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COLUMN ONE

Fred's Storied Career

A five-time felon has spent his life elaborately lying his way into jobs at churches, nonprofits and UCLA. Now he's ready to go straight. Maybe.

August 17, 2005|Tonya Alanez | Times Staff Writer

Each morning as he backed down the driveway of his Glassell Park home, Federiqkoe DiBritto III couldn't be sure if that day was going to be his last on the job.

For months -- much longer than he had any right to expect -- his luck held.

Then on April 21, DiBritto, a fundraiser for the UCLA medical school, was summoned to his supervisor's office, handcuffed and taken to jail.

DiBritto, who had been hired for the $100,000-a-year UCLA job with what seemed to be excellent credentials, was really Fred Brito, a con man and five-time felon. UCLA detectives arrested Brito after a tip from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Brito, 49, has spent his adult life using aliases and phony credentials to pull off one elaborate deception after another. He has lied his way into jobs as a Catholic priest, a youth counselor for a foster care agency and executive director of the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California, among many others. He once convinced a judge he was a psychiatrist in order to testify in a friend's criminal trial.

Sometimes his poses have landed him in jail. Other times, he's been allowed to leave jobs quietly. His latest unmasking put him behind bars for a couple of weeks while authorities decided what to do.

Brito was on parole at the time, but authorities decided not to send him back to prison because they found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in his role at UCLA.

Posing as a medical professional, an attorney, a law enforcement officer or a professional whose job requires a license is illegal, but lying about education or past experience to land a position at a nonprofit agency is not.

Brito is at a familiar crossroads. Go straight or scam again? Brito, a short, balding man with wire-rimmed glasses, agreed to be interviewed, saying he hopes publicizing his exploits will make it difficult for him to continue his life of deceit.

"There's going to be nowhere for Fred to hide anymore," said Brito, speaking of himself in the third person, as he often does. "Deep down there's a good person inside. Fred is trying to bring that person out."

Over the last 30 years, Brito confessed, he has embezzled and stolen and deceived more people than he can count. He has been sentenced to serve a total of 11 years behind bars.

His early offenses, he said, were committed when he led a decadent lifestyle. In recent years, he said, he has lied his way into jobs that enabled him to help people.

"I'm attempting to turn my life around," he said. "The secret that Fred has been hiding so long is out. Now Fred can move forward."

But over the course of several conversations, he sometimes questioned whether he would pursue an honest life. He spoke of his responsibility to support his aging, sickly parents, saying: "I'll do whatever I can to ensure that [my parents] have proper care. And if that means that I have to lie to get a job, then I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Society, you give me no other choice."

Good on Paper

Brito was hired at UCLA in October. The university paid $10,000 to Askanas Human Resource Consulting, a Manhattan Beach-based search firm, to recruit and interview an appropriate candidate.

"My agreement with UCLA did not require me to do any reference checking whatsoever," said Leslie Askanas, president of the firm.

A UCLA spokesman said the university believed references had been checked, although by its own admission the university did not require a criminal background check. The university has since changed its hiring policy.

On paper, Brito looked perfect. His resume detailed a 24-year career in senior nonprofit management and awards from a variety of organizations. It said Brito was scheduled to complete a doctorate in ethics in May at the American Catholic University of the Immaculate Conception, where he had also earned a master's degree in public administration, a master's degree in education and bachelor of arts degree in social justice.

Along with the resume, Brito submitted a glowing six-page letter of recommendation written on official-looking letterhead and quoting "Harrison Winslow," who was identified as serving on the executive committee of Catholic Charities, for which Brito claimed to have worked. "I was personally taken by his zest for life. His motivation. But most of all his sense of honesty and humbleness," said the letter. "He excelled in every position he was elevated too." The misspelling of "to" was in the letter.

But the resume and the letter accompanying it were fraudulent. American Catholic University of the Immaculate Conception doesn't exist. And Brito wrote the letter himself, using the name of a character portrayed by Charles Grodin in the 1993 movie "Heart and Souls."

"I saw the movie and [the name] sounded good," Brito said.

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