Frank Abagnale

Frank William Abagnale Jr. (/ˈæbəɡnl/; born April 27, 1948) is an American author and convicted felon. Abagnale targeted individuals and small businesses[1][2][3] but gained notoriety in the late 1970s by claiming a diverse range of victimless workplace frauds,[4] many of which are now in doubt.[5][6][7] In 1980, Abagnale co-wrote his autobiography, Catch Me If You Can, which built a narrative around these claimed victimless frauds. The book later inspired the film of the same name directed by Steven Spielberg in 2002, in which Abagnale was portrayed by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. He has also written four other books. Abagnale runs Abagnale and Associates, a consultancy firm.[8]

Frank Abagnale
Frank W. Abagnale in 2008.jpg
Abagnale in 2008
Frank William Abagnale Jr.

(1948-04-27) April 27, 1948 (age 74)
CitizenshipUnited States, France
OccupationSecure document consultant
Criminal charge(s)Auto larceny, theft, forgery, fraud
Criminal penalty
  • 4 months in a French prison
  • 4 months in a Swedish prison
  • 3 years, 3 months, and 7 days in a US federal prison
  • 3 years in Great Meadow Correctional Facility, NY (age 17–20)

Among others, Abagnale claims to have worked as an assistant state attorney general in the U.S. state of Louisiana, a hospital physician in Georgia, and impersonated a Pan American World Airways pilot and logged over two million air miles by deadheading.[4] The veracity of most of Abagnale's claims has been questioned and continue to suggest that he made them up.[9][10][11] In 2002, Abagnale admitted on his website that some facts had been over-dramatized or exaggerated, though he was not specific about what was exaggerated or omitted about his life.[12] In 2020, journalist Alan C. Logan provided evidence he claims proves the majority of Abagnale's story had been at best exaggerated or invented.[5][6][7] The public records obtained by Logan have since been independently verified by journalist Javier Leiva.[13]

Early lifeEdit

External video
  Catch Me If You Can: Frank Abagnale's Story, Frank Abagnale, 1:02:27, WGBH Educational Foundation[14]

Frank William Abagnale Jr. was born in the Bronx, New York City, on April 27, 1948, to a French-Algerian mother and an Italian-American father.[15][16] He spent his early life in Bronxville, New York. His parents separated when he was 12 and divorced when he was 15 years old.[5] After the divorce, Abagnale moved with his father, and his new stepmother, to Mount Vernon, New York.[5]

According to Abagnale, his first victim was his father, who gave him a gasoline credit card and a truck and was ultimately liable for a bill amounting to $3,400. Abagnale was only 15 at the time.[17][18] In his autobiography, Abagnale says, because of this crime, he was sent to a reform school in Westchester County, New York (fitting the description of the Lincolndale Agricultural School) run by Catholic Charities USA.[17]

In December 1964, he enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 16. He was discharged after less than three months and was arrested for forgery shortly thereafter.[1][19]

In 1965, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Abagnale in Eureka, California for car theft after he stole a Ford Mustang from one of his father's neighbors. Abagnale was pictured in the local newspaper, seated in a car, being questioned by special agent Richard Miller of the FBI.[2] He had financed his cross-country trip from New York to California with blank checks stolen from a family business located on the Bronx River Parkway.[1][19] Abagnale was also charged with impersonating a US customs official, although this charge was dropped. On June 2, 1965, this stolen car case was transferred to the Southern District of New York.[5]

Airline pilotEdit

After being released into the custody of his father to face the stolen car charges, 17-year-old Abagnale decided to impersonate a pilot. He obtained a uniform at a Manhattan uniform company, but was arrested in Tuckahoe, New York days later.[1][19] Abagnale was sentenced to three years at the Great Meadow Prison in Comstock, New York. After serving only two years of his sentence, he was released into the custody of his mother. However, he broke the terms of his parole with a stolen car conviction in Boston, Massachusetts, and was returned to Great Meadow for one year.[5]

After his release on December 24, 1968, 20-year-old Abagnale disguised himself as a TWA pilot and moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he talked his way into the house of a local music teacher, whose daughter was a Delta Air Lines stewardess he had met in New York. In Baton Rouge, Abagnale also befriended a local minister, claimed he had a master's degree in social work from Ithaca College, and sought work with vulnerable youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities.[20] The reverend introduced him to Louisiana State University faculty, who determined he was an "obvious phony".[21] The reverend, after Abagnale told him he was a furloughed TWA pilot, became suspicious and called the airline where he was told that Abagnale was a fraud.[21] The reverend notified the Baton Rouge Police Department and Abagnale was arrested on February 14, 1969, initially on vagrancy charges. Upon his arrest, he was found to have illegally driven his Florida rental car out of state and to possess falsified airline employee identification.[22] The following day, detectives determined that Abagnale had stolen blank checks from his host family and a local business in Baton Rouge, and he was subsequently charged with theft and forgery.[23][3] Unable to make bail, he was convicted on June 2, 1969, and was sentenced to 12 years of supervised probation, but he soon fled Louisiana for Europe.[5][24]


Two weeks after the Louisiana bench warrant was issued, Abagnale was arrested in Montpellier, France, in September 1969. He had stolen an automobile and defrauded two local families in Klippan, Sweden. He was sentenced to four months for theft in France, but only served three months in Perpignan's prison.[25]

He was then extradited to Sweden where he was convicted of gross fraud by forgery. He served two months in a Malmö prison and was banned from returning to Sweden for eight years and required to recompense his Swedish victims (which, they say, he never did).[5] Abagnale was deported back to the United States in June 1970 when his appeal failed.[5]

United StatesEdit

After returning to the United States, 22-year-old Abagnale dressed in a pilot's uniform and travelled around college campuses, passing bad checks and claiming he was there to recruit stewardesses for Pan Am. At the University of Arizona, he stated that he was a pilot and a doctor, and according to Paul Holsen, a student at the time, Abagnale conducted physical examinations on several female college students who wanted to be part of flight crews.[26] None of the women were ever enrolled in Abagnale's fictional program, which is contrary to what his book and the film depict.[27]

After Abagnale cashed a personal check made to look like Pan Am paycheck, on July 30, 1970, in Durham, North Carolina, he again came to the attention of the FBI. He was arrested in Cobb County, Georgia, three months later, on November 2, 1970, after cashing 10 fake Pan Am payroll checks in different towns. Abagnale escaped from the Cobb County jail and was picked up four days later in New York City. He was sentenced to ten years in 1971 for forging checks that totaled $1,448.60, and he received an additional two years for escaping from the local Cobb County jailhouse.[5][27]

In 1974, Abagnale was released on parole after he had served around two years of his 12-year sentence at Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, Virginia.[28] Unwilling to return to his family in New York, Abagnale says he left the choice of parole location up to the court, which decided that he would be paroled in Houston, Texas.[29]

After his release, Abagnale stated that he performed numerous jobs, including cook, grocer, and movie projectionist, but he was fired from most of the positions for not revealing his criminal past. He again posed as a pilot in 1974 to obtain a job at Camp Manison, a summer children's camp in Texas where he was arrested for stealing cameras from his co-workers.[30] After he received only a fine, he obtained a position at a Houston-area orphanage by pretending to be a pilot with a master's degree. This job had him finding foster homes for the children living at the orphanage. This ruse was eventually discovered by his parole officer, who swiftly removed him from his orphanage work and moved him into living quarters above his own garage so that he "could keep an eye on him".[31] His next position was at Aetna, where he was fired and sued for check fraud.[5]

According to Abagnale, he approached a bank with an offer in 1975. He explained to the bank what he had done and offered to speak to the bank's staff and show them various tricks that "paperhangers" use to defraud banks. His offer included the condition that if they did not find his speech helpful, they would owe him nothing; otherwise, they would owe him only $50, with an agreement that they would provide his name to other banks.[32] With that, he began a new career as a speaker and a security consultant.[8] During this time, he falsified his resume to show he had worked with the Los Angeles Police Department and Scotland Yard.[5]

In 1977, Abagnale gave public talks wherein he claimed that between the ages of 16 and 21, he posed as a doctor in a Georgia hospital for one year, an assistant state attorney general for one year, a sociology professor for two semesters, and a Pan American airlines co-pilot for two years. In addition, Abagnale claimed that he recruited university coeds as Pan American stewardesses travelling with them for three months throughout Europe. He also claimed he eluded the FBI with a daring escape from a commercial airline toilet bowl, while the plane was taxiing at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.[33][34] In 1978 Abagnale told a Honolulu Advertiser reporter that he was familiar with the toilet apparatus, squeezed himself through the opening, swung down through the lower hatch, landed on the pavement, ran across the runway and hailed a cab.[35] Abagnale claimed he moved the sewage container aside and that no one heard a thing: "I took off running. I thought they were right behind me. What I didn't know was that the door was spring loaded and when it slammed shut the whole assembly fell back into place. Nobody heard anything because of the engines' roar."[36]

He moved his wife, Kelly, and their three sons to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He and his family lived in the same house for the next 25 years. After the sons left home for college and careers elsewhere, Kelly suggested that she and Frank should leave Tulsa. They agreed to move to Charleston, South Carolina.[29]

In 1976, he founded Abagnale & Associates,[8] which advises companies on secure documents. In 2015, Abagnale was named the AARP Fraud Watch Ambassador, where he helps "to provide online programs and community forums to educate consumers about ways to protect themselves from identity theft and cybercrime." In 2018, he began co-hosting the AARP podcast The Perfect Scam about scammers and how they operate.[37]

He has appeared in the media a variety of times. This includes three times as guest on The Tonight Show, an appearance on To Tell the Truth in 1977 [38][39][40] and a regular slot on the British network TV series The Secret Cabaret in the 1990s.[41] The book about Abagnale, Catch Me If You Can, was turned into a movie of the same name by Steven Spielberg in 2002, featuring actor Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale. The real Abagnale made a cameo appearance in this film as a French police officer taking DiCaprio into custody.[42]

Veracity of claimsEdit

During his many speeches and his appearances on television, Abagnale has alleged many criminal exploits.[43] These include stating that he was wanted in 26 countries, has worked extensively for the FBI and escaped several times from FBI custody. He also claimed that he cashed over 17,000 bad checks, amounting to $2.5 million USD, and worked as an assistant attorney general and a hospital physician. In addition, he stated that he started a fake stewardess trainee program, travelling with them throughout Europe for two months, and logged over 2 million air miles disguised as a deadheading co-pilot.[5] Almost all of these claims have been refuted by journalists.[6][11][13][24][27][43][44]

In public lectures describing his life story, Abagnale has consistently maintained that he was "arrested just once," and that was in Montpellier, France.[45][46] However, public records show Abagnale was arrested in New York (multiple times), California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas.[1][2][24][25][30][47]

Despite public records showing Abagnale targeted individuals and small family businesses,[1][2][3][24][25][30][48] Abagnale has long claimed publicly that he "never, ever ripped off any individuals."[49] He made the same claim of never targeting individuals and small businesses to BBC journalist Sarah Montague and the Associated Press.[50][51] According to Abagnale, the only individual he ever swindled was a Miami sex worker: "She tried to charge me $1,000 for an evening, so I gave her a $1,400 forged cashier's check, and got $400 in change."[52] In 2002, Abagnale told the Star Tribune, "As long as I didn't hurt anyone, people never considered me a real criminal, my victims were big corporations. I was a kid ripping off the establishment."[53]

However, individuals criminally targeted by Abagnale have described the long-term consequences of victimization:[3]

He had a key to our front door, it was never recovered. We changed the lock. I fed him. I cooked. I don't trust people as much anymore.

— Charolette Parks, Abagnale victim interviewed April 27, 1981, The Advocate

His claim that he passed the Louisiana bar exam, worked for Attorney General Jack P. F. Gremillion, and closed 33 cases, was challenged by several journalists in 1978.[27][43] There is no record of Abagnale ever being a member of the Louisiana Bar[54] and no evidence he ever worked as an assistant attorney general in Louisiana's Attorney General's Office. In 1978, the Louisiana State Bar Association reconciled all those who took the bar exam and concluded that Abagnale never took the exam using his own name or an alias; the State Attorney General's Office examined payments to all employees during the time Abagnale claimed he worked there and concluded that he never worked in the office using his name or an alias.[27] After Abagnale appeared on The Tonight Show, then-First Assistant Attorney General Ken DeJean gave a reporter a series of questions to ask Abagnale about the description of then-Attorney General Jack P. F. Gremillion. Abagnale failed to answer the questions correctly.[55]

The man is not an imposter, he is a liar.

— Kenneth C. DeJean, First Assistant Attorney General, "The Great imposter", April 24, 1981, The Advocate [56]

Abagnale claimed when he was 18 years old that he worked for one year as a supervising pediatrician at the Cobb General Hospital in Marietta, Georgia. He maintained that he worked the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, supervising seven residents and 42 nurses.[27] Abagnale claimed that he would visit the university library to memorize medical journals and textbooks: "With my photographic memory, I could easily memorize anything. That did not mean that I could comprehend it, but I could rattle it off verbatim."[57] Abagnale told his audiences that over the course of his one year at Cobb General, no one doubted his position as a physician: "So I made the rounds, picked up the clipboards, scribbled a few lines, initialed them, and everyone thought I was doing a fine job."[58] However, hospital administrators told journalist Ira Perry that there was no midnight to 8 a.m. shift, nor did the position of regular overnight pediatrician exist, at the time.[27] Using records from the New York State Archives, author Alan C. Logan demonstrated that Abagnale was in the Great Meadow Prison, in Comstock, New York, when he was 18.[5]

Abagnale's claim that he impersonated a doctor is not entirely without merit, however. On the University of Arizona campus in 1970, he stated that he was a pilot and a doctor. According to Paul Holsen, who was an older university student and licensed commercial pilot at the time,[59] Abagnale informed him that he was there on behalf of Pan Am to recruit and conduct physical examinations on candidates. In his autobiography Holsen claimed that after Abagnale's ruse was discovered, authorities informed him that Abagnale had indeed conducted physical exams on students.[26] University of Arizona officials acknowledge that Abagnale had interacted with 12 female students.[27] Abagnale has openly acknowledged that he performed examinations on young women while impersonating a doctor: "When the girls came by I always gave them a thorough examination and sent them on their way. I was young, but not stupid."[45][60][61][62] In 2021 Louisiana State University Manship Chair in Journalism Robert Mann expressed his regret in not confronting Abagnale's claim of conducting physical examinations as a doctor: "Looking back on my story about the event [Abagnale's lecture], I am embarrassed by what I wrote about Abagnale's time posing as a pediatrician. Reading those words now, in which Abagnale bragged about sexual abuse, makes me sick."[63]

Abagnale has publicly claimed an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 140: "I have an I.Q. of 140 and retain 90 percent of what I read. So by studying and memorizing the bar exam I was able to get the needed score."[34] In 2021 Abagnale gave the keynote at the American Mensa Conference in Houston, Texas. The organizers claimed he was the subject of an FBI manhunt and cashed millions of dollars' worth of checks while impersonating a pilot and doctor.[64] Despite claims of a photographic memory, when queried by USA Today journalist Andy Seiler regarding details of his imposter roles and movements in the 1960s Abagnale responded by saying, "You get to a point in your life where you go, 'I don't remember what I did.'"[65]

One of Abagnale's most notable claims was an alleged escape from the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta in 1971:[66]

I was in one of the largest maximum security federal prisons for two weeks when I impersonated a prison inspector and walked out, right past the machine guns and the guards.

— Frank W. Abagnale, "Ex-con tells tricks of trade", February 22, 1979, El Paso Herald-Post

In 1982 Abagnale told the press, "I was and still am the only and youngest man to escape from that prison."[57] However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed that Abagnale was never housed in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary: "he was never admitted, so I don't really see how he could have escaped" said acting warden Dwight Amstutz.[27]

In 1978, after Abagnale had been a featured speaker at an anti-crime seminar, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter looked into his assertions. Telephone calls to banks, schools, hospitals and other institutions Abagnale mentioned turned up no evidence of his cons under the aliases he used. Abagnale's response was, "Due to the embarrassment involved, I doubt if anyone would confirm the information." He later said he had changed the names.[67]

Further doubts were raised about Abagnale's story after an October 1978 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, with a news article saying:

Abagnale is indeed a convicted confidence artist. But he is finding willing believers as he promotes and invents a more varied criminal past.

— Stephen Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, "Johnny Is Conned", October 6, 1978[68]

In December 1978, Abagnale's claims were again investigated after he visited Oklahoma City for a talk.[27] As part of his investigation into the story, Perry spoke with Pan Am spokesman Bruce Haxthausen, who responded to the journalists' inquiry saying:

This is the first we've heard of this, and we would have heard of or at least remember[ed] it if it had happened. You don't forget $2.5 million in bad checks. I'd say this guy is as phony as a $3 bill.

— Ira Perry, The Daily Oklahoman, "Inquiry Shows 'Reformed' Con Man Hasn't Quit Yet", December 10, 1978

In 2002, Abagnale addressed the issue of his story's lack of truthfulness with a statement posted on his company's website, which said in part: "I was interviewed by the co-writer only about four times. I believe he did a great job of telling the story, but he also over-dramatized and exaggerated some of the story. That was his style and what the editor wanted. He always reminded me that he was just telling a story and not writing my biography."[69] However, Abagnale made the primary claims of working as a doctor for a year, an attorney for a year, a PhD professor, and his several escapes on national television in 1977 on the show To Tell the Truth and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,[40][70] which predated the 1980 autobiography by several years. He also made these claims in print media, namely the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, three years before the publication of his co-written autobiography, effectively nullifying the claim his aforementioned co-author, Stan Redding, exaggerated the story.[34]

In 2002, at the Catch Me If You Can film premiere, Abagnale conceded to journalist Andy Seiler of USA Today that the impersonations in the autobiography were fabricated: "I impersonated a doctor for a few days, I was a lawyer for a few days. In the book, it's like I am doing this for a year."[65] Despite this admission, in public speeches Abagnale would return to his claims of long-term impersonations of a doctor and for working for a year as an attorney.[14][45][46] Abagnale's fees for speaking about his alleged life story are reported to be between $20,000 to $30,000 USD.[9]

In 2006, KSL journalist Scott Haws challenged Abagnale with his claim that he worked as a PhD-holding sociology professor at Brigham Young University (BYU) for two semesters. Abagnale claimed that he could not recall the details, and that his co-author Redding had exaggerated some things. Haws "refreshed Frank's memory" and showed him his own words, including the Catch Me If You Can moviebook and the credits that rolled at the end of the film Catch Me If You Can, where Abagnale, not Redding, made the BYU professor claim.[71] Abagnale conceded to Haws that he might have been a guest lecturer.[72]

So despite claiming to be a sociology professor in at least three books, two solely written by Abagnale himself, and an on-camera claim following the movie, it appears Abagnale as a BYU professor is mostly or entirely just another real fake.

— Scott Haws, Did Frank Abignale [sic] Really Teach at BYU?, April 27, 2006, KSL-TV

Leading up to 2020, author Alan C. Logan conducted an in-depth investigation for a book he was writing about the truthfulness of Abagnale's life story. Earlier newspaper articles, public records, and numerous administrative documents Logan discovered contradicted many of Abagnale's claims.[7] Logan maintains that his investigation found that Abagnale's account of his criminal past is, for the most part, a fabrication. For example, documents show that Abagnale was in Great Meadow Prison in Comstock, New York, between the ages of 17 and 20 (July 26, 1965, to December 24, 1968) as inmate #25367, the time frame during which Abagnale claims to have committed his most significant scams. Logan's investigation also uncovered numerous petty crimes that Abagnale has never acknowledged and has produced evidence that shows many of Abagnale's most famous scams simply never occurred.[6][7]

Friendswood, Texas - Arrest Photo, 1974

Abagnale has told the press, "I was convicted on $2.5 million dollars' worth of bad checks" and that he later hired a law firm to get all the money back to hotels and other companies.[73] However, federal court records show that Abagnale was convicted of forging 10 Pan American Airlines checks in five states (Texas, Arizona, Utah, California and North Carolina), totalling less than US$1,500.[5] Following his parole on February 8, 1974, he claimed he went to work for the FBI. However, after this date Abagnale was arrested for theft at a kids camp in Friendswood, Texas, on August 29, 1974.[30]

In many interviews and speeches Abagnale has claimed that he has earned millions of dollars from his patents.[45][74] However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office website does not list Abagnale as a person, or Abagnale and Associates as a business, as holders of any patents and they are not listed as an inventor on any patent.[75] In his cheque design patents, Canadian inventor Calin A. Sandru merely mentions in the Background section of the invention that KPMG and Abagnale and Associates are groups that affirm that cheque fraud is a significant problem.[76][77][78]

Logan, girded with public records, shared his findings in detail on the NPR program Watching America, August 13, 2021, broadcast on WHRO.[79]

In 2022, investigative journalist Javier Leiva independently obtained the public records first sourced by Logan. Leiva also confirmed that Abagnale was in prison between the ages of 17 and 20 and then convicted for theft in Baton Rouge in June 1969. Leiva also obtained the federal records connected to Abagnale's Pan Am checks and confirmed that his conviction, at 22 years old, was based on less than $1,500 USD. Leiva says he calculated that between 1965 and 1970, Abagnale was only free for a matter of months and that his records show he was in prison the majority of that time. On June 23, 2022, Leiva confronted Abagnale at the Connect IT Global 2022 conference in Las Vegas with prison and other public records in-hand. Leiva describes these events in his is podcast series Pretend - 'The Real Catch Me If You Can (Part 1)'.[13]

Relationship with the Federal Bureau of InvestigationEdit

One of Abagnale's most controversial claims is his relationship with the FBI. In 1977, when Abagnale began claiming a five-year uninterrupted life on the run, involving multi-profession imposter scams, he did not claim to work for the FBI. He did, however, leverage the names of FBI personnel to bolster his new biographical claims. In 1978 journalist Ira Perry determined that Abagnale and his publicist were giving out the names of FBI agents to any party that asked for references or verification of his claimed biography; in particular, they gave out the name of Robert Russ Franck, who they claimed was the "former Atlanta agent" who knew all about Abagnale.[27] When Perry contacted Franck, who had just retired as head of the FBI's Houston Division, and had never worked in Atlanta, Franck told him:

That damn Abagnale uses my name all over the place, but I've never even met the guy.

— Robert Russ Franck, The Daily Oklahoman, "Inquiry shows 'Reformed' con man hasn't quit yet", December 14, 1978 [27]

Franck informed Perry that he had only heard about Abagnale through people attempting to verify his biographical claims, and was unable to confirm whether the claims were true or not. Perry also interviewed Eugene Stewart, a retired FBI agent who was in charge of the Atlanta division when Abagnale claimed he was a pediatrician in suburban Atlanta. Stewart, who at this point was Delta Air Lines chief of security, informed Perry that Abagnale was a low-level criminal: "It's more of a harassment than anything else," said Stewart. In addition, Stewart noted that Abagnale had been using a Delta Air Lines uniform to cash bad personal checks in Texas after his 1974 parole.[27] After his parole Abagnale was arrested for theft from a children’s camp in Friendswood, Texas.[30] Public records show that in October, 1975, Abagnale was hired by Aetna Insurance, but was abruptly fired and sued by the company after he allegedly cashed bad personal checks during his employee training. Aetna eventually filed suit against Abagnale after his appearance on "To Tell the Truth" was broadcast, in 1977.[5]

After the publication of his 1980 autobiography, Abagnale began to inform his audiences that he was on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.[80] He carried this claim into the 90s: "I was the only teenager in the history of the FBI to be put on their 10 Most Wanted list," Abagnale told his audiences in 1994.[81] In the lead up to the release of the film Catch Me If You Can , this "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" claim was used in marketing for the film.[82] Pressed on this claim when the film was released, and with evidence clearly showing the absence of Abagnale on any most wanted list,[83] he conceded on his website that he was never on the FBI's Most Wanted list.[84][85]

In 2002, Los Angeles Times journalist Bob Baker (1948–2015) reported that there was no FBI task force set up to capture Abagnale.[86]

In the years following the release of Catch Me if You Can, Abagnale began claiming that he was granted a unique parole from the federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia, so that he could work for the Bureau: "When the FBI took me out of prison it was to do undercover work."[87] Abagnale has claimed that the clandestine work was given to him directly by Clarence M. Kelley who directed the FBI from 1973 to 1978. In his "Talks at Google" lecture, Abagnale claimed that because of his photographic memory, Kelley asked him to memorize the components of military hardware and infiltrate bases as a lieutenant. Abagnale describes Kelley's instructions this way: "Okay, you are a lieutenant in the army. You have been in the army this many years. Your expertise is this missile. I need you to learn all of this in two weeks, and I'm sending you to this base, and I want you to find out what's going on in this particular area." In the lecture Abagnale also claims Kelley sent him on similar missions "as a scientist at a lab in New Mexico."[46]

After the film was released, Abagnale began to use the first-person plural pronoun "we" to refer to the FBI;[46] he also began to inform audiences that he was directly working for the FBI and celebrating each anniversary of his unique parole and the opportunity to go to work at the FBI: for example, in 2006 he informed his audiences that "this year I am celebrating 31 years with the FBI,"[45] in 2014 he told his audiences that "this year I'm celebrating 38 years at the FBI where I work today."[88] However, the dates of this anniversary celebration point to 1976 and do not line up with Abagnale's claim of a parole-release deal. Abagnale was, according to United States Board of Parole and Federal Bureau of Prisons standard practice at the time, sent to a Pre-Release Center in Houston in 1973, within the 120 days prior to his actual federal parole date of February 8, 1974.[5][27]

In a 2018 interview broadcast on PBS, Abagnale publicly criticized former FBI director James Comey for his unprofessionalism during the 2016 US presidential election. In the same interview Abagnale claims that the FBI is concerned that he is of retirement age: "The FBI always ask me when am I going to retire, because they don't want me to," said Abagnale.[89] In interviews Abagnale has claimed that his work with the FBI is pro bono, but he has claimed publicly that his company has made millions of dollars from contracts with the US government: "Today, Frank Abagnale and Associates does $10.5 million of business per year, 90 percent of it with the federal government," he told his audience in 1988.[90]

Journalist Ira Perry was unable to find any evidence that Abagnale worked with the FBI; according to one retired FBI special agent in charge, Abagnale was caught trying to pass personal checks in 1978 several years after he claimed that he began working with the FBI.[27] Dating back to the 1980s Abagnale claimed that Joseph Shea, an FBI agent, had pursued him for 5 years (between 1965 and 1970).[91] Abagnale claimed that Shea befriended and supervised him during his parole.[5] However, when Catch Me If You Can was released in theatres, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Abagnale and Shea only reunited in the late 1980s, almost 20 years after Shea arrested him. Abagnale spotted Shea at an anticrime seminar in Kansas City and sought out Shea to shake his hand.[92]

When the film was released an FBI spokesperson acknowledged that Abagnale had given lectures at the Academy "from time to time," but denied that Abagnale had been given commendations by the agency as claimed in the film's marketing.[93] At no point has the FBI made an official statement corroborating Abagnale's biographical claims, nor has the agency confirmed his extraordinary claims that he was sent into a military base as an expert on missiles, and into a secret lab in New Mexico.[46][94] Abagnale has claimed in public lectures that he was discussed in detail in a coffee table book celebrating 100 years of the FBI.[46] However, Abagnale's name does not appear anywhere in the official book celebrating 100 years of the FBI.[95] In his public lectures Abagnale has taken on a pseudo-spokesperson role for the FBI. In discussing recruitments he states, "we take 1 in 10,000 applications."[46] However, there are 11,500 applications per year for 900 positions at the FBI (2018) - which is 1 in 13 applicants, not 1 in 10,000.[96]

In 2020 Abagnale was confronted by one of his victims in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When asked why he talks about being an attorney general and passing the state's bar exam, and yet failing to acknowledge his arrest and conviction in Baton Rouge, Abagnale said, "That's because I work for the FBI."[24] Abagnale claimed to the Star Tribune that he is an ethics instructor at the FBI Academy, located in Quantico, Virginia: "I teach ethics at the FBI academy, which is ironic, but years ago, someone at the Bureau said, 'who better than you to do this?'—I try to teach young agents the importance of doing the right thing."[97]

Personal lifeEdit

Abagnale lives on Daniel Island, near Charleston, South Carolina, with his wife Kelly. They have three sons, Scott, Chris, and Sean.[98] Abagnale cites meeting his wife as the motivation for changing his life. He told author Paul Stenning that he met her while working undercover for the FBI when she was a cashier at a grocery store.[5][99]


  • Catch Me If You Can, 1980. ISBN 978-0-7679-0538-1.
  • The Art of the Steal, Broadway Books, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7679-0683-8.
  • Real U Guide to Identity Theft, 2004. ISBN 978-1-932999-01-3.
  • Stealing Your Life, Random House/Broadway Books, April 2007. ISBN 978-0-7679-2586-0.
  • Scam Me If You Can, 2019. ISBN 0-525-53896-8.

See alsoEdit


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  7. ^ a b c d Lopez, Zavier (April 23, 2021). "Could this famous con man be lying about his story? A new book suggests he is". WHYY-TV. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c "Abagnale & Associates". Abagnale & Associates. Retrieved May 20, 2007.
  9. ^ a b Stringfellow, Jonathan. "Infamous American Fraudster Frank Abagnale to speak at upcoming CSU event". The Uproar. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
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External linksEdit