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After a run-in with Telemarketers' Pat Pespas: Senator reignites fight against scams

Telemarketers made New Jersey’s own Patrick Pespas a folk hero. With a new announcement from Senator Blumenthal, Pespas continues to live up to his reputation

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Pat Pespas on Telemarketers
Pat Pespas on Telemarketers
Photo: HBO

HBO’s documentary series Telemarketers slams the brakes on its chaotic ride with an anti-climactic meeting in the hallowed halls of Congress. Patrick Pespas, our would-be hero, reaches the end of the line in Washington, D.C., where he learns first-hand that exposing a problem is different from solving it. In the minutes leading to his meeting with Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, Pespas’ optimism and pride shine through. Blumenthal, the documentary sets up, has been on the frontlines of the fight against telemarketing scams for decades. Surely, he could provide the congressional pressure needed to stop these fraudsters. The balloon begins deflating before the senator appears on camera.

“We need to talk about what’s going on now,” Senator Richard Blumenthal admits on a hot mic. “Not what I did 15 years ago.”

Telemarketers Documentary Series Trailer

Blumenthal worries that no one will care about what Pespas is there to talk about: telemarketing scams in which callers pretending to be cops swindle money from people without much. Still, he promised Pespas, “If there’s need for Congressional action, we will propose it.” Their meeting ends abruptly, with the senator excusing himself for a vote and his staffers failing to make good on the senator’s promise of working with Pespas. The documentary concludes with Pespas never hearing from the senator but still gazing proudly at a photo from their meeting.


Pespas had reason to be optimistic. Over the weekend and two weeks removed from the finale of Telemarketers, Senator Blumenthal sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking what the hell they’re doing about these “scam PACS.”

On Telemarketers, Pespas and his partner Sam Lipman-Stern spend 15 years investigating charity fraud led by companies working on behalf of police organizations without really handing any money over. As the series unfolds, Pespas and Lipman-Stern discover that the scheme graduated from police organizations to political action committees, pulling in greater sums while giving even less to the charities they fundraise for.


“Despite some recent prosecutions, the problem of fraudulent charitable scams and deceptive PAC fundraising has persisted and even grown more pernicious,” Senator Blumenthal writes in the letters. “Telemarketers and scammers have begun hiding under the cover of established nonprofit organizations and PACs, allowing them to avoid many of the regulations that would otherwise shed light on their frauds.”

The letter points to Pespas and Lipman-Stern’s old employer and current focus, the defunct Civic Development Group, which fundraised for police organizations but only gave 10–15% of its donations over to charities. In addition to Telemarketers, Blumenthal cites a New York Times report from May about an $89 million fundraising scheme that paid out 1% of its earnings to charity.

“It seems like the game has changed, and like PACs were the new thing,” Telemarketers Adam Bhala Lough told CT Insider. “That was what we really wanted to talk to the senator about.”


Now, all the credit can’t go solely to Pat and Telemarketers. The show celebrates the many hardworking people using free Wi-Fi at McDonald’s to take up very specific but worthwhile causes. However, considering how dismissive Blumenthal comes off in the documentary, maybe Pat slightly moved the needle. Why not consider it a win for the little guy? Telemarketers showed the limits of civic engagement from the bottom of the ladder, rewarding the patience and persistence of its stars with incremental successes and a litany of setbacks. The show ends with Senator Blumenthal ghosting Pat, and two weeks after the show concludes, Blumenthal sends letters to the FEC and FTC. There’s no other explanation: Pat Pespas gets the goods. That is unless he needs to get on a plane.