Real "Catch Me If You Can" Character Visits MU
COLUMBIA - Renowned impersonator and former convicted felon Frank Abagnale is not only out of federal prison, but more importantly, out of trouble he said Wednesday while visiting the University of Missouri and talking about his book on which the movie of the same name is based, Catch Me If You Can. The film featured Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent who pursued him.
The book details Abagnale's life as a runaway and infamous impersonator who managed to clinch jobs by lying about his age and later landed himself a prison stint before being hired by the FBI to assist the agency in uncovering fraud schemes.
"It all started when I was standing in a courtroom at 16 with with my mother on one side and my father on the other and the judge telling me I had to choose which one to live with. So instead, I turned and ran out to the courtroom. It was a matter of not wanting to make that choice...and then realizing once you ran away, you had to support yourself and find a way to survive. I was a little more creative than most people."
That's because Abagnale left home at 16 and used his creativity and knowledge of the stationery business to alter the age on his driver's license. While writing bad checks and continuously making fake IDs, Abagnale launched an impersonation scheme, in which he first illegally obtained a pilot's license and posed as a pilot while hitching rides across the world--the "most fun" of his impersonations, he affirmed. When Pan Am and authorities began suspecting Abagnale of fraudulent behavior, he subsequently continued to illegally obtain a series of jobs under false names. He obtained a medical license in Georgia and conducted administrative work (but never actually practiced medicine, Abagnale reassured KOMU 8 News). Prior to getting caught and arrested in France at the age of 21 after a former girlfriend recognized him on a "wanted" poster, Abagnale had defrauded banks of $300,000.
After serving a cumulative five years in prison in three countries, the FBI hired 26-year-old Abagnale to work as an expert authority of document fraud and forgery, check swindling and embezzlement. To this day, Abagnale said he still conducts work for the agency. He also said he also became long-time friends with the authority who actively pursued him during his scheme.
"People look at my life and think it was very exciting, but in a way, it was a very lonely life because I had nobody to confide in. Everybody I met believed me to be someone I wasn't...older than I really was, so I never got to go to a senior prom or high school football game or do any of those things. I had to grow up very quickly. I was always smart enough to know I'd get caught, but it was just a matter of time that they were gonna catch me. It wasn't a great life. Even though I know where it brought me today, I wouldn't want to live that over again."
Abagnale, now 64, has been married for more than 30 years and has three children, one of whom is an FBI agent. Frequently touring, he said he visits a few colleges each year, but primarily tailors his presentations to financial institutions. He recently has been on a U.S. Bank tour in which he has been speaking to corporate customers about fraud.
"When I go out to a college, it's usually to speak about ethics or talk about my life...it's a different pace from the normal speaking I do, so I kind of enjoy doing that. The kids love the movie, and they love the stories. I get a great turnout..." Abagnale said.
His 7:30 p.m. event at Jesse Hall Auditorium is free for MU students and $10 for the public. Abagnale said he plans for a question and answer session following the presentation, which he said he eagerly is anticipating.