Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World's Most Charming Con Man, by David Howard, is a thrilling true crime caper, bursting with colorful characters and awash in ‘70s glamour, that spotlights the FBI’s first white-collar undercover sting.
Listen to an audio recording of this program.
1977, the Thunderbird Motel. J.J. Wedick and Jack Brennan—two fresh-faced, maverick FBI agents—were about to embark on one of their agency’s first wire-wearing undercover missions. Their target? Charismatic, globetrotting con man Phil Kitzer, whom some called the world’s greatest swindler. From the Thunderbird, the three men took off to Cleveland, to Miami, to Hawaii, to Frankfurt, to the Bahamas—meeting other members of Kitzer’s crime syndicate and powerful politicians and businessmen he fooled at each stop. But as the young agents, playing the role of proteges and co-conspirators, became further entangled in Phil’s outrageous schemes over their months on the road, they also grew to respect him—even care for him. Meanwhile, Phil began to think of Jack and J.J. as best friends, sharing hotel rooms and inside jokes and roping them in for wild late-night forays to the likes of New York City's legendary Studio 54.
Phil Kitzer was at the center of dozens of scams in which he swindled millions of dollars, but the FBI was mired in a post-Watergate malaise and slow to pivot toward a new type of financial crime that is now all too familiar. Plunging into the field with no undercover training, the agents battled a creaky bureaucracy on their adventures with Phil, hoping the FBI would recognize the importance of their mission. Even as they grew closer to Phil, they recognized that their endgame—the swindler’s arrest—was drawing near . . .
Anchored by larger-than-life characters, framed by exotic locales and an irresistible era, Chasing Phil is high drama and propulsive reading, delivered by an effortless storyteller.
The author will discuss his book with Chicago author and journalist, David McAninch. After the talk, he will sign copies of his book, which will be available for purchase.
Download a PDF flyer for this event to post and distribute, and explore a Quick Guide about fraud, imposture and swindling in the Newberry collection.
David Howard has written for the New York Times, Men’s Journal, Outside, Travel & Leisure, and Bicycling, among other outlets. He is also the author of the book Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic.
David McAninch is the features editor at Chicago magazine and was an editor at Saveur for nine years. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York magazine, the New York Daily News, Newsday, Rodale’s Organic Life, and Departures, among other publications.
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Beginning January 2018 the Newberry is undertaking renovation of much of the ground floor. Ruggles Hall will not be affected, but please check this link frequently for the latest conditions - which exterior doors are open or closed, where to find an accessible entrance, which restrooms are available, etc.