CHICAGO (CBS) — A charismatic thief planning an elaborate con game to steal people’s money – it sounds like the plot of a Hollywood smash.
It actually even was the plot of a Hollywood smash – remember “Catch Me If You Can?” about the true story con artist of Frank Abagnale Jr.?
And a similar plot has unfolded in Chicago. CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker tracked town the star of the Chicago charade – and discovered a past you might not expect.
At an event at the University of Illinois at Chicago in June of last year, the audience politely clapped as a speaker walked up to the podium.
The woman they were about to hear from was Candace Clark – and there is clearly something special about her.
She often stands before a room full of admirers, talking about her accomplishments.
“I appreciate people wanting the same things that I’m wanting, and looking for justice the same way that I’m looking for justice,” she told the crowd at the UIC event.
Her resume boasts an undergrad degree in criminology from UIC, an MBA from DePaul University, prestigious positions, and community service.
Another speaker mentions “Director Clark” has created a new program called the Robbins Reconstruction Act.
All of that it is impressive.
But none of it is true.
The CBS 2 Investigators contacted UIC and DePaul. Neither university could confirm a degree earned by her.
We could find no record of her working at places she claims to have worked. We contacted several prominent organizations and communities she claims to have helped and they all told us she never did any work with them.
But over and over and over again, she has participated in videotaped ceremonies, often standing before a judge, taking an oath of office.
CBS 2 Investigators obtained videos of ceremonies which occurred in February, May, June and November of last year.
When she is sworn in, she is also honored for making history.
Speakers identify her as “the first African-American woman to hold the Director of Special Investigations position in the State of Illinois.”
It is all fake. CBS 2 Investigators reached out to the State of Illinois and learned there is no such position as Director of Special Investigations.
So who are the people attending these phony ceremonies, and why are they participating in them?
The reason is because Candace Clark hired them. Most are performers like Rich Daniels, musician and founder of the City Lights Orchestra and singer Suzanne Palmer.
Many audience members are extras sent by a local casting company. The judge is not actually a judge – she’s independent film actress Jamie Newell.
Newell also actually helped produce some of the ceremonies, design flyers and, introduce Clark to other performers – a decision she now regrets.
“I believed in her and her mission and I didn’t mean to bring people into this. It really broke my heart,” said Newell.
Newell says she fell for the elaborate tale Clark weaved about judges and state officials not being available for Clark’s swearing-in ceremonies. so she was given permission to hire actors.
Clark’s claim was that “in order for her to begin her job with the state, she needed to be sworn in and the swearing-in needed to be videotaped,” said Newell.
According to Newell, Clark claimed there would be more events and promised her a government contract to produce them. There was just something about Clark that made Newell like her.
“I felt proud she was the first African-American in this position,” Newell said. “To know that it was all a fake; a hoax – it’s mind-boggling to me,” said Newell.
In addition to the emotional hit, Newell’s pocketbook took a punch because “nobody has been paid,” she said.
Add up what Clark owes Newell, the singers, musicians, casting company, sign language interpreter and extras – the tab totals nearly $21,000.
In late October, Newell finally learned from a friend that Clark never worked for the government and everyone had been duped.
“I was blown away. I was mortified. I was shocked,” Newell said. “I don’t understand people that do stuff like this.”
You have to be scratching your head by now and wondering, why Clark did this? What was she after?
CBS 2’s Tucker showed up undercover at one of the phony ceremonies looking for answers.
Clark walked over to her and said, “I’m sorry but this is invitation only.”
Clark looked confused, but knew she did not hire Tucker and politely asked her to leave.
“We even don’t know who invited you,” Tucker said.
Tucker was kicked out, but soon returned to confront Clark about a civil lawsuit filed against her.
Clark responded with, “Get out of my face!”
We also wanted to ask, why produce this elaborate hoax? Others want that answer too.
“I just want to understand, like, what’s the purpose?” said Sheikess Johnson Bey.
Bey is a member of the Moorish Science Temple of America. Her organization believed Clark was a prominent state official because they had attended her ceremonies.
“We were believing this woman would be of assistance to us,” Bey said.
At the time, they had no idea most of the people in the ceremonies were actors, reading from a script Clark had written. Then one of the Moors came across a Facebook post calling Clark a scammer.
They now wonder if they were her next target.
“Very displeased. Just very displeased,” said Micha’el May El, also of the Moorish Science Temple of America.
Darlene Simmons posted that Facebook message that called Clark a scammer.
“She got me good,” Simmons said. “She got me good.
She met Clark in 2014 and eventually sued Clark for fraud. The first lawsuit was filed in 2017 and was dismissed when Clark could not be served a notice to appear in court. Simmons recently refiled the lawsuit.
According to court documents, Clark was pretending to be a real estate agent showing Simmons different houses. Although Simmons had poor credit, Clark claimed to have excellent credit.
“She was going to purchase to property with my money and then hand it over the following year,” said Simmons.
Simmons ended up giving Clark more than $65,000 in her more than year-long property search. She gave Clark another $8,000 to reserve a wedding venue for her daughter.
Simmons never got a new home, her daughter held her wedding in a church basement with food made and donated by friends.
By October 2015, Simmons had drained her retirement fund, losing more than $73,000 to Clark.
In 2014, Simmons regarded Clark as her friend. Now, she sees Clark differently.
“She’s a devil. That 401(k) I worked 40 years at the Tribune for – 40 years!” Simmons said. “To have it taken from me, how could you do that?”
CBS 2 Investigators dug into Clark’s background. She attended Percy Julian High School. Yearbook photos show her in the Fashion Club and on the Mathbusters team.
One of her family members told us Clark grew up in a modest house on the Southwest Side of Chicago. That person described her as spoiled, since she was the baby of eight siblings.
The relative told us Clark’s childhood was normal, but admitted Clark has gotten into a little bit of trouble before.
We found evidence of that – felony convictions in Clark’s past for fraud and impersonating police. She was on probation for the last offense when she was helping Simmons search for a new home and cashing Simmons’ checks.
“Candace didn’t start with me and she’s not going to end with me,” Simmons said. “She needs to be stopped.”
Will authorities ever catch Clark? Simmons filed a complaint with the State’s Attorney’s office. Others have filed police reports and we have learned the FBI has interviewed at least one of the groups Clark has bragged about working with.