Operation Pizza Roll — Part II

Susan Gerbic

“The NAME was specific but WE didn’t really get a lot of information over who this is.” —Thomas John

Thomas John, the Manhattan Medium turned Seatbelt Psychic and star of the popular Operation Pizza Roll sting, has his own show at Caesars – Cleopatra’s Barge. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin often hung out there and now … Thomas John (TJ). Yeah, I know what you are thinking, me also …. sigh. We have been researching and reporting back on TJ for the last few years. I’ve written numerous articles about these investigations, which you can find here. The most recent, released on TJ’s opening night compared the readings TJ gave to an ABC 7 Windy City Live! audience and the information that we found on those same audience attendees social media, they matched completely, specific names and information that would make you say “there is no way he could have known that.”

A six-show week at Caesars is going to be difficult to maintain. Now, if he is genuinely receiving communications with dead people, then no problem. If he’s not and he needs to use other methods to appear to communicate, then TJ is going to need to resort to known hot-reading tactics that we are familiar with.

A quick note on hot reading. This is when the psychic has information about you before you arrive for a reading. This can happen in many diverse ways. Any information they glean about you is something they later can throw back at you as if receiving it from the great beyond. It does not have to be heard by the psychic; they have people also, living people that you don’t always know are working with the psychic. Bartenders, ushers, waitstaff, and more can be used to overhear you talking about your upcoming trip to Hawaii. Then there are people sitting around you, friendly people asking who you might be hoping to get in touch with that can text backstage to the psychic. Same thing with people waiting in line in the bathroom; the woman that looks like she is just trolling her social media feed might be overhearing you tell your friend that you just found out you’re going to be a new grandma. Coincidences happen all the time and the person standing behind you on the elevator or sitting at the booth next to you at dinner might be someone on the psychic’s staff and they overhear you talk about a new business venture and then they see you in the venue a few hours later.

We wondered a lot of things about TJ’s show and the only way to get the answers (as we are not psychic) was to attend. So, we have been sending people to each show.

Because Caesar’s is selling the tickets on Ticketmaster.com, we can watch his ticket sales, where people sit but not who purchases those seats; we are not privy to that information. Check it out; the “see tickets” button will allow anyone to do so.

This venue has 198 seats—and I’m no expert but I don’t think sales have been all that great. His opening night he had eighty seats filled. For the first five shows on opening week, he averaged 84.6 seats sold. That’s not even half of the room. There are billboards up around town, and TJ mentioned on social media that he got into a taxi that had the ad for his show. I don’t understand it; this guy communicates with dead people. I mean think about that: this guy is receiving messages from DEAD PEOPLE, how amazing is that! Why isn’t he the most powerful person in the world? Why are there still missing children? Why are there still cold-cases unsolved? Why oh why is this guy working a Vegas venue when he could be communicating with Sinatra and Martin as well as all the other dead people in the world. He should never have to leave his private island, meditating and communicating, taking his time sorting out all the messages. He doesn’t seem to have a problem connecting to dead people over social media, Skype, or the phone. I just don’t get it.

One thing we noticed right away when looking at the seating for the show was why are the same four seats in one area and two in a different area sold for every show all the way though the last day they have sales offered, March 31, 2020. They aren’t the best seats; they are the $49 cheap seats. So why? Many of these days have almost no seats sold, but always those seats are unavailable. I wondered: maybe the seats are broken or have no real view of the stage or something. We sent someone inside before the show to check, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with those seats. Possibly these are seats reserved for TJ or Caesars to hand out for free for visiting dignitaries or reporters. But why give them the cheap seats? More on this later, but we just wondered.

The more common occurrences of hot reading is when the psychic has read for you before or one of their happy fans tells the psychic all about you and suggests that you go see their favorite psychic. Of course, the psychic is taking in all the information they can glean, holding onto it until they have the right opportunity. See the book Psychic Mafia to read all about how this was done in the psychic business back in the 1940s and ‘50s. They used to use notecards, but now we have computers, spreadsheets, and instant messaging to keep informed. To learn about the psychic business in the 1990s, read mentalist Mark Edward’s book Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium (now also out on audiobook).

The really interesting thing about these repeat customers is that they don’t realize they are a stooge for the psychic. Mediums fall back on these people when they need to pepper up the event with some sure hits. When we talk to these people, they say that the psychic is always so correct. One example from TJ this week was this: he was describing a male energy, two people acknowledged in the room, a father—cancer—his wife—his birthday is today, and TJ is interrupted by the woman who proudly announces, “You have read for me before and you were spot on.” No kidding!

Another one of these that happened at TJ’s Caesar’s event was for a woman whose father was coming through, and TJ mentioned some playing cards. The woman pulls out a deck of cards from her purse and says, “I have them right here!” Everyone is amazed. Later on, after the event was over, we happened to overhear that same woman having a conversation with her friends that were telling her that she hogs all of Thomas John’s readings; her family always comes through and they never get a reading.

One woman we had a conversation with before TJ’s show started said that this was her second night in a row; she has seen TJ (and been read) so many times that she is almost a stalker.

During the first Operation Pizza Roll event in 2017, a woman came up to me after it was all over and said that she was “so pleased that I got a reading on my first event,” and she encouraged me to come back again. I asked her if she had been read by TJ before, and she said that she had had a full reading with him a couple weeks prior and that “tonight, he read me again and all the same people came through but this time also my grandmother.” Sigh.

This is all hot-reading 101 but mediums that hot read these days are happy to use the information that exists all over the internet on each of us. Personal information that we don’t even realize we are sending out to the void. We don’t understand how much information a skilled and determined psychic can glean from check-ins, likes, reviews, and photos. And if you are linked to family members, even if you don’t link to them on your “About” area on Facebook, they can pull information from your families more open social media accounts, which now allows the psychic to venture into their social media accounts and into the rabbit hole of who is who and which dead person are you hoping to hear from, and yes, it is just that crude. This process takes minutes, and anyone savvy with Facebook could do it.

You aren’t on social media? Don’t think you are going to get a pass. You might be more vulnerable than you think because you don’t know what is out there. But most of us have been mentioned in our families’ obituaries, wedding announcements, school events, sports functions, professional mentions, awards, court rulings, and a lot more. Try doing an internet search for your name and see what turns up; you might be surprised. And if your name is so common and nothing exists, then no problem, the psychic will just skip you and move to another to hot read.

Back to Thomas John. He has a big task ahead of him, six shows a week, so how is he going to find all these social media accounts to read? How can he expect to keep it straight who is going to which show and what content goes with which person? That’s quite a task.

So, we decided to act as if we were TJ (and staff) for a week. He has ninety minutes to fill. Granted, some of that time is filled with an induction participation exercise which mentalists often use to get people relaxed and feeling like they are in the mindset to accept what will follow. In the middle of the show, the host offers a break by saying “Let’s let the energy settle a bit” and then we learn all about TJ and selected bits about his life and how he first knew he was speaking to the dead (his Wikipedia page contains all the other bits), instructions on what to expect, make sure you acknowledge the person that is coming through, and Casey (who acts as the show’s hostess) asks TJ to answer the question that all psychic mediums get, “Can they see us when we are having sex?” That eats up at least fifteen minutes. Now where to find the people who will be attending so you can troll though their social media.

Obviously if he had a list of attendees and he could see if there were repeat names of people he has read for before, that would be pretty helpful. Maybe a quick look at their social media pages to see if there has been a new grandbaby or a recent death. Easy. But does TJ receive a list of attendee names? More on that in a bit.

The funny thing about social media and Facebook in particular is that when you are a “celebrity” that relies on people posting on your page, you can’t lock that down. Anyone can see a lot of what is posted. Even if TJ blocks people, it’s easy to use other Facebook accounts to view and interact with TJ. He has blocked several people on Operation Grief Vampire, but for some reason he hasn’t blocked the other accounts we hold; we are interacting with him and he doesn’t seem to notice. He shouldn’t have gone to the trouble to block the Susan Gerbic account if he was just going to interact with my alternative accounts. It’s almost like he doesn’t know he’s talking to Susan Gerbic and team. Go figure.

We have noticed this interesting pattern. Everyday TJ posts on Facebook a message asking who is coming to his show. I know, you just gotta laugh. Check these screen shots out.


And each time he posts these messages he receives friendly questions and comments from people who say they will be at the show or maybe they mention a future show they will be attending. Each time they do this they are leaving a Facebook page for him or his staff to scroll though looking for some grief.

Skeptics are known for being detailed and over-thinkers, so heck we tried to figure out how to track these people and see if we could predict who would be getting a reading each night. We even thought it might be interesting to see if we could predict what TJ might tell them. If he can see their Facebook profiles, then we can also.

So, we made a really big spreadsheet and started tracking people and dates. Then started scrolling through their social media pages. Remember, these are all very open pages, if you take the time to look you will find a lot of information about the unsuspecting sitters attending each show. Using the techniques mentioned above, we moved though these profiles pretty quickly looking for dead people. I don’t know any better way to explain that. What I found to be most successful was to look at the photos. Everyone seems to share a photo in memory of something they are missing, and inevitably family members will chime in and post memories and use terms such as uncle, sis, bro, or grandma so that it is easier for us to figure out family relationships. Then we go to the “About” area on Facebook, which sometimes gives us family members that are linked; one or more of these people will have plenty of information.

Married women often give away their maiden names in many ways on Facebook, when someone with a different last name posts calling you sis, then that’s one way of knowing a maiden name, many times women use it in parentheses for their username. Why would we be interested in maiden names? Well because when we find out her dead father or mother’s first name, then we can google the obituary with the maiden name and find out a wealth of information about the departed parent. One Facebook page I found a couple days ago showed the dead woman’s photo from some past meet-and-greet event and she was wearing a nametag.

Obituaries are freely available on the internet you don’t need a subscription to most sites. From that we know who proceeded them in death, who is still living and grieving over them, maiden names, and often hobbies, military service, organizations they belonged to, and maybe even more. And also, possibly there will be an area on the online obituary where friends and family can leave a message. Maybe even giving more information for the psychic to find.

Each night by 5pm we had a list of who we thought would be at the event, photos of that person, family members and who “on the other side” they wanted to hear from.

One person we expected to show up and did was Evidential Spiritual Medium Cate Coffelt. This is the “lady in green” from Operation Pizza Roll in 2017 who fake cried through a reading TJ gave her and then showed up in the Meet-and-Greet room and gave herself away as a friend of TJ’s when it came to having her book autographed by telling him to spell her name right “this time” without actually telling him her name. And then when I asked about his students, he put his hand on her shoulder and said that he has some “very promising students.” I later learned that this was Cate Coffelt.

Coffelt posted on TJ’s Facebook page that she was attending. So, I checked her personal Facebook page and sure enough there was a video of her talking about how she was going on a five-hour drive to a very special event. I know she lives in Southern California, and Las Vegas is about a five-hour drive away, so we knew to expect her.

I told the team not to spend much time looking at her social media; TJ can tell her anything and she will probably agree to it. But I did say “Damn this woman has dogs all over her Facebook page, I bet she has a dog come through for her tonight” and sure enough two dogs came through: one she had a soul connection to and Duncan whom she had to give back to the dog breeder because he was apparently “difficult.” When TJ said Duncan died, Coffelt nodded and agreed, not because she actually knew Duncan was dead (we later overheard her tell someone that she didn’t know Duncan was dead). Coffelt accepted that Duncan was dead, because TJ told her Duncan was dead. How sad and a bit odd as Coffelt is not only a “very promising student” of TJ’s, but she is also a psychic medium and even more interesting, she is a pet psychic. How did she not know this dog that was connected to her soul was dead?

Here are some of the gems with names blocked out, but if you are interested you can follow the same steps we did and learn what we did. Everything is public and we have screenshots and archived URLs to everything if needed.

One woman said she was local and wanted to attend with her daughter. We knew that TJ’s numbers were pretty low for the night, so when we saw that, we guessed he would reach out to her. And he did, with an “email me.” We attended that show and knew what she looked like and who she wanted to reach and guess what? She got a reading, and everything he told her we also knew about because it was on her Facebook page.

One woman attended the event, but it wasn’t until the day after that she wrote on TJ’s Facebook page that she had a great time and included enough information that we could easily figure out what reading was hers from the night before. TJ had known her father lived to be 100 and that she had taken care of him the last couple years. And TJ said, “Yeah your mom is telling me that the place was pretty quiet till your dad got here.” That got a bit of a laugh from the audience.

A few days later we spotted a Facebook comment on TJ’s page; it was from a woman with an unusual first and last name. She stated that she had received a reading at one of TJ’s events. Instead of checking through her Facebook page, which was linked to the comment she left, we tried Googling her full name. Within minutes we had her mother’s obituary and another article about her husband’s brain tumors and their money issues.

We paid full price for tickets for the first week, then by week two we discovered that seats to TJ’s event were being offered on subscription sites like Fill-a-Seat and Houseseats. Locals pay a yearly fee and have access for free to shows that are having trouble filling seats. I’m not familiar with these services but I expect that having to resort to this method to put butts in seats is not a healthy sign when only in week two of a residency in Vegas.

Screenshot taken 4 hours before show – blue dots are open – shows TJ has 88 empty seats for show


TJ, like most mediums, gives a lot of filler—platitudes that of course sound specific but really aren’t. They are feel-good statements that we all want to be true. Examples are “she is very proud of you,” “you are a very connected mom and she is so happy the way you are raising your kids,” “sending their love and around you quite a bit,” and “Grandfather wants to help keep him on the right path, not that he is on the wrong one now, but he is still guiding him.” A lot of coins, dogs, and flying things like birds and butterflies “are their way of showing you that they are there around you.”

As is standard in these ghoulish displays, there was a lot of crying going on in the room. Our attendees sitting near two women felt that most of these waterworks were fake. One woman did really burst out into real tears when TJ was telling her how much her mother hated feeling like a burden to her daughter. At another event, TJ was trying to talk to a woman about her mother Anna who had died; the daughter was weeping over and over. This is compelling as you could tell that the grief was so fresh and raw. It is sickening to see someone manipulate someone’s emotions and memories like that. To have this sort of public humiliation given a platform on the level of burlesque shows, washed up celebrity lounge acts, and gambling makes it all the more depraved. Seriously, is this entertainment?

Birthday cakes were being handed out by the dead, which according to TJ is their way of talking about birthdays. He said that there is a lot of food on the other side; we can eat all we want. All our pets are there waiting for us also. Are all the cows there from all the hamburgers I’ve enjoyed over my life?

Not sure what happens with the reincarnated people as TJ said one man was an “old soul” and his mom shouldn’t be sad because they have been through many reincarnations together and will do so again. So, does that mean he is on the other side waiting for her or what … kind of mixing up your afterlife’s there TJ, but I guess no one questions that.

TJ uses the line “who is it that there is a very close connection with”? And if they answer, “my husband” then without skipping a beat TJ throws in “cause he is putting a heart around you.”

Here is a fun one where he turned a miss into a hit. TJ was working on two ladies sitting together and at first got a strong feeling one was an only child. Then she said no, she had siblings. Then he said “well your father is giving me this energy like he’s only concentrating on you … like you did more than your siblings did when it came to caring for him?” I’m sure that made the rest of the family feel great that dad only wanted to talk to the one daughter. Imagine hearing about this reading and knowing that you were the caregiver and the sister who got the reading wasn’t as attentive to dad. I know if it was me I would be pretty resentful. But ah well, it’s all fine.

No, it isn’t. TJ is playing with real emotions and family dynamics. This is not helpful. 

There is so much content that I’m over full of examples and could go on and on. But I really need to get back to something I mentioned earlier. Does TJ have a seating chart and is he given a list of attendees’ names? Just how much content was given to TJ by TicketMaster.com? 

Well according to Ticketmaster’s website, they can give away your information to someone who is providing the event. Interesting. So, they can … but is there any way we can know?

Throughout every show, TJ was trying to find people. He had his eyes shut or they seemed to be shut, and he was waving his hand around in areas like an antenna. He spent a lot of time saying he was getting a strong feeling or connection from specific areas, and he was usually right on.

We noticed that as soon as the show was over, Casey (the hostess) walked right up to each VIP and called them by their name and told them where TJ would be waiting to greet them. That was strange.

I’ll leave this bit to you to decide how much content TJ receives from TicketMaster.com. It was the last reading of the night, and TJ was trying to locate a “Joe from New York City.” TJ was concentrating on a specific area of the room in the back (this was at his largest reading with 124 people attending). TJ was saying that this was a very strong connection. No one responded until finally a woman located on the completely opposite of the room raised her hand and said, “I have a Joe from NYC” and then she said that she had been sitting in the area that TJ was looking for her, but she moved to the other side of the room. TJ made a face and said, “Well your dead people didn’t know you moved!” which got a laugh out of the room. He continued with the reading with many details and the woman validated that TJ was “spot on.”

For an extra $50, an attendee could get a VIP special meet-and-greet with TJ at the end. Turns out what they get is hostess Casey telling you about how they are not going to get a personal reading, and that if they really wanted one they should come back when TJ starts doing small group readings for eight persons in a group and everyone will then get a personal reading. Of course, that is going to cost you again but whatever. The $50 VIP got you a lanyard, an unscented candle with TJ’s face on it, and a picture taken on your own phone by Casey. Everyone received a card with some random platitude affirmation on it that could be used during meditation. Each VIP spent under three minutes with TJ. They didn’t seem to sell really well; we counted eight over five days, pretty odd for someone who is speaking to dead people. I mean come on now, think about how amazing that is.

I mentioned how emotional people were getting at these events, some fake crying and some truly grieving. I’m still not understanding why someone who is connecting to dead people, one of the most amazing abilities this world has ever known, would not be selling out every night, instead not getting even half full? At one event, we observed a couple women who left in the middle of the event and didn’t come back.

But there was this really funny exchange between one of the skeptics that attended and another couple that was sitting next to her. The skeptic was trying to chat the couple up to see how interested they were in the whole psychic medium stuff. The couple told us that they were in Vegas the night before to see a show that they were really excited to see, and then they were going to a dinner and were looking for a way to kill some time. He googled events happening at Caesars and found the Thomas John event. They figured that might be interesting and purchased tickets. As soon as TJ was done, the couple were off to dinner, not impressed at all with the Thomas John experience. It was just a way to kill ninety minutes before dinner.

And that was the meek response we heard at all the events. Golf-applause and a few laughs here and there. I think that the reviews for the event will be much like his Yelp reviews, some five stars from his uber fans and then people complaining that they can’t give him lower than a one star. Not much in between. He is all over the place, starting readings then leaving them abruptly and moving to someone else and then jumping back again, sometimes saying that he will come back to someone, then doesn’t. At least Matt Fraser starts and finishes each reading in one chunk of time.

As I said, we have long range plans for Thomas John and his show at Caesars. I’m sure we will be paying him a lot more visits, so we will be sending in fresh new faces from all over, as people love to visit Vegas. But of course, he already knows all this, you can’t hide anything from a psychic. Vegas is a very connected town to locals, and we have already heard from people not too happy about a Grief Vampire taking up residency in town. A lot of options available.

This has been a long examination of Thomas John’s first week at Caesars in Vegas. I think you can tell that I’m not impressed nor are the local skeptics who are more disgusted now that they have seen the show than they were before. Just remember if someone says, “There was no way in the world he could have known that” remember Operation Pizza Roll and say, “Ohhhh yes there is.”

Major shout-outs to the Operation Grief Vampire team and the Las Vegas Society of Skeptics group for their research and attendance. For a first-hand perspective from one attendee, check HERE.

One more thing, reviews are starting to come in on TicketMaster.com. This first one is a gem—a five-star review but also the reviewer could easily see TJ was hot reading.

Susan Gerbic

Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and writes for her column, Guerilla Skepticism, often. You can contact her through her website.