"I can't look back to my wedding day like most women do. All I think about is that it was a big joke," Maria laments. "We wante
"The church, at that time, said, â€˜We have a visiting priest, Father Fred, and he's from Mexico, and he will perform the ceremony for you," recalls Gene, Maria's husband. "How could the church have a con-artist priest?"
Father Fred was really Fred Brito, a self-proclaimed "benevolent con man." He sat as Gene and Maria had confessions with him, and he attended their wedding rehearsal. "We really started to grow fond of him," Maria remembers. "At the time of the wedding, we were happy with Father Fred's performance."
Gene adds, "He played the role very well. Everybody loved him."
"The priest is always up waiting at the altar, and I thought, well, this is maybe the way they do it in Mexico, and I gave him a nice tip for the beautiful ceremony," Gene says.
It wasn't until Gene and Maria returned from their honeymoon that they discovered Father Fred was a phony. "One of my buddies came up to me, laughing. My buddy said that the priest who performed our wedding ceremony was a con artist," Gene recalls. "I said, â€˜What are you talking about?' I'm waiting for the punch line, but there was no punch line."
When Maria found out the truth about Father Fred, the news brought her to tears. "I was devastated. What Phony Fred did was not OK for us. He never apologized to us," she says, tears welling in her eyes. "I think that knowing that we told our confession to a criminal " it feels so violating."
Gene wants to confront Father Fred. "He's victimized us. I don't think he realizes what he's done," he says.
"You said during your confession it felt more like you were talking to a fortune teller than a priest," Dr. Phil says to Maria. "What did you mean?"
"I went behind the curtain, like a traditional confession is, and he said, â€˜I know that your last name begins with a D, and I know that you're getting married in a couple days,' and I thought that was really strange, but you don't question a priest," she explains.
Gene directs his thoughts to Fred. "You've had a lot of time to get back to us and apologize, and figuring the con artist that you are, I figured you're not going to," he says. "No letter, no phone call, I guess that's what really hurts."
"What do you say to these people?" Dr. Phil asks Fred.
"I'm glad that you allowed this to happen, because whether this happened or not, you have to know that I realize what I did to you was a horrible, horrible, immoral thing," he says, noting that he sent letters to Gene and Maria. "I tried my best to get a hold of you folks, but they told me that I couldn't have any contact with you."
A dumbfounded Dr. Phil asks, "What's your point? Is there an apology in there somewhere, or just a manipulation in validating that you're so proud of them
"I was getting there," Fred says.
Facing Gene and Maria, Fred continues, "The words, â€˜I'm sorry,' or the words that I feel " I mean, I do feel terrible for what I did." He notes that this was the worst thing he's ever done. "You wouldn't allow me to apologize to you or to even talk to you."
"You still haven't!" Dr. Phil points out. He explains that people with sociopathic personalities " although he's not diagnosing Fred as a sociopath " are sorry when they get caught. "They don't really have the ability to feel genuine remorse, or to be empathic with someone else's pain," he says. "You violated these people. You have hurt them ... You really aren't sorry about it, are you?"
"As I said before, those words are so empty," Fred says.
Fred asks Gene, "Do you really think if I said, â€˜I'm sorry,' to you and your wife that it would actually make a difference, that it would actually change anything?"
"It would start the healing process," Gene replies. "It shows responsibility."
Maria adds, "Just saying I'm sorry maybe isn't enough, so we'd like to have another wedding. Would you like to write us a check for $10,000?" she asks Fred. "We'd like to have a real wedding. I'd like all my friends to be there and to witness me having a real wedding with a real priest."
"In 2005, I wrote you both a letter, which never was delivered to you, and in that letter, it specifically says that I will return back to you, or I will give back to you that $10,000 for you to redo your wedding," Fred says.
"How are we going to do that?" Dr. Phil asks.
"That $10,000 will come back to you. We're in the process of getting the book [I have written] published, and the first $10,000 from that will go to you," Fred tells Maria and Gene. "That's the promise that I make. I made that in 2005."
"Don't you feel better?" Dr. Phil jokingly asks Maria and Gene.
"I can only show how I am apologizing to you not by what I say to you today, but hopefully that you'll see, as we move forward, that I am trying my best to rebuild my life and trying to be as honest as I possibly can, not only to other people, but in order to show you as well that maybe people do change," Fred says.
"If you have really made that transition, I want you to claim that," Dr. Phil says to Fred.
Dr. Phil takes Fred to task for claiming that he wrote a book. "There is a book entitled Conversations with God, but you didn't write it."
"That's true," Fred agrees. "It was a book that was already written called, Conversations with God, and what I did is I edited tha
"So, you basically plagiarized that book," Dr. Phil says.
"Yes," Fred says.
Dr. Phil points out Fred told the Dr. Phil producers about the book recently. "You were conning us a couple weeks ago when you said you had written Conversations with God?" he asks.
"I wrote the beginning part of it and the end of it," Fred says.
"You didn't write the book," Dr. Phil says, "and you told us you did."
"I told them I did, but I did not write all of the book," Fred explains.
"Did somebody slip up here and write stupid on my forehead?" Dr. Phil asks, sarcastically. "Are you kidding me?"
Fred claims that he is making amends and giving back by starting organizations to help others.
"I've had attorneys, private investigators and court clerks and [no one] can find one shred of legitimacy, existence, or any trail to any of these organizations, except on your blog where you talk about them," Dr. Phil tells Fred. "They're not filed. They don't exist."
"They exist on my blog," Fred says. "When people contact The National Center for Non-Violent Legislative Lobby, it comes to my blog, and they ask specific questions on how a person who's coming out of prison, how can they find help and resources to help them get a job and find a place to live. So, what I try to do is I try to educate them that these are some of the things we can do to help you make a difference."
Dr. Phil points out that Fred said he hasn't had a criminal conviction in the last five years, but, "As it turns out, you did commit a crime, it would seem, within the last five years in defrauding the Red Cross here in southern California. You got fired for that."
"It's not a crime," Fred says.
"You told them something that wasn't true, and got found out, and then they fired you," Dr. Phil says.
"That's right," Fred says.
"Do you have a job now?" Dr. Phil asks.
"No, I don't," Fred says. He has an agent and is currently writing two books.
"Does that count the one you didn't write?" Dr. Phil asks.
"That counts the one I didn't write," Fred says. He comments that he never misappropriated funds from the companies he worked for. "I had all of these jobs. I did great work while I was in these jobs but never stole a penny."
"You took money under false pretenses," Dr. Phil counters.
"I'll differ with you on that," Frank says. "I worked those jobs. I earned a living."
"When you go in and say you're a psychiatrist, and you know a few buzz words, and you render care, that's not earning your money!" Dr. Phil says. "You're not being honest with yourself ... The fact that you're a nice guy " and you probably are " that doesn't mean that you're not victimizing people when you do that."
"It's very easy to take things out of context," Fred says, then reads, "It says, â€˜Book that I wrote called Conversations with God.' One of the things that I think that you're attempting to do, that I think you have every right to do, is that you're focusing on all the things that was my past."
"No, no, no. This was not your past. This was now!" Dr. Phil says, holding up the paper. "That's why I'm focusing on this and not your past."
Dr. Phil allows Fred to have the floor so he can give a more balanced picture.
"Every single week, 76,000 inmates are released from prison," he begins. "They're leaving and saying, â€˜I hope I never come back,' but when they enter the real world of reality, going out to find a job, a place to live, society continues to slam the door in their face and won't allow them to get a job." He explains that he was honest when he first got out of prison and got low-level jobs. "Every time I applied for these jobs, I could not get hired, so I had no choice," he says. "I refused to be on welfare, and I refused to go back to prison. Somehow, I was going to pick myself up â€¦ I picked myself up, wrong as it was, Dr. Phil, wrong as it was, but I picked myself up, and I did what I could do to change my life."
"You said nothing new that you haven't already said today," Dr. Phil points out.
Fred says his plan for the future is to continue working with the organizations he's started.
"You're going to fund
"Every single dollar that I raise from selling my books is going to go right back into servicing my community," Fred says.
"You started this at a local level with town meetings about these organizations in your hometown," Dr. Phil says, and Fred agrees. "We talked to your hometown, and they said there haven't been any town meetings."
Fred tries to explain, and Dr. Phil makes him a deal. "If you get either of those books published, I'll have you back on here, and you can hold that book up with your name on it, and say, â€˜This is real. This is right, and I wrote this book,'" he tells him.