Family drives Abagnale's second chance

By Jason Pepe

Contributing Writer

Frank Abagnale, Jr. spoke to a large audience on April 9 at 7 p.m. at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts about his experiences as a notorious teenage con artist in the 1960s. During his talk, Abagnale painted a slightly different picture than what has been popularly portrayed. While Abagnale displayed a sharp wit and ease of demeanor, he spoke poignantly of how his parents’ divorce drove him to run away from home at 16 and the immense loneliness he felt as a con artist.

Abagnale’s story is well known because of his book  “Catch Me If You Can” and the subsequent film and Broadway musical by the same name.

“All children need their mother and their father … divorce is a very devastating thing for a child to deal with. How could I tell you my life was glamorous?  I cried myself to sleep every night till I was 19 years old,” Abagnale said.
Abagnale also spoke of second chances. He admitted that he is not proud of the crimes he committed, but is grateful for the opportunity to redeem himself through his work with the F.B.I.
“I am very fortunate that I was brought up in a country where everyone gets a second chance. That is why I am with the F.B.I. today, 26 years beyond my legal obligation to do so,” he said.
Originally scheduled to speak on campus in March, Abagnale had to reschedule due to flight difficulties.
“Due to the airlines, it was impossible for me to get here, since they don’t let me keep my uniform anymore,” Abagnale said.
Abagnale traced his life as a con artist, from forging checks in New York City, to posing as a Pan American Airlines pilot, a doctor and then a lawyer, and finally to his eventual capture and imprisonment.  After serving time in French, Swedish and U.S. prisons, Abagnale was released early to work for the F.B.I. Abagnale then began advising banks and businesses on how to detect fraud.
He is particularly proud that one of his three sons is currently a counterintelligence agent for the F.B.I.
Abagnale pointed to his wife, who he met more than 35 years ago in Texas while working undercover for the F.B.I., as the reason he decided to change his life.
“The truth is, God gave me a wife, she gave me three beautiful children, she gave me a family and she changed my life.  She, and she alone,” Abagnale said.
Before concluding his lecture, Abagnale left the audience with several tips on how to protect against identity theft today. He warned against putting too much information on Facebook, advised the use of a security micro-cut shredder when disposing of sensitive documents and advocated for the use of credit cards over debit cards as the safest form of payment.
“Life is not short. Life is long, very long,” Abagnale said.  “When you make a mistake in life, that mistake becomes a burden, and you have to live with that burden for years and years …  I would never want any of you to live with a burden. It is a horrible thing to live with.”
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