Over 30 years ago, Matthew Lesko, a retired Naval officer equipped with an MBA in Computer Information Systems, launched a consulting career educating Fortune 500 executives on how to take advantage of little-known government programs. Later, he decided his true calling in life was to teach the average American how they too could coax cash from Uncle Sam.
“I would find money programs to help them, information to help them, free services to help them, there’s all this stuff that I was getting (these big corporations) for free and selling to my clients for tens of thousands of dollars and it just shocked me,” Lesko told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “I got bored of helping fat cats after a while and thought, ‘why doesn’t everyone know this information?’ I didn’t know anything about the government. I figured the fat cats were going to get it with or without me, so I wanted to educate normal people on the street what benefits are available to them.”
Lesko says its only fair that if big corporations are getting free money, Joe Q. Public should too.
“You’ll always find loopholes, there is just so much that is not used efficiently. People always think bad things about the government so it’s the last place they want to look, but believe me every fat cat is really using the government,” Lesko said. “If there was a tax break in there you would want to find out, the other way the government gets our money is through these programs. The government really should be more organized, I shouldn’t have to be the one doing it… they will probably never get around to it.”
Lesko, who sports a zany question mark-printed suit on a daily basis, has offered an in-depth look at his zany infomercial life in the documentary “The Gospel According to Matthew,” which premieres on the Documentary Channel on October 7. In it he gleefully admits that his first New York Times bestselling book, “Getting Yours,” in 1987 was written entirely by the government.
“My first New York Times bestseller was a book where I plagiarized the whole thing. Nothing in the government is copyrighted so I just want to the government printing office, bought the state book for $35 and cut and pasted. I took it to Penguin Viking and changed the titles of all the programs, went on the news shows and it became a New York Times bestseller and I didn’t write a lick,” he said. “I really just take the government content and put a new cover on it and sell it.”
And his words of wisdom to those who also want to earn big bucks by barely lifting a finger?
“Don’t believe in ‘no.’ If you go to the small business administration and ask for a grant and they say ‘no,’ that doesn’t mean there are no grants. Don’t even ask for a grant. ‘Grant’ is really the wrong word to use if you are asking for free money. Only a small percentage of the free money the government gives out is called grants, say you are looking for an assistance program to do X,” Lesko advised. “The dog sniffing dogs, once they retire them, people don’t know you can get one for free… Go to Drug Enforcement. You can get free horses and mules too from government land. You can also get Smoky the Bear outfits or Woodsy Owl outfit to dress up at your party if you want. Weird stuff, the government is so strange.”
However, not everyone has agreed with Lesko’s enthusiastic advocacy for garnering freebies. In 2005, Lesko was named number 99 in Bernard Goldberg’s book “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America” because “he is a symbol for self-centered free-riders. “The New York Times condemned him for having implied an association with the paper long after ending a 1992-94 column. And he’s been blasted on ConsumerFraudReporting.org for “selling information that you can get for free elsewhere.”
But Lesko takes the critics in stride.
“I can’t believe I could be doing this for 30 years. I did one book and thought there is no way I could do another book on this but I have written a hundred more,” he said. “No matter who is in town, who has control (of the government,) the money available grows every year.”
“The Gospel According to Matthew” debuts on The Documentary Channel on Friday, October 7 at 10.30pm ET/PT.