Did con man teach at BYU?

Published: Thursday, Dec. 26 2002 10:01 a.m. MST

PROVO — How's this for a tall tale?

The man hailed as the world's greatest con man has claimed he taught sociology for a semester at Brigham Young University with a fake degree from Columbia University.

BYU's reaction: Liar, liar.

For the record, there is no record of a Frank W. Abagnale Jr. at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned school, which requires faculty and students to follow a strict honor code.

There also isn't a paper trail for any Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo — all known aliases for Abagnale, whose life and crimes serve as the inspiration for the new Steven Spielberg movie, "Catch Me If You Can."

"It's important to remember we are dealing with someone who is famous for being a liar," said Michael Smart, a BYU spokesman. "You get the feeling he could tell a good story."

Abagnale, the youngest man ever placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list, was sought by police brass for a string of forgeries and impersonations over a five-year period.

In addition to cashing some $2 million in fraudulent checks in every state and more than two dozen foreign countries, Abagnale allegedly posed as an airline pilot, lawyer, professor and pediatrician.

The new Hollywood flick — starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio — is based on a book that Abagnale wrote about his embezzlement escapades in the 1960s.

According to the book, "Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Most Extraordinary Liar," Abagnale was a 16-year-old runaway when he started his bilking schemes.

At 21, five years after he started his crime spree, Abagnale was caught by French police.

Abagnale, whose height and graying hair belied his age, was jailed for five years in French, Swedish and U.S. prisons before being released on the condition he'd spend his time with federal fraud investigators, laying bare the secrets of embezzlement.

So that's what he's done. And he's turned it into a career.

Last year, the "con-man-turned-FBI-consultant," as he's been described by book reviewers, published another book, "The Art of the Steal."

In the book, Abagnale, whose celebrity status was solidified this week when he appeared alongside Spielberg, DiCaprio and Hanks in USA Today, gives tips on how to avoid identify theft, credit card crimes and online scams.

Vaughn Call, chairman of BYU's sociology department, said he'd heard rumblings that a man internationally known for his subterfuge claimed to have taught classes at the private university — "but I didn't know our department had the distinction."

Hiring policies are much more stringent nowadays at universities, he said. It's not likely a teenage high school dropout con man with a fake ID and college degree could wind up teaching a college class.


E-mail: jeffh@desnews.com

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