UCI Psychiatrist Bilked by Nigerian E-Mails, Suit
Dr. Louis A. Gottschalk lost perhaps $3 million over 10 years in
the scam, his son alleges in court documents.
By William Lobdell, Times Staff Writer
March 2, 2006
A renowned psychiatrist from UC Irvine was duped into squandering
at least $1.3 million of his family's fortune on a Nigeria Internet
scam, according to a lawsuit recently filed by his son.
The son, also an Orange County doctor, said his father - Dr. Louis
A. Gottschalk - gave as much as $3 million over a 10-year period
in response to an Internet plea that promised the doctor a generous
cut of a huge sum of cash trapped in African bank accounts in exchange
for money advances.
The court documents, filed last month in Orange County Superior
Court, allege Gottschalk even traveled to Africa to meet a shadowy
figure known as "The General."
Gottschalk - who at 89 still works at the UCI campus medical plaza
that bears his name - said in court papers that the losses were
caused by "some bad investments."
Guy Gottschalk is asking a judge to remove his father as administrator
of the $8-million family partnership that was set up for tax purposes
after the death of his mother in 1993. A hearing is set for March
The suit alleges that Louis Gottschalk destroyed bank records to
cover up the amount of his losses.
"While it seems unlikely, even ludicrous, that a highly educated
doctor like [Gottschalk] would fall prey to such an obvious con,
that is exactly what happened," wrote Guy Gottschalk's attorney
in court papers.
Louis Gottschalk and his attorney declined to comment, but they
accuse Guy Gottschalk in court documents of carrying out an unspecified
"vendetta" against his father. The son lost an earlier court effort
to have a conservator oversee the family partnership.
Fred W. Anderson, a Santa Ana lawyer who represents Guy Gottschalk,
said neither he nor his client would comment except to say, "This
is an unfortunate and sad situation."
In court papers, Guy Gottschalk said his only motive was "to prevent
Louis Gottschalk from continuing to be victimized by these devious
The Nigerian Internet scam - known in some circles as 419 after
the Nigerian statute that outlaws fraud - is a long-running con
that preys on people with e-mail accounts. Though there are scores
of variations, the con begins with an unsolicited message from Nigeria
or other African nation - usually from an alleged government official,
banker or businessman who needs to find a way to get millions of
dollars out of his country.
If the target of the sting agrees to set up a United States bank
account and pay transfer fees and other charges, he's told that
he'll get a substantial portion of the money once it is freed up.
Though many of the alleged Nigerian e-mails originate in other countries,
Nigerian government officials said more than $700 million relating
to 419 crimes had been seized in the last two years. Twelve people
have been convicted in connection with the scam during that time,
While Nigerian solicitation e-mails are ubiquitous in cyberspace,
the number of people in the United States who fall for the con is
small, according to National White Collar Crime Center figures.
In 2005, 290 cases involving the Nigerian scam made up only 0.3%
of the total complaints of Internet fraud lodged with the government.
The median reported loss was $5,000.
But John Kane, research manager for the National White Collar Crime
Center, said people blinded by greed continue to wire their money
"Although this scam has been around for years," he said, "you continue
to see some people who forget the adage, 'If it's too good to be
true, it probably is,' and fall prey to a get-rich-quick mentality."
Anthony Pratkanis, a UC Santa Cruz scholar and author of "Weapons
of Fraud," said his studies show that cyberspace scam artists are
adept at exploiting a victim's weakness, whether it's diminished
mental capacity, greed or compassion.
"Then there's a line that gets crossed when they send in the money
and then they're caught in a rationalization trap," Pratkanis said.
"One way to convince yourself the scam is for real is to send more
money, ironically enough."
In the Gottschalk case, both the amount of the alleged losses and
the reputation of the victim set it apart.
Louis Gottschalk, a neuroscientist, is the founding chairman of
the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UCI College of
Medicine. He gained national prominence by announcing in 1987 that
President Reagan had been suffering from diminished mental ability
as early as 1980.
He came to this conclusion by using the Gottschalk-Gleser scales,
an internationally used diagnostic tool he helped develop for charting
impairments in brain function, to measure speech patterns in Reagan's
1980 and 1984 presidential debates.
In 1997, Gottschalk gave $1.5 million to the UCI College of Medicine.
In exchange, school officials named the medical plaza after him
and his late wife.
More recently, Gottschalk coinvented software that uncovered a link
between childhood attention-deficit disorder and adult addiction
to alcohol and drugs. And in 2004, at age 87, he published his latest
book, "World War II: Neuropsychiatric Casualties, Out of Sight,
Out of Mind."
According to Guy Gottschalk's account contained in court papers,
his father began responding to the solicitations from Nigeria in
1995. A year later, Louis Gottschalk traveled to Africa to meet
"The General" and other Nigerians "to show them that he was sincere
so he would get the money." Another court document said he also
traveled to Amsterdam to meet the Nigerians.
Soon afterward, his son said Gottschalk admitted to him that he
had lost $300,000 and that FBI agents concluded that he had been
a victim of an Internet scam.
Several family members said that Louis Gottschalk promised to never
again give money to Internet solicitors.
According to Louis Gottschalk's declaration, he had lost about $900,000
in "bad investments" by 1999. "I now realize that I was taken advantage
of," he said.
But his son said his father kept clandestinely wiring money to the
Nigerians at least until last fall.
Guy Gottschalk said that when he confronted his father in October,
Louis Gottschalk said, "Don't worry, everything will be all right
on Thursday because I will be getting $20 million."
The son said his father also told him he'd get the money this time
because these were "different Nigerians."
A few days later, a judge rejected Guy Gottschalk's attempt to put
a conservator over the family partnership. His father was evaluated
by a court-appointed investigator and determined to be competent,
legal documents show.
Gottschalk's attorneys argue that the lawsuit is unnecessary because
the family partnership agreement allows for him to be removed by
a majority vote of the limited partners.
In a deposition, Guy Gottschalk said the person who held the swing
vote refused to take sides. It's unclear how many voting members
Source: LA Times