By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Two Instagram-based, vaccine card forgers face felony charges in New York. The duo sold fake vaccine cards to knowing clients and entered some people fraudulently into New York’s immunization database. Forgery takes many surprising forms.
Two women who collaborated to sell forged vaccination cards and enter unvaccinated people into New York’s vaccine database face felony charges. Jasmine Clifford, 31, allegedly sold 250 forgeries to customers who have refused the free coronavirus vaccine but wished to appear vaccinated. Meanwhile, Nadayza Barkley, 27, allegedly used her access as an employee at a medical clinic to put the names of at least 10 people into New York’s official immunization database. They charged $200 for the fake card and an additional $250 for the fraudulent database entry.
Forgery comes in many media, and being an insider like Barkley has its advantages. In her video series Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals, Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, forensic anthropologist and Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University, explained the case of author Clifford Irving, which bears striking similarities.
The Weird Irony of Clifford Irving
In 1969, McGraw-Hill published a book written by news reporter Clifford Irving. The book was a biography of master art forger Elmyr de Hory, whose exploits in forging Picassos had earned him some celebrity. The two became neighbors in Ibiza in 1962 and de Hory convinced Irving to write his life’s story. The following year, Irving contacted his editors with shocking news.
“He told them that in an unbelievable stroke of luck, the reclusive billionaire, Howard Hughes, had recently contacted him,” Dr. Murray said. “Irving said after reading the de Hory biography he’d written, Hughes had decided to ask Irving to likewise serve as his biographer. At the enthusiastic invitation from McGraw-Hill, Irving flew to New York and presented three letters from Hughes.”
They trusted him, but chose to verify the letters’ authenticity professionally. An organization authenticated the signatures in the letters to be those of Hughes and Irving’s project was greenlit. He talked them into giving him an advance on the book for $100,000 and a fee of $750,000 to Hughes.
“There was just one big problem: Irving had completely concocted this whole scheme, in conjunction with fellow author Richard Suskind,” Dr. Murray said. “The guy who had just finished writing the biography of one of the greatest forgers of all time decided to perpetrate his own artistic fraud in the form of a book.”
Crime and Punishment
Irving convinced a separate forger to fake Hughes’s handwriting and signature on all three letters. He also got his wife a fake passport under the name of Helga R. Hughes, while instructing his publisher to make Hughes’s check out to “H. R. Hughes.” Irving’s wife deposited the money into a Swiss bank account while Irving and Suskind set to work researching Hughes to produce a convincing book, betting on Hughes never emerging from seclusion to hear of their fake biography.
A friend of Irving’s knew someone working on a biography of Hughes’s accountant, Noah Dietrich. Irving’s friend asked Dietrich to lend Irving the notes to help touch the book up. Irving and Suskind also obtained three boxes of donated materials about Hughes from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts.
“By fall 1971, they had a manuscript of over 1,000 pages,” Dr. Murray said. “In December of that year, McGraw-Hill announced to the public what they had. Shortly after the announcement, journalist Frank McCulloch from Time-Life, who was the last person known to interview the recluse in 1958, got an angry phone call from a man claiming to be Hughes.”
The alleged Howard Hughes said the book was a hoax and he had never met Irving. In turn, Irving said the caller was an imposter. Hughes himself came out of seclusion and held a teleconference, which was verified to be authentic. Meanwhile, with a dismal end in sight, Irving began to claim that the entire ordeal was simply an experiment he had conducted with the purpose of writing a book about fraud.
“Within weeks of the teleconference, though, Irving and his wife admitted to both the hoax and the check forgery, and Suskind wasn’t far behind,” Dr. Murray said. “Ultimately, they faced several state and federal charges, including mail fraud, forgery, and perjury for lying in a sworn affidavit.”
Irving pled guilty and was sentenced to two and a half years, serving 17 months. Suskind served five months and Irving’s wife served just two.