May 7, 2012

Frank Abagnale

By Andrew at 5:46 AM

Last week I attended an extremely intriguing lecture by Frank Abagnale, the man who, during his early years, traversed the globe by assuming the role of an airline pilot, pediatrician, and lawyer. He conned his way through millions of dollars worth of check fraud, and his life was the subject of the 2002 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks called “Catch Me if You Can.”

This post is different than my other posts, mainly because it is partially a movie review and partially a reflection on a related lecture. Regardless, the lecture serves as a wonderful supplement to my movie review. I had kindly been offered a ticket to attend this lecture at a community college in the area, personally not knowing much of anything about Frank Abagnale before this event.
“Catch Me if You Can” is a film by Steven Spielberg about a guy named Frank Abagnale who, after learning that his parents were getting a divorce, ran away from home to start life on his own. Being in high school at the time, he did not have much money to start off with. He worked in a stationary shop initially, but in New York City, he could hardly get by with the pay from this job. Eventually, in order to supplement his income, he began writing checks from the bank account that his father had set up for him previously. After exhausting his legitimate funds, he began a vicious cycle of writing bad checks for cash, which eventually led to him forging checks. In addition to forging checks, he began assuming the role of a pilot on leave, allowing him to fly for free. After traveling the world in this fashion, cashing fake checks as he went, he settled down in Atlanta, posing as a doctor this time. And later on, the final role that he assumed, that of a lawyer, took him to Louisiana, which, although he never had formal training as a lawyer, he did legitimately pass the bar exam pursuant to the requirements of the state of Louisiana.
Switching now to material derived mainly from Frank Abagnale’s lecture, he mentioned that for the majority of the time he was traveling around and switching roles, he was aware that he was being chased. International alerts were placed for his capture, and the FBI eventually caught up to him in a prison in France. While that could have easily been the end of the story, it actually became just the beginning.
After spending some time in prison, the FBI approached him with the opportunity to be released early from prison if he joined the FBI’s fraud division and worked for a predetermined amount of time. He accepted this assignment and ended up staying with the bureau for many years beyond what he was required to serve. He has become very successful professionally with the FBI, and now he speaks about his experiences extensively. To me, the thing that he said that made me think that he has really changed since his younger years includes his statement that while he was not legally required to pay back everything he had previously stolen, he has indeed paid back the entirety of the money that he had taken. Also, due to his public service over the years, he has been offered a formal pardon on multiple occasions for his crimes. However, he said that he has always declined since he realizes that what he did was wrong, that he regrets his actions, and that he accepts the consequences of his actions. In addition, he regrets that he used the skills he had for such evil purposes, but it seems that he now is especially grateful for his second chance, enabling him to use the same skills to help others.
At the end of the talk there was a time for questions. Interestingly, most of the questions related more to identity theft prevention than to his story. He did respond to one question about the accuracy of the movie by saying that the movie ended up being fairly accurate to his life, although he did point out a couple of minor differences that he thought accurately supported the storytelling. Frank Abagnale’s story was very intriguing, and I am glad that I was able to hear it from him firsthand!

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