Frank Abagnale speaks to Mercyhurst students

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, Mercyhurst Student Government (MSG) welcomed Frank Abagnale, former counterfeiter and consultant with federal law enforcement, to speak with students.

Abagnale was invited as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series. His lecture not only focused on his criminal career, but also the ability of students to come back from mistakes to have fulfilling lives.

“A lot of what Mr. Abagnale talks about is his journey and the exciting part of it,” said Megan Lawrence, Events Coordinator for MSG.

“But he also talks about making decisions to turn your life around and use your talents to better your community.”

The decision to bring Abagnale to campus was due to availability, as well as potential interest from the student body.

“Given the fact that our university has such a huge Intelligence Studies program, having someone like this come and speak, with our criminal justice program, with all these programs that kind of overlap, and talk about issues that Frank’s going to talk about, we thought it made a lot of sense to bring someone like Frank in,” said
Sarah Allen, Director of Student Engagement.

Abagnale began working as a con artist when he was 16. After passing himself off as an airline pilot, doctor, stockbroker, lawyer, and college professor, he was arrested in France after passing $2.5 million in bad checks and went to prison at the age of 21.

“When I came out of prison, the government offered me a very unusual circumstances,” said Abagnale. “They offered to take me out of prison and I’d go to work for the government.”

The opportunity to work for the government led to the event which began to turn his life around.

“I was on an undercover assignment, and I met my wife. I eventually asked her out. I started to get to know her. I was honest with her about who I was. I eventually asked her to marry me,” Abagnale said.

Abagnale credits his wife as the reason he made the decision to change his life and leave a life of crime. “Everything I am today, everything I’ve achieved today is really because of my wife,” he said.

A point Abagnale wanted to stress to the Mercyhurst community is to avoid putting burdens in their lives.

“We’re always told that life is short, and the reality is life is very long,” Abagnale said.

Abagnale also wanted to stress that the mistakes one makes when young may not seem like much, but they accrue and become problematic as time goes on.
“So if you mistreat someone, you abuse someone, you bully someone, you lie to someone, you deceive someone in a relationship or otherwise, it means nothing when it happens because you’re young and you forget it.

“But as you get older and you have your own children and your own family, it starts to come back to haunt you. And it becomes a real burden in your life,” he said.

Abagnale’s career as a conslutant for the FBI has spanned the transition into the age of cyber crime. He advised the students seeking to go into federal law enforcement to hone their skills in that arena.

“All the big crimes of the future are going to focus in on cyber,” Abagnale said.

At a recent conference in Spain, he reported that 50 per cent of the people involved in securing the major banks of Europe were educated in computer science. However, their education about the newest cyber threats was lacking.

“If you’re going to go into law enforcement, [cyber] is where you’re going to want to focus. But you’re going to want to learn about how do people actually get malware, how do people breach systems, or how do people get into cyber crime, or what do people do once they’re in it,” he said.