then he leaned back in and signed, and gave it to me. And he was feeling guilty, reluctant, whatever, and then I made his coffee and gave him homemade cookies, and walked out to the car with him, and that's when I discovered what a mess his car was.
[00:19:01] Michelle: He seemed to rush off then into the warm Texas evening. And it was around this time, they noticed, the tone had changed in Doc's correspondence. He started sending alerts to his clients to watch out for scams and saying if the government contacted them about investments, don't talk to them. You can't trust them, talk to me, he told them, and I'll help you navigate it.
[00:19:26] Allen: As we grew in our trust with each other, and we would share some stories about our journey and, and I had mentioned to him once a story of how, you know, at a time of need, somebody came and really helped us. And he wrote this, this note to me, and he said, "It looks to me, based upon that story, it looks that like God sends the right resources to you just at the right time, and it looks like that includes me." So he put himself into the story as a provision sent from God to help us. And that might have, that was one of the last things that he ever did.
[00:20:10] Michelle: What they didn't get from Doc are detailed statements he told them he would send about how their savings were doing. Elsewhere in Doc Gallagher's Dallas circle...
[00:20:21] Doc, he did a lot of things for us, just generous things, little things, that I guess probably spurred us on to uh keep the process going.
[00:20:34] Michelle: That's Harold, another character in this strange story. Harold is 88, and himself has lived a colorful life. He's been a salesman, a soldier, a crop duster, a TV and radio entertainer, a singer, and Johnny Cash impersonator, and a professor, among other things. Oh, and he also has a PhD in History.
[00:20:57] Michelle: I'm getting a little jealous here. Everybody's got a PhD. Maybe that should be my next project.
[00:21:02] Harold: Yes.
[00:21:03] Michelle: Okay, so you guys connected on a number of levels, then. You have the entertainment thing, you have an interest in history, you both have a PhD, he's on the radio, so I could see where you, you had some comfort level with this guy.
[00:21:18] Harold: Yeah. Yeah, well my wife also has a PhD, and...
[00:21:23] Michelle: See! Everybody's got a PhD.
[00:21:24] Harold: ...so we, we just, we discussed varoius things, and, and uh, he's knowledgeable.
[00:21:30] Michelle: And what did you think of him? Did he seem like a good guy?
[00:21:33] Harold: He did. So far as I could tell...
[00:21:36] Anne: I didn't like him.
[00:21:37] Harold: ...he was very personable, and he had a good stage presence.
[00:21:41] Michelle: Wait, wait, wait. Did I hear a woman, who may be your wife, in the background...
[00:21:47] Harold: Yes, you did.
[00:21:48] Michelle: ...just say I didn't like him?
[00:21:50] Harold: Yes. Yeah, she was a little bit uh, skeptical of Doc, because uh she thought he was just too smooth.
[00:21:57] Michelle: Now once again, here is a woman who just had a bad feeling about Doc Gallagher. I like that Anne gives this sort of angry audible commentary behind the scenes throughout the interview, where Harold is chill about things, she's outspoken. We managed to her on the line a time or two.
[00:22:16] Anne: Hi, I'm Hal's better half.
[00:22:18] Michelle: I can hear you. You've got some stuff to say.
[00:22:20] Anne: Well, I'll say it. I had misgivings about Doc from the beginning. Call it female intuition, call it whatever, but I do not like a man who likes to put his hands on my shoulders or around my waist and things like that, and Doc did things like that, and I didn't like it.
[00:22:38] Michelle: Ah, so he, he rubbed you the wrong way, literally, from the beginning.
[00:22:43] Anne: Yep. No, and I'd always thought he was smooth, and he was always sending me these very elaborate bouquets of flowers, and in my living room, I still have a huge potted plant arrangement that he sent me.
[00:22:55] Michelle: Oh my goodness.
[00:22:57] Anne: And, and of course I love those things because I'm, I'm at heart a gardener, and uh, but, but there was something about him that just never clicked with me. I did not feel comfortable with him.
[00:23:09] Michelle: Doc and Harold performed in The Senior Follies together for years, and Harold sees that lots and lots of their mutual friends are investing with him. Harold does his due diligence. He gets references, even checks out Doc's PhD to see if it's real. It is. The only thing that stands out like a fly in the sweet tea is a fine Doc got some 20 years earlier from the State Securities Board for not being registered as a financial advisor. Hmm, not good. But Harold's friends think Doc is doing great by their money, and Doc is out there, a very visible figure in their community as The Money Doctor, after all.
[00:23:55] Michelle: In person, Doc is surprisingly low key about investing, not pushy in the least. Harold likes that too. He makes the decision to invest $100,000 with him.
[00:24:07] Michelle: It's so interesting, and I think sometimes, you know, not being pushy is really what works for these people, kind of like Bernie Madoff. Remember with Bernie Madoff, it's like you had to beg him to invest with him. He, he would say, well, I'm not really taking, you know, he, he used that mystique to kind of draw even more people in. So you, when you decided to invest with him and give him $100,000, was he like overjoyed by this? Did he kind of become your best friend? Like he must have been so happy that, that you had given him that much money.
[00:24:49] Harold: Uh, it didn't appear that way on the surface, uh, it, it seemed like, more like just a kind of normal transaction, just like I had taken it to Fidelity or Schwab or TIAA or someone. It was just kind of matter of fact, and uh, he, he didn't pick up the uh, the check that I wrote him for probably a week. So, it was not a pushy situation.
[00:25:17] Michelle: Harold also appreciated that Doc was charitable. He would match other people's donations to spur more. He was patriotic, he was religious, he was sociable. He seemed genuinely interested in being friends.
[00:25:29] Michelle: When you mentioned that he would be generous and do little things, was he generous towards you and your wife as well? Would he do little things for you or...
[00:25:38] Harold: He always, uh was sending flowers, and he gave me books on uh Johnny Cash, for example, and uh, just a number of things. He'd, he'd see something that he thought would be interesting to me, uh, and he'd send them along.
[00:25:58] Michelle: Doc even presented himself as a minister who would volunteer to officiate people's weddings. Something that also kind of annoyed Anne.
[00:26:06] Anne: When our daughter got married, he wanted to perform the service. Thank God he didn't. I mean he was really pushing for that. I, I, he said, "Well I'll come over to your house and do it." I didn't want that.
[00:26:18] Michelle: Oh my goodness.
[00:26:20] Anne: I just did not do that. I was very vocal about it. There was just something about him that wasn't right.
[00:26:26] Michelle: They had known old Doc for years, but pretty soon after Harold signs over his money to him, all is not completely well.
[00:26:36] Harold: He sent a, a statement out and it just listed an investment in five categories, but it did not really specify anything. And so, the uh, second one came, and it was very much the same. There was no real accounting for the money. By the time a year, a year and a half had passed by, I started to get concerned about it.
[00:27:02] Michelle: Two Texas couples now are wondering what's going on with Doc exactly? Why he gets such rave revues, but with so little in the way of explanation about what their money is doing, what Doc is doing with it, and how on earth it's supposed to be generating 6 and 7 percent returns plus bonuses all the time. Kind of starting to seem like the ladies here, Margaret and Anne, have some sort of intuition on all this, doesn't it? And it's all starting to not bode too well down in Dallas. Take it away, Harold.
[00:27:36] Harold: (singing) "I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down and the rains went higher. And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire."
[00:27:54] Michelle: The Money Doctor is in, but there ain't much legible info coming out. Next week on The Perfect Scam, these couples and you will find out the truth about Doc. What on earth happened to all those investments, and what happens to him.
[00:28:17] Michelle: If you or someone you know has been the victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP's free Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can help you know what to do next and how to avoid scams in the future. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Producer, Brook Ellis; Associate Producer and Researcher, Megan DeMagnus; our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez; and of course, Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Michelle Kosinski.
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