Sometimes true lifeespecially schemes to defraudthrows up stuff that could not be put in a work of fiction. Fiction, after all, has to make sense.
Unsolicited plug: In May 2004, Professor Jim Fisher's book Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent From Hell will be published by the Southern Illinois University Press (no catalog entry yet). This book should open a few eyes. At least of those who read it.
In any event, "Melanie Mills" has now been exposed as an illusory literary agent.
[A] retired social work consultant… had sent his manuscript and $1,000 to a North Myrtle Beach, S.C., agent who identified herself as Melanie Mills. But authorities think Weinstock, 73, and nine other budding writers were victims of a scheme.
Scott Travis, "Boynton writer's hopes dashed when literary agent arrested," South Florida SunSentinel (30 Nov. 2003).
Revolting as this is, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. For one thing, the number of victims is off by an order of magnitude or so. That is, it wasn't $9,000 or so; it was, so far as available documents indicate, probably in excess of $100,000. You can find a tantalizing summary at Writer Beware, the scam watchdog for SFWA. Disclosure: I act as outside counsel to Writer Beware. I find all of this terribly amusing, in a sick, sad sort of way.