Wednesday, November 21, 2018
News Roundup

This Florida man convinced people he was a rich Saudi prince. He was really a poor kid from the streets.

Swerving through Miamiís demolition derby traffic behind the wheel of a Ferrari California sports car, one of his many Rolex watches dangling from his wrist, the man who called himself as Prince Khalid bin al-Saud seemed untouchable.

Saud, who portrayed himself as a member of Saudia Arabiaís ruling family, lived in a penthouse apartment on Fisher Island, an exclusive one-percenter enclave off Miami Beach accessible only by ferry or helicopter. The door buzzer to his unit simply said "Sultan."

He also boasted of worldwide business connections and a $600 million bank account. When a potential business partner tooling around town in the Ferrariís passenger seat complained about Saudís reckless driving, the prince told him not to worry about tickets. His car had diplomatic license plates and he had diplomatic immunity, he explained, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court in November 2017.

In reality, the diplomatic plates were fakes purchased on eBay. The connections and bank accounts were bogus. And the man swaggering through Miami was not a prince. He wasnít even Saudi, but a Colombian named Anthony Gignac.

On Monday, the 47-year-old pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to impersonating a foreign government official, identity theft and fraud. The indictment against Gignac was related to a scheme defrauding 26 investors of nearly $8 million.

But this isnít Gignacís first trip inside a federal courtroom. According to records, for the last 30 years, the alleged serial con man has been swindling hotel staff, credit card companies, shop clerks and potential investors, each time passing himself off as the Saudi royal.

The impersonation allegedly began before Gignac even turned 18, authorities say. Despite repeatedly being caught by authorities, Gignac has continued to step inside the identity of a cash-soaked Middle Eastern royal - about as far from his actual upbringing in poor streets of Bogota as possible.

"Iíve busted people claiming to be many things," a Miami detective told Knight-Ridder in 1995. "I once had a business man with four resumes in his briefcase and a mustache and beard kit. But to impersonate royalty, thatís pretty bold."

Gignacís international fraud has also been a constant headache for Saudi Arabian officials. "Youíve got some of the top hotels in the country that have been had," a Saudi Embassy official told the Orlando Sentinel in 2002. "Unfortunately, weíre in a society where people think that by throwing out names you can get ahead."

In 2006, when Gignac was facing bank fraud and other charges in the Eastern District of Michigan, his attorney submitted a biography as part of a sentencing memo. The document noted that in 1970s, Colombia was gripped by civil war and disorder. Gignac and his brother Dan lived on the streets for two years. "They survived as best they could. They never had enough food," the sentencing document stated. "The hunger they felt was a way of life."

When Gignac was 7 and his brother 5 in 1977 the two Colombian boys were adopted by Nancy and James Gignac, a couple from Michigan. According to the memo, Gignac, who knew no English before his adoption, developed an incredibly close bond to his adoptive mother, worrying whenever she left the house. He also began telling classmates lies, including that his family owned a fancy local resort or that he was the son of actor Dom DeLuise.

"His early developmental years taught him that if has money then he has power - power that he never had in his formative years," the memo stated.

When Gignac was in 8th grade, his adoptive parents split up. The teenager then suffered a "mental breakdown," according to the memo. He spent a year in a mental hospital. At 17, he ran away from a halfway house.

According to court documents, he ended up in California, where he received a state identification card under the name Khalid bin al-Saud and began to fraudulently leverage the name.

"Gignac stole credit cards to rent limousines, stay at nice hotels, and buy jewelry, means, and clothes," a 2006 filing in Michigan federal court said. "During his spending spree, Gignac told others he was a Saudi Arabian prince." Walking into a Saks Fifth Avenue store, he allegedly bluffed his way into accessing the charge account for the actual Saudi royal family. Gignac then charged $11,300 to the royals and repeated the same scheme at Neiman Marcus, where he racked up $17,691 in merchandise.

"Before he could be brought to justice on that case, he jumped bail and absconded," the 2006 filing said.

In July 1991, a 21-year-old Saudi prince - Gignac - checked into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. Over four days, he racked up $3,488 in room and food charges at the famous hotel, and spent $7,500 being chauffeured in limousines across Los Angeles area.

"Heís a heck of a con man - heís excellent," one of the stiffed drivers admitted to the Los Angeles Times in 1991. Gignac was eventually arrested and charged with grand theft and check forgery. He pleaded no contest to the charges. Itís unclear if he served any jail time.

By the mid-1990s, Gignac abandoned the West Coast for Florida.

He ran up $14,000 in fraudulent debts at the World Grand Floridian Beach Resort in Orlando in 1993. Gignac pleaded guilty to the charges and was given probation. According to 2006 court documents, a month after his guilty plea, he checked into the Grand Bay Hotel in Coconut Grove outside Miami, again claiming to be a Saudi prince.

But that December, Gignac was beaten and robbed by two men in his penthouse room at the hotel. Police contacted the Saudi Embassy about the attack on one of their ruling elite. The embassy reported they had no idea what the Miami police were talking about.

Gignac was then arrested for his outstanding $27,000 bill at the Grand Bay. His Miami attorney, believing his client was actually a wealthy Saudi, arranged for Gignacís release on bail, the Miami Herald reported. Two bail bondsmen were assigned to watch the suspect. Gignac ordered the pair to drive him to an American Express office.

"I donít know how he did it. He went into a private office and came out with the credit card," one of the bail bondsmen told the Herald. Two days later, Gignac caught a flight to New York City. He purchased the entire first class cabin so he could be alone, the Herald reported. In New York, he similarly booked an entire floor of the Four Seasons.

The bail bondsmen, realizing they were dealing with a con, grabbed Gignac in New York. At LaGuardia Airport, as the Miami men were about to board a plane with Gignac, he began screaming, creating a scene. "I am prince Khalid Al Saud," he shouted, according to the Herald. "They are kidnapping me. Call the embassy. Call CNN!"

The bail bondsmen were held at gunpoint by airport police. Eventually, they convinced police they were transporting a prisoner back to Florida.

But he soon fled again from authorities. That same year - 1994 - Gignac, posing as a wealthy Saudi, contacted Syracuse University. He told the school he was interested in making a $45 million donation to Syracuse, but first needed a $16,000 payment to cover the taxes. The school wired the money.

He was rearrested in Florida in 1996, and he served a jail sentence for wire fraud in the Sunshine State from June 1997 to September 1998.

By 2002, he was back impersonating a Middle Eastern ruler, this time in Troy, Michigan, according to court records. When confronted by federal investigators with his long history of using the false identity, Gignac variously claimed he was an adopted member of the Saudi family, the lover of a Saudi prince who had received hush money, and a go-between for Saudi money and terrorists.

He served a prison sentence on those charges in Michigan from 2004 to 2006. Gignac was on probation until 2009.

The latest federal indictment against Gignac accuses the longtime felon of using his Saudi persona to invest in a company supposedly backed by the ruling familyís wealth. Gignac is also accused to bilking gifts and free hotel stays from the owners of a Miami hotel - Gignac told them he was interested in purchasing the property.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in August.

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