On Tuesday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m., the Campus Activities Board is proud to present Mr. Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Christ Chapel, where he will share his story of adventure, impersonations, fraudulent checks and his road to redemption with students, faculty and the public.
The inspiration of the feature film Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hanks, Abagnale was a notorious figure and criminal of the 1960s, only to later become one of the world’s most respected authorities on forgery, embezzlement and secure documents. His adventure began at the age of 16, and by the time he was 21 he had successfully posed as an airline pilot, an attorney, a college professor and a pediatrician, among other identities. He had also escaped police custody twice, once from a taxiing airliner and once from a United States Federal Penitentiary.
His accomplishments under these presumed identities include forging a Columbia University degree and teaching Sociology at Brigham Young University for a semester as a teaching assistant by the name of “Frank Adams.” He also worked for a law firm as an attorney by forging a Harvard University law transcript and by legitimately passing the bar exam of Louisiana at the age of 19 in order to attain a job in the Louisiana Attorney General’s office.
By the time he was apprehended by the French police at age 21, he had cashed about $2.5 million in fraudulent checks in every state and in 26 foreign countries. Abagnale served time in the French, Swedish and United States prison systems before being released with an agreement that he would aid the federal government by teaching and assisting federal law enforcement agencies on fraud prevention.
For the past 30 years, Abagnale has continued his association with the FBI and has worked with, advised and consulted for hundreds of financial institutions, corporations and government agencies around the world. His rare blend of expertise and knowledge has made him a renowned expert in the field of fraud prevention. More than 14,000 financial institutions, law enforcement agencies and corporations utilize his fraud prevention programs. He also runs Abagnale & Associates, a financial fraud consulting company.
In addition to the movie Catch Me If You Can, a Broadway show by the same title was opened in April 2011.
Abignale’s accomplishments include publishing several books, including titles The Art of the Steal, Catch Me If You Can, and The Real U Guide to Identity Theft and Stealing Your Life, as well as numerous articles. Abagnale will be available to sign books and autographs following his address and also to answer questions from the audience.
Every other year, CAB presents a notable speaker. This year, Abagnale was one name in a pool of choices including Blake Mycoskie of TOMS shoes, Common and Jeff Corwin. Members of a CAB committee researched possible speakers, narrowing the list down to five choices and letting the students choose via Survey Monkey.
When the results came in, Abagnale was the clear favorite of Gustavus students.
“The process was all student-driven and Frank was overwhelmingly the choice of the students” Ashley Minshall, a graduate intern working for the student activities office said. “We are predicting this to be our most popular speaker yet.”
“It really is going to be a great show. The best CAB events are the ones that Gusties want the most,” Hannah Fischer, CAB co-president, said. The survey conducted by CAB resulted in a total of about 900 hits, the majority of which ranked Abagnale as their first choice.
Speakers of the past have been housed in Alumni Hall; however, due to the interest in Abagnale by the community outside of Gustavus, he will present in Christ Chapel and tickets are open to the public.
Erik Velgersdyk, a sophomore communication studies major and head of the committee responsible for planning and bringing Abagnale to campus, is very excited for the event and for the anticipated outcome. “It is going to be a very interesting talk. Not many people have had a chance or need to redeem themselves in the way that [Abagnale] did. It will be very fascinating to hear firsthand about his life and road to redemption, overcoming the mistakes he has made.”
“His speech is titled ‘Catch Me If You Can,’ like the movie, and will tell about his life since the age of 16 when he began forging checks, his experiences and the decisions that he has made. Everyone has had the chance to see the movie. This is your chance to say that you have listened to and met the real guy,” Velgersdyk said.
“There is the Hollywood version of what happened in Catch Me If You Can and then there is the real story. [Abagnale] is going to tell you what really happened, the real details, not the Hollywood fantasy,” Minshall said.
Tickets are available free to students and $5 for the public. Tickets can be obtained online or at the SAO desk in the campus center. “It is going to be an awesome show, so get your free tickets and show up!” Fischer said.