Not even the wiliest fox can elude the pack consistently, not if the hounds are persistent, and where Frank Abagnale was concerned the hounds of the law were not only persistent, they were exceedingly angry. Insult one policeman and you have insulted all policemen. Embarrass the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and you have embarrassed Scotland Yard. Humiliate a traffic cop in Miami and you have humiliated the California Highway Patrol. Frank Abagnale, for years, had insulted, embarrassed and humiliated police everywhere with regularity and maddening insouciance. And so police everywhere sought him day and night, without respite, and as much to vindicate themselves as to serve justice.
Less than a month after Abagnale evaded capture in Washington, D.C., two New York City detectives, munching hot dogs in their parked squad car, spotted him as he walked past the unmarked vehicle and accosted him. Although he denied his identity, within two hours Abagnale had been positively identified and was given into custody of FBI agents.
Within weeks, Abagnale was inundated with state and federal complaints charging forgery, passing worthless checks, swindling, using the mails to defraud, counterfeiting and similar offenses, leveled by authorities in all fifty states. Various U.S. attorneys and state prosecutors vied for jurisdiction, each claiming to have the most damaging case or cases against the prisoner. All the liens against Abagnale had validity. Although the cleverness and intelligence Abagnale had exhibited in the course of his criminal career was undisputed, he had been more bold than deceptive, more overt than discreet. A multitude of witnesses was available to identify Abagnale in one or the other of his roles, to accuse him in one or the other of his transgressions. Had all the charges against Abagnale been tossed into the air and one caught at random, the evidence in that case would have been overwhelming.
Abagnale was not unaware of his predicament and the knowledge caused him undue mental anguish. He knew he was going to serve time in some state or federal prison, perhaps several terms in several different prisons. He could not expect any American prison to be as humane as Malmo Prison. His great fear was that he might be incarcerated in an American version of Perpignans House of Arrest. His trepidations were not allayed when an arbitrary decision was made by federal authorities to bring him to trial in Atlanta, Georgia. More than in any other U.S. city where officials had cause to dislike him, Abagnale felt he was least popular in Atlanta.
However, he was represented by able counsel, and his lawyer struck a bargain with the United States Attorney that Abagnale eagerly endorsed.
In April 1971, Frank Abagnale appeared before a federal judge and pleaded guilty under Rule 20 of the United States Penal Code, a plea that encompassed all crimes, known and unknown, that Abagnale had committed in the continental United States, whether a violation of state or federal statutes. The presiding judge entered an order of nolle prosequi (no prosecution) in all but eight of the hundreds of charges pending against Abagnale, and sentenced Abagnale to ten years on each of seven counts of fraud, the terms to run concurrently, and to two years on one count of escape, the term to be served consecutively.
Abagnale was ordered to serve his twelve years in the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, Virginia, where he was taken that same month. He served four years of his term, working as a clerk in one of the prison industries during those years at a salary of 20¢ per hour. Three times during that period, Abagnale applied for parole and each time was rejected. If we do consider you for parole in the future, to what city would you like to be paroled? Abagnale was asked at one point during his third appearance.
I dont know, Abagnale confessed. I would not like it to be New York, since I feel that would be an unhealthy environment for me, considering past events and circumstances. I would leave it to the parole authorities discretion as to where I should be paroled.»
Shortly thereafter, and for reasons Abagnale has never attempted to fathom, he was paroled to Houston, Texas, with orders to report to a U.S. parole officer there within seventy-two hours of his arrival and, if possible, to find gainful employment within the same period of time.
Frank Abagnale quickly learned, as do most freed prisoners,
that there is a post-prison penalty society inflicts upon its convicts. For
some, this penalty is simply a social stigma, but for the majority such
post-prison punishment comprises much more than just slurs and slights. The
Abagnales post-release problems were compounded by the fact that the bureaucrat selected to supervise his parole was hostile and antipathetic. The parole officer bluntly apprised Abagnale of his feelings toward his ward.
«I didnt want you here, Abagnale,» the hard-nosed official told him. «You were forced on me. I dont like con men, and I want you to know that before we even start our relationship.... I dont think youll last a month before youre headed back to the joint. Whatever, you had better understand this. Dont make a wrong move with me. I want to see you every week, and when you get a job, Ill be out to see you regularly. Mess up, and Im sure you will, and Ill personally escort you back to prison.»
Abagnales first job was as a waiter, cook and managerial
trainee in a pizza parlor operated by a fast-food chain. He did not inform his
employer that he was
Although he was an exemplary worker, and one often
entrusted with the banking of the firms cash receipts, Abagnale was fired
after six months when company officials, checking more closely into his
background in preparation for naming him a manager of one of the chains shops,
learned he was a federal prison parolee. Abagnale within a week found
employment as a grocery stocker with a supermarket chain, but again neglected
to tell his employer that he was
In ensuing months, the discouraging procedure became
repetitively familiar to Abagnale, and he began to contemplate a return to his
former illicit lifestyle, feeling now that he had a justifiable grudge against
the establishment. Abagnale might actually have returned to his felonious
career, as have so many
«I was working as a movie projectionist at the time,» Abagnale recalls today. «I was making good money, but there I was, five nights a week, sitting in this small room, with nothing to do, really, save to watch the same movie over and over again. I thought to myself that I was smarter than that, that I was ignoring and wasting real talents that I possessed.»
Abagnale sought out his parole officer and broached a plan he had formulated in the lonely projection booth. «I think I have as much knowledge as any man alive concerning the mechanics of forgery, check swindling, counterfeiting and similar crimes,» Abagnale told the officer. «I have often felt since I was released from prison that if I directed this knowledge into the right channels, I think I could help certain people a great deal. For instance, every time I go to the store and write a check, I see two or three mistakes made on the part of the clerk or cashier, mistakes that a bum check artist would take advantage of. I have concluded that it is simply a lack of training, and I know I can teach people who handle checks or cash vouchers how to protect themselves against fraud and theft.»
With the blessings of his parole officer, Abagnale approached a suburban bank director, outlined what he had in mind and detailed his background as a master bilker of banks. «At the moment I have no slide presentations or anything,» said Abagnale. «But Id like to give a lecture to your employees for one hour after closing. If you think my lecture is worthless, you owe me nothing. If you think it is beneficial, you pay me $50 and make a couple of calls to friends you have in other banks to tell them what you think about my talk and what Im doing.»
His first appearance as a «white-collar crime specialist» led to another appearance at a different bank, and then to another and yet another. Within months Abagnale was in widespread demand by banks, hotels, airlines and other businesses.
Today, three years later, Frank Abagnale is one of the nations most popular crime authorities, with offices in both Houston and Denver, a highly-trained staff, and gross revenues approaching $3 million. He still leads a life on the fly, constantly criss-crossing the nation to present seminars, give lectures or to appear on various television panels. Frank Abagnale leads a very satisfying life.
More importantly, he now realizes why he first embarked on a criminal voyage and why he is not now adrift on that dismal cruise.
«If I did not do what
«What I do today, on the other hand, fulfills all my needs. I get up in front of thousands of people, and I know theyre listening to what I say. Thats an ego trip. I appear on dozens of television programs annually. To me, thats a glamorous life. Its an adventuresome life, because Im constantly being challenged by white collar criminals who come up with new gimmicks to defraud clients-and I know theyre out to put me down as much as they are to make a bundle.
«Actually, I havent changed. All the needs that made me a criminal are still there. I have simply found a legal and socially acceptable way to fulfill those needs. Im still a con artist. Im just putting down a positive con these days, as opposed to the negative con I used in the past. I have simply redirected the talents Ive always possessed. Today, if I walked into a crowded room and wanted to impress the people therein, I could impress them more by saying, Im Frank Abagnale, the impostor, than if I were to be the old Frank Abagnale, posing as a pilot, a doctor or whatever.»
Frank Abagnale, in reality, is still a bumblebee personality, flying where he isnt supposed to fly at all, and making a pot of honey on the side.