By Ryan McIlvain
Frank Abagnale, subject of the hit movie ?Catch Me If You Can,? told local business leaders Thursday at Utah Valley?s business expo that his family ? not his sundry criminal exploits ? was his greatest accomplishment.
?I could tell you that I was a Born Again Christian, I could tell you that prison rehabilitated me?but the truth is, God gave me a wife. She gave me three beautiful children and in doing so, she gave me a family.?
The 57-year-old forgery expert, whose teenage crime spree has been immortalized on stage and screen, said he owes everything to his wife and three children.
?Everything I have, everything I?ve achieved, who am I today, is because of the love of a woman and the respect three boys have for their father,? Abagnale said.
Abagnale said his own parents provided bedrock support as he was growing up. His father, who died while Abagnale was languishing in an infamous French prison, was more than a father to his children ? he was their ?daddy,? Abagnale said. He was a man who loved his children more than his life and told them that everyday.
When his parents divorced and Abagnale was forced to choose between his mother and father, he ran away from home at age 16 ? and didn?t come back for seven years.
Abagnale said run-aways were commonplace in the emancipated culture of the mid-1960s. But if being a run-away was typical, Abagnale?s life over the next several years was anything but.
Abagnale regaled the audience with stories of his ingenious scheming as a fugitive teenager. As a 16-year-old, he posed as a Pan American Airlines pilot. After getting his hands on a uniform and company ID, and getting a handle on the industry jargon, Abagnale said he ?dead-headed? or sat in on flights all over the globe.
?Pan Am says they estimate that, between the ages of 16 and 18 years old, I flew more than a million miles on more than 250 aircraft and visited more than 26 countries,? Abagnale said.
And with a little tinkering on his part, Abagnale said, the job paid very, very handsomely.
Because airlines in the 1960s honored personal checks from other airlines ? as they still do today ? Abagnale said he would hit up each one in the airport, cashing in his checks for $100 apiece.
Abagnale said he would spend at least eight hours going from counter to counter, building to building. ?At the end of eight hours, shifts change, new people, and I?d go all the way back around again,? he said.
The wily teenager also passed himself off as a pediatrician and a lawyer (he actually passed the Louisiana State Bar Exam after studying for only a few weeks) before his arrest at age 21.
Abagnale, who was rumored to have posed as a BYU professor, told local media he had been a teaching assistant at BYU during the time he was drawing paychecks from Pan American Airlines. However, he said he never pretended to be a full-time professor.
Four years into a 12-year sentence, Abagnale was allowed to serve out the remainder of his time working with the FBI. Thirty years later, he is still working for the bureau, having developed groundbreaking technology to curb check fraud, among other things.
Living off the millions of dollars in royalties from his technology patents, Abagnale said he has never accepted payment from the FBI.
?I can literally say that after 25 years of working for the government I have not accepted a dime from them,? Abagnale said.
Although some have glamorized Abagnale?s young life of crime, he was quick to point out that his late teen and early adult years were anything but glamorous.
?I cried myself to sleep till I was 19 years old,? he said. ?I spent every birthday, Christmas, Mother?s Day, Father?s Day somewhere in the world by myself.?
After all the pain he went through ? most of which was self-inflicted ? Abagnale said he felt ?very fortunate? that he was able to turn his life around.
?To every man in this room?I would remind you what it is to be a man,? Abagnale said. ?It has nothing to do with money, achievements, skills, accomplishments, education, awards, rewards?A real man loves his wife. A real man is faithful to his wife. And a real man, next to God and his country, put his wife and his children as the most important things in his life.?