The Con Man So Good, He Had Mind Control Powers (Basically)
Back in 1987, a 17-year-old kid suddenly appeared on the doorstep of a Arab-American family in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He claimed to be the son of a Saudi prince and warned that their family would be targeted by his father's secret police unless they let him live with them. The terrified family welcomed their strange new guest into their home, and apparently felt no reason to question anything until a short time later, when the same 17-year-old was arrested for impersonating Adnan Kashoggi, the 52-year-old billionaire arms dealer.
Now, none of that should have been remotely plausible. If two kids stacked on top of each other in a trenchcoat knocked on your door claiming to be Elon Musk, back from the future to borrow your car, your response would range from "I'm getting my bat" to "Stay here. I need to hammer a nail through my bat." But people actually bought these stories. And then the same guy got out of juvie and went on to do the exact same thing for over two decades.
This is the story of Anthony Gignac, the greatest liar in history. And by that, we don't mean he put a ton of effort into his lies, or was some kind of incredible chameleon, flipping between convincing personas. Anthony Gignac is the greatest because everything out of his mouth was so wildly, obviously, ridiculously implausible that all his scams should have fallen apart instantly. People should have been queuing up down the street just to call him out on his bullshit. And yet, nobody did. Time and time again, people just bought it. Seriously, we think he might have some kind of superpowers. The only reason he's not ruling us like a god is a complete lack of any ambitions in life beyond a shopping spree every day and a luxury hotel suite every night.
Gignac was born in 1970s Colombia, which was not having a happy couple of decades. Thousands of kids were left to fend for themselves on the streets, surviving on wits alone. Unsurprisingly the country went on to produce more than its share of great scam artists, like Juan Carlos Guzman Betancur, who first hit the newspapers age 17, when he flew from Bogota to Miami hidden in the wheel well of a plane, something that should absolutely have killed him. He went on to become possibly the greatest hotel con artist in history, perfectly impersonating wealthy guests to gain access to their valuables.
Gignac was a much less sophisticated scammer, and even his stories of life in Colombia are so exaggerated it's hard to know what to believe. According to Gignac, he watched his father kill his younger brother after being unable to afford food for the whole family. He was later sold into sex slavery and ended up on the streets, single-handedly caring for yet another brother. This all supposedly happened before the age of 6, when he was adopted by a middle-class couple from Michigan. Whatever happened in Colombia, it apparently left Gignac with an overwhelming desire to appear rich. He spent most of his childhood lying about his parents owning half of Detroit, before running away from home in an attempt to start a new life as Adnan Kashoggi.
Throughout his career, Gignac basically stuck to the same scam he’d dreamed up at 17 -- pretending to be a Saudi prince. Which isn't necessarily a bad idea. There's thousands of them, so nobody can really name them all, and they do have a reputation for throwing money around like water. But beyond that basic consistency, Gignac made absolutely no effort to be convincing. For starters, he clearly wasn't Arabic and made virtually no effort to research Saudi culture (for quite a long time he went by "Sultan Bin Khalid Al Saud," which is a bit like calling yourself "Emperor Windsor von Harry, heir to the British throne").
He was also an incredibly flamboyant dresser, never seen without a Louis Vuitton bag containing his beloved chihuahua Foxy. A relative described him to Vanity Fair showing up for dinner "wearing a white fur coat and driving a white Cadillac...(with) acrylic nails and all this gold around his neck and silk shirts." Which sounds like a baller look, but maybe not one entirely embraced by the House of Saud. Also, while the average con man might have a variety of well-thought out stories and excuses for why his card was declined, Gignac's only move was apparently to start yelling angrily. This worked every goddamn time. Seriously, we assumed getting a Ferrari would be hard, but apparently you can just kick the door down screaming with rage, looking like you're auditioning for a Legally Blonde porn parody, and they'll toss the keys right over, no questions asked.
After his initial arrest at 17, Gignac headed to Hollywood, where he checked into a suite at a swanky hotel and went on a massive spending spree, all with approximately $0 in his bank account. The guy used to stroll into stores on Rodeo Drive, introduce himself as "Prince Khalil Bin Al-Saud" and just breeze out with a rare coin collection, or set of designer luggage, promising to send payment later. Seriously, you can't walk out of the average dollar store without a guy in a mech suit slamming you against the wall and performing a full cavity search for any stolen sticks of gum, but apparently the luxury goods industry just operates on the honor system? We're not even exaggerating here: Gignac took thousands of dollars in goods from Saks Fifth Avenue on at least four separate occasions by pretending to be a Saudi prince who would send payment later. Guys, just bite the bullet and put his picture above the registers with a little "do not let this man take all our Rolexes" sign.
For the next 20 years, Gignac bounced from luxury hotel to luxury hotel, pretending to be a Saudi prince and racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. From Hawaii to New York, nobody ever seemed to doubt that the guy was legit royalty. Even when hotels lost patience and threatened to kick him out, other guests would literally start arguing over the right to pay on his behalf, secure in the knowledge that they would be handsomely rewarded. Executives at major companies would be waiting for a meeting with a Saudi prince, and none of them questioned it when a very clearly non-Arab man swished in with a chihuahua and demanded a massive bribe before he would even say good morning. At one point, he showed up at Syracuse University offering a $45 million donation, then asked for $16,000 to pay the taxes on the transfer, and the university just wired it right over.
No story reveals Gignac's powers like the Great Miami Bail Caper. Back in 1993, Gignac was staying at the Grand Bay Hotel in Miami when he invited two guys back to his suite for a little party. Instead, they ended up beating and robbing him (the classic Miami party). The cops, shocked that such a terrible crime could happen to a distinguished guest, promised to investigate. Unfortunately, they also decided to smooth over any diplomatic tensions by calling the Saudi embassy and offering to keep them in the loop. The confused embassy officials insisted they had never heard of any "Prince Khalid." At which point, Gignac skipped town.
Here's where things get crazy: Gignac was eventually tracked down and charged with impersonating a Saudi prince to defraud luxury hotels and boutiques across America. So he used his one phone call to contact a local defense attorney named Oscar Rodriguez and explained that there had been a terrible mistake. He actually was a Saudi prince! What’s more, his father would surely make Rodriguez a very rich man in return for a little help with bail. Rodriguez, somehow completely convinced, formed a consortium with two local bail bondsmen and spent a small fortune getting the guy out of prison. Which is just completely insane, as the guy was literally in prison for pretending to be a Saudi prince and people still could not stop believing that he was a Saudi prince.
After Purple Man-ing his way out of prison, Gignac asked Rodriguez to drop him off at the local AmEx office, where he introduced with the name of a real prince and demanded a limitless Platinum card to replace the one he'd "lost." Now, obviously you can't just meander into a credit office, swigging from a jug of toilet wine and rubbing your handcuff bruises, and get a limitless card. The employees politely asked him to answer some security questions first. At which point, "the prince" completely lost his shit and started screaming about what his father would do when he heard of such disrespect. They gave him the card.
In under 24 hours, Gignac had gone from trying to file his prison toothbrush into a scepter to being a free man with millions of dollars at his disposal. And all he had to do was ask! It's like if the Shawshank Redemption had ended with Andy politely requesting to leave for a lunch date with Howard Hughes. Unfortunately, it was at this point that Gignac's weaknesses as a con artist became apparent. Once out of prison, he made no plans to escape and just spent days trying to impress his bondsmen by taking them on flights where he booked out the entire first class cabin, "because a prince can't sit on a plane with anyone else." Once Rodriguez realized he had been conned, he had no problem finding Gignac, as his wife and kids were staying with the guy in New York, where the fake prince had booked an entire floor of a luxury hotel for a shopping spree.
The panicking Rodriguez flew to New York with the bondsmen to deal with this apparently superhuman liar. Unfortunately for Gignac, they managed to discover his personal kryptonite: being violently beaten by a group of enraged bail bondsmen. They then escorted him to the airport, at which point he started yelling that he was a Saudi prince being kidnapped by his father's enemies, launching the great Florida bail creeps vs shotgun-wielding airport security officers showdown of '94. After missing their flight smoothing that over, Rodriguez sensibly locked Gignac in the trunk of a rental car and drove him 24 hours back to Miami, presumably pursued by several family sedans, instantly convinced after hearing a guy screaming about being a prince through a locked car trunk.
Over the years, Gignac was arrested at least a dozen times for his prince scam, but always went right back to it after a short prison sentence. He never changed anything, and yet it just kept working for years. Remember that story about him throwing a fit until AmEx gave him a platinum card? Well, a few years later they gave yet another replacement card to an enraged Saudi prince, who also turned out to be Gignac. Literally weeks after scamming Rodriguez into believing he was a Saudi prince, he contacted a second Miami lawyer, who also became convinced his client was a real prince. He even convinced Johnnie Cochran, who flew down to meet with him in prison. This is the same prison that Gignac once tried to escape by setting his own cell on fire, then covering the floor with soap in the hopes that the guards would all go slipping and sliding when they came to put it out. The guy was not smart, and yet he just kept fooling people.
The secret of Gignac's success was that he never aspired to anything more than a weekend at Disneyland on a stolen credit card. Naturally, his downfall came when he finally got greedy. In 2015, he was living in a Florida penthouse when he encountered an investment manager named Carl Williamson, who became very excited when "the prince" boasted he held a major stake in the Saudi state oil company and was willing to sell shares for cash up front. Williamson became Gignac's passport to the world of the super-rich, who were completely unprepared for him. Investors were queuing up to throw cash at him, and apparently thought nothing of it when the billionaire prince asked for a $150,000 loan or a new Rolex to "prove their loyalty to him."
Gignac now found himself scamming actual billionaires, like Florida real estate tycoon Jeffrey Soffer, who literally owned some of the hotels the prince had been ripping off for years. And still, nobody could see through his bulletproof disguise of yelling "I'm a prince!" whenever someone asked him to pay his restaurant bill. His ultimate downfall only came after a dinner with Soffer's family in Aspen, when somebody pointed out that a real Saudi prince probably wouldn't be horking down platefuls of non-halal prosciutto in full view of the public. Once Gignac had retired with the pork sweats, Soffer ordered his security guys to investigate. It took them approximately 45 seconds to unravel the whole thing.
Gignac was charged with embarrassing rich people, the worst crime in American history. In 2019, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison and ordered to pay $7 million in restitution, which is probably going to take quite a while mopping floors in the prison cafeteria. By the time he gets out, Saudi Arabia will probably be hovering in orbit around Neptune. Still, it's nice to know that there's a little corner of the prison system somewhere in Florida where all the inmates are completely, inexplicably convinced that ham-loving drunk in D-wing is heir to the Wahhabist oil fortune.
Top Image: Miami-Dade Police Department