Thomas John Flanagan
Thomas John Flanagan
July 8, 1984
|Other names||Lady Vera Parker|
|Occupation||Self-described Psychic medium|
|Part of a series on the|
Thomas John Flanagan, known professionally as Thomas John, is a former Chicago drag queen, who claims to be a psychic medium with paranormal abilities. He has been called the "Manhattan Medium" and stars in the reality TV show, Seatbelt Psychic. An investigation by Susan Gerbic determined that the riders in this show were hired actors, and in 2019 it was revealed by a New York Times report that a sting operation found John was using information acquired from audience Facebook accounts during group readings.
Drag queen career
John is an official promoter of the 2019 Miss Gay New York America pageant, which uses the slogan "Where Boys Are Boys and Female Impersonation is an Art", and is scheduled to be held on March 19, 2019.
John first started working professionally as a medium in his mid-20s, and now divides his work between New York City and Los Angeles. He counts among his clients Julianne Moore, Jennifer Lopez, Stevie Nicks, Goldie Hawn, and Courteney Cox.
Despite the scientific skeptic consensus that mediumship is a con, several media organizations have credulously promoted John, claiming he has paranormal powers, including Vogue magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, SF Weekly, WJBK, and WPIX. In a 2019 television segment on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver criticized the media for promoting TV psychics such as John, because this exposure convinces viewers that psychic powers are real, and so enable neighborhood psychics to prey on grieving families. Oliver said "...when psychic abilities are presented as authentic, it emboldens a vast underworld of unscrupulous vultures, more than happy to make money by offering an open line to the afterlife, as well as many other bullshit services."
Lifetime produced a reality TV show starring John called Seatbelt Psychic. This show began its run on July 11, 2018, and stars John as a ride-share driver who surprises “unsuspecting” passengers when he delivers messages from their deceased relatives. It is produced by Zeb Newman, Ryan Simpkins, Sarah Happel, Emma Conway, Brie Miranda Bryant, and Ben Winston.
John's alleged psychic abilities in the context of the show have been challenged by Susan Gerbic, a skeptical activist and fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, who discovered that John's passengers are actually actors, several of which are documented in IMDb. Gerbic concluded that the riders were likely hired to ride with John, but were probably not acting when talking with him. She concluded that the details about their lives mentioned by John were easily found on social media sources, and likely fed to John, making the readings actually hot readings. One rider, Wendy Westmoreland, played a character on Stalked by a Doctor, a TV show also produced by Lifetime.
Operation Pizza Roll
In March 2017, John was caught doing a hot reading in a sting operation named "Operation Pizza Roll" which was planned and implemented by Susan Gerbic and mentalist Mark Edward. The unmarried couple Gerbic and Edward attended John's show using aliases, and were "read" as a married couple Susanna and Mark Wilson by John. During the entire reading, John failed to determine the actual identities of Gerbic and Edward, or that they were being deceptive during his reading. All personal information he gave them matched what was on their falsified Facebook accounts, rather than being about their actual lives, and John pretended he was getting this information from Gerbic and Edward's supposedly dead—but actually nonexistent—relatives.
As Jack Hitt reported in The New York Times:
"Over the course of the reading, John comfortably laid down the specifics of Susanna Wilson’s life — he named “Andy” and amazingly knew him to be her twin. He knew that she and her brother grew up in Michigan and that his girlfriend was Maria. He knew about Susanna’s father-in-law and how he died."
These details were from the falsified Facebook accounts for the pair which were prepared by a group of skeptics in advance of the reading, and Gerbic and Edward were not aware of the specific information in these accounts. This blinding was done in order to avoid John later being able to claim he obtained the false information by reading Gerbic and Edward's minds.
In her report, Gerbic also revealed that during an after-show private event, John disclosed in a group setting that at least one of the people in the audience which he did a reading about was actually his own student.
When Hitt reached out to John for comment, John insisted that he did not use Facebook, saying "I do remember her [Gerbic] coming to an event... I recognized her because she was there with that other guy who wrote that book." He also told Hitt that "I have my eyes closed for an hour and a half when I'm doing readings. If she spoke up during that period of time, I don't remember that." John also argued that the entire experiment wasn’t really scientific enough, saying "For Susan to come to a reading and get a two-minute reading and say, well, 'I made a fake post about my dog, Buddy, and my father who died,' it’s really not any sort of scientific testing of psychic powers." He added, "First off, someone will have to be a scientist to do a scientific experiment, not someone who used to be a photographer at Sears."
When asked whether psychics would change their behavior now that they knew her methods, Gerbic said "I hope they see Gerbics in their audience every time they look out and wonder if we might be there." 
Felony fraud conviction and other legal problems
On June 30, 2009 John was arrested and charged with two offences, of theft and theft by deception. It was alleged that he advertised and collected rent on properties that he did not own. He was found guilty on both counts, and sentenced to probation on July 2, 2009.
The Daily News article reported that John was being sued by a California-based public relations firm, ZTPR, because he hadn't paid their bill. John had hired ZTPR to repair his public relations image after the Daily News uncovered and reported on his fraud conviction. According to court papers, ZTPR "completed all the services of helping him build and exaggerate in the press his public profile as a believable psychic medium". Slattery reported that John "told The News he's worked out a settlement with ZTPR, but... ZTPR president Zack Teperman said the matter was still being reviewed by the company's lawyers."
- Never Argue with a Dead Person: True and Unbelievable Stories from the Other Side
- Ann O'Delia Diss Debar ("One of the most extraordinary fake mediums... the world has ever known" -Houdini)
- Flim-Flam! (Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions)
- Fortune telling fraud
- Houdini's debunking of psychics and mediums
- James Van Praagh
- John Edward
- Long Island Medium
- Mark Edward
- Monica the Medium
- Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium
- Rose Mackenberg (Historic investigator of psychic mediums)
- Sylvia Browne
- Tyler Henry
- Shaff, Jay (6 July 2009). "Lady Vera Parker arrested and jailed". chicago.gopride.com. Go Pride. Archived from the original on 2 July 2018. Retrieved 2 July 2018.}
- "Famous psychic, John Thomas,scandal that rocked the media world and Paranormal world". Paranormal Herald Magazine. 11 September 2015. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
- Slattery, Denis (25 July 2015). "'Manhattan Medium' Thomas John has celeb clientele — and shady past as scammer and drag queen". NYdailynews.com. NY Daily News. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
- Gerbic, Susan (February 21, 2019). "Buckle Up - Seatbelt Psychic". Center for Inquiry. Archived from the original on February 23, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
- Hitt, Jack (February 26, 2019). "Inside the Secret Sting Operations to Expose Celebrity Psychics". New York Times. Archived from the original on February 26, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- Gerbic, Susan (February 21, 2019). "Operation Pizza Roll- Thomas John". Archived from the original on February 23, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
- Garza, Frida (27 February 2019). "Of Course Psychics Are Reading Your Facebook Page". Jezebel.com. Jezebel. Archived from the original on 28 February 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
- Slattery, Denis (23 March 2016). "Manhattan psychic who ran Craigslist scam sued for owing money to PR firm hired to fix his image". nydailynews.com. NY Daily News. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
- "Miss Gay New York America (A Standard Regional Preliminary)". Missgayamerica.com. Archived from the original on 16 January 2019. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
- Anderson, Kristin (15 October 2016). "How a Celebrity Psychic Turned One Proud Skeptic Into a Believer". Vogue.com. Vogue. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
- Propatier, Stephen. "Susan Gerbic: Vampire Slayer". Skeptoid.com. Skeptoid Media. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
- Swiss, Jamy Ian. "Jamy Ian Swiss - In Pursuit of Psychics: For Good Reason". Youtube.com. James Randi Foundation. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
- Pevos, Edward (16 November 2017). "We can't explain our encounter with psychic medium Thomas John: See for yourself". Mlive.com. Michigan Live. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
- Gardner, Chris (22 June 2018). "'Seatbelt Psychic' Thomas John on New Lifetime Show: "Skeptics are Definitely Welcome"". hollywoodreporter.com. Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
- Quick, Quentin (29 June 2018). "Celebrity Medium Thomas John Breaks on Through (To the Other Side)". SFweekly.com. SF Weekly. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
- "Psychic medium Thomas John returns for show in West Bloomfield April 12". Fox2detroit.com. Fox News. 12 April 2018. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
- Ramos, Andrew (28 June 2018). "Renowned medium Thomas John spooks ride-share passengers in 'Seatbelt Psychic'". pix11.com/. PIX 11. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
- Horton, Adrian (February 25, 2019). "John Oliver on psychics: 'A vast underworld of unscrupulous vultures'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on February 25, 2019. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
- Mehta, Hemant (25 February 2019). "John Oliver Exposed the Media's Complicity in Promoting Psychic "Mediums"". Friendlyatheist.patheos.com. Patheos. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
- "Psychics: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)". Youtube. LastWeekTonight. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
- Blanton, Kayla (July 11, 2019). "How Do You Get On 'Seatbelt Psychic'? The Contestants On Lifetime's Reality Series Get A Reading In Addition To Their Ride". Bustle. Archived from the original on January 23, 2019. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
- Mehta, Hemant (23 February 2019). "Skeptics Set a Trap and a So-Called "Celebrity Medium" Fell for the Hoax". Friendlyatheist.patheos.com. Patheos. Archived from the original on 24 February 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
- Westbrook, Thomas (28 February 2019). "Thomas John (The Seatbelt Psychic) - Busted for Cheating!". Youtube.com. Holy Koolaid. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
- Hemant, Mehta. "An Inside Look at How the Guerrilla Skeptics Expose Famous "Psychic Mediums"". friendlyatheist.patheos.com. Patheos. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
- Shaff, Jay (July 9, 2009). "Drag Queen Lady Vera Parker Arrested In Chicago". On Top Magazine. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
- John, Thomas (25 February 2015). Never Argue with a Dead Person: True and Unbelievable Stories from the Other Side. Hampton Roads Publishing. ISBN 978-1571747242. Retrieved 2 July 2018.}