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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Frank Abagnale - Mr. "Catch Me If You Can" - Visited FSU - I Got to Meet Him

Last night my neighbor George invited me on a man's night out. We would have supper at the Suwanee Room on campus and gape at the co-eds. Then - we were going to see a guest speaker. It should be easy for you to picture five guys with an average age of 70 - dining among pretty girls 50 years their junior. Some of them probably had trouble keeping their food down.

After lilting around the dining hall for an hour - we got to the Union Ballroom at 7 PM. Almost every seat was occupied - except for a few chairs which people were "saving" for their coats. We had to split up to attempt to find places to sit. I was lucky - there was an end row seat near the podium with jackets piled on it. I thanked the people around there for saving the seat for me as I handed them their coats.

The speaker was Frank Abagnale - the famous "great impostor" - whose life story was recently a feature movie called "Catch Me If You Can" featuring Leonardo DiCaprio. Frank is exactly my age but I was still startled not to see a young man walk to the podium. He had flowing white hair - round glasses - and had a strong presence about himself. He spokes very well - rather quickly - and he won the confidence of the audience immediately. I enjoyed listening to him for the hour or so that he talked. It takes a con man to enjoy a con man.

Frank was a con man. At age 16 - when his parents divorced - he ran out of the court room - never to return home again. For the next five years - he lived an amazing life pretending to be a doctor - lawyer - teacher - airline pilot. But he is mainly famous for passing $2.5 million of bad checks - back in the 60s when a million dollars was a lot of money.

Frank humorously went over all the laws he broke - right up to where at age 21 he was convicted and sent to prison for 10 years. He was released early on the condition that he help the FBI solve white collar crime. 35 years later he is still working for the FBI.

My favorite con was when he used a magnetic embosser to emboss a packet of deposit slips at his local bank. People would come into the bank and grab a "blank" deposit slip to put their money in their own account. The magnetic number dumped the money into Frank's checking account. By the time the bank figured it out - Frank was on his way out of town with $20,000 in cash.

Frank had a good message about how family and honor was so important. He had wished he hadn't done what he did "as a kid." As one gets to be 62 - more and more at night they review their regrets. Frank tried to impress this on the college kids.

At the end of the lecture - Frank signed copies of his book and posed with anyone that was willing to patiently go to the end of this 200 foot long line of fans. I walked to the front of the line - I was not "cutting in" - I just wanted to see the reaction between the speaker and the students. He was treated like a movie star.

Abagnale did look familiar to me - like I had met him before. Check out the pictures - some I took last night at the lecture - others I found on the news pages. You have seen one con - you have seen them all.

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