When the greedy get fearful, they run.
Sometimes they hide in plain sight, like David Kaup, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to a series of loan frauds in California. But he never told his family about the case. Instead, on the eve of his sentencing, he told them he was heading to China and turned off his cell phone. In fact, he went to Las Vegas, started a new life, and eluded authorities for nearly four years until his case was featured on an episode of American Greed: The Fugitives.
Manhunts for white-collar fugitives can be some of the most difficult and time consuming of all. That's because they usually involve sophisticated criminals with the means and the cunning to go far.Travel the globe with us as we trace some of the greatest white-collar manhunts of all time, and see how the authorities finally got their men—and women.
Catch Me If You Can
Fugitive: Frank Abagnale
Crime: Check Forgery, Fraud
On the Run: 5 years
You probably know Frank Abagnale's story from Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal in the hit 2002 film Catch Me If You Can. The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, romanticized Abagnale's exploits, as well as the chase led by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, played by Tom Hanks.
In reality, Frank Abagnale was a bad guy for a long time. As he tells it, he started out by ripping off his own father in a credit card fraud at age 15. He quickly moved on to check forgery, eluding the authorities—and just about anyone else—with a series of fake identities including an airline pilot and an attorney. By the late 1960s, he had cashed some $2.5 million in bad checks and was wanted in every state as well as 26 foreign countries.
In the end, one of his fake identities—the pilot—came back to haunt him. A flight attendant whom he had dated spotted him in France and alerted the authorities.
Abagnale spent five years in prison including time in Sweden, France, and the U.S. He eventually won early release after agreeing to help educate the authorities and the public about forgery. Today, he is a sought-after speaker and fraud consultant based in Washington, DC.
But Abagnale's checkered past has opened him up to suspicion that his new life is part of the con. As early as 1978, when he was just starting on the lecture circuit, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that it could not verify much of his story. For his part, Abagnale acknowledges on his web site that his biography may be exaggerated, and says Catch Me If You Can is "just a movie."
"I consider my past immoral, unethical and illegal," he writes. "It is something I am not proud of."
Fugitive: Martin Frankel
Crime: Embezzlement, Insurance Fraud
On the Run: 4 months
In reality, he was a failed Ohio stockbroker. But in the 1990s, Martin Frankel took tony Greenwich, Connecticut by storm when he swept into town claiming to be an insurance mogul. He did own five small insurance companies in the South. He also set up a fake charitable foundation, falsely claiming he had ties to the Vatican.
As profiled in a 2008 episode of American Greed, Frankel managed to loot his insurance companies to the tune of $200 million. He sunk much of the money into his Connecticut mansion, where he assembled a harem of beautiful women. Prosecutors alleged the place was a den of prostitution and kinky sex.
In 1999, with the authorities closing in, Frankel fled to Rome, laundered millions of dollars by purchasing diamonds, and eventually wound up in Hamburg, Germany. But in the end, his fake passports did him in. He was arrested in Hamburg, and served time in Germany for passport fraud and failing to pay taxes on the diamonds.
He eventually pleaded guilty to 24 felony counts in the U.S. and was sentenced to 17 years in prison here. He was released to a halfway house in May. A judge ordered Frankel, now 61, to begin paying restitution once he finds a job.
You Ought to be in Pictures
Fugitive: Giancarlo Parretti
Crime: Evidence Tampering, Securities Fraud
On the Run: 3 years
The magic of the movies can soften even some of the hardest-nosed investors, and Giancarlo Parretti used that to his advantage.
The former waiter from Orvieto, Italy has been described in various reports as "roly-poly," "vulgar," and a man whose "principal expertise was Ponzi schemes." Parretti managed to convince major backers including French bank Credit Lyonnais to back his 1990, $1.3 billion takeover of the MGM movie studio. He then promptly ran MGM into the ground.
The bank sued, Parretti countersued, criminal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission got involved, and in 1996 a Delaware jury convicted him of perjury and evidence tampering. But before he could be sentenced, Parrettii fled and a three-year manhunt ensued.
In retrospect, finding him should not have been so difficult. Italian police located him in 1999 at a weight loss farm, not far from his Orvieto home. At last report, he remains in Italy where he has been fighting extradition for years. Credit Lyonnais eventually paid $4 million to the U.S government to avoid criminal charges for its own role in the affair.
Lost in Cyberspace
Fugitive: Kevin Mitnick
Crime: Theft, Computer Hacking
On the Run: 2 years
Long before cybercrime became a household term, there was Kevin Mitnick. A serial hacker since he was in high school taking over computers that ran on crude telephone modems and punch cards, Mitnick's first arrest was in 1981. The 17-year-old got caught stealing computer manuals from a Pacific Bell switching center in Los Angeles.
He got probation for that little caper, but the stakes would grow steadily from there. He broke into computers at the University of Southern California. He found his way into NORAD. Mitnick claims to have hacked into the systems of 40 major corporations just for the challenge.
The authorities were not amused. In 1987 he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for stealing software from a small California firm. The following year, he was arrested and convicted in a much larger software theft from the giant Digital Equipment Corporation. He served a year in prison and was released on probation.
Suspecting him of violating a provision in his probation that barred him from using a computer, the FBI searched his home in 1992. That's when Mitnick went on the run, at various points eluding authorities by hacking their communication network and wiretapping their phones.
A multi-agency task force finally caught Mitnick by beating him at his own game—what the Justice Department called an "electronic manhunt." They tracked him to a Raleigh, North Carolina apartment where he was arrested in 1995.
He eventually pleaded guilty to a raft of fraud counts and served five years in prison. Today, he proudly proclaims himself "the world's most famous hacker." He runs a so-called "white hat" computer security firmthat helps companies find vulnerabilities in their systems just like he did when he was a teenage computer nerd.
Brush With Fame
Fugitive: Niesha Jackson
Crime: Bank Fraud
On the Run: 2 ½ years
Niesha Jackson and her partner in crime Charles Barksdale robbed dozens of banks over several years, raking in more than $2 million. And their only weapon was a maddeningly simple scam.
They recruited women to go to the banks asking for refills on pre-paid debit cards, asking the tellers to call the phone numbers on the cards for authorization. But the cards were fakes, and the authorization calls connected the bank to none other than Niesha Jackson.
Authorities eventually caught on. After Barksdale pleaded guilty to a single count of bank fraud, Jackson had some decisions to make.
She pleaded guilty as well, but on the day in 2011 when she was supposed to show up in court for sentencing, Jackson took off.
The stunt landed her an appearance on American Greed: The Fugitivesin 2012, in an episode called "Bank Robbing Babe." Not only did she apparently enjoy the episode, she really took her brush with fame to heart.
She began wearing a custom-made American Greed t-shirt, with her moniker "Bank Robbing Babe" splashed across the front. She even had business cards made up.
"That's almost like wearing a wanted poster," United States Marshal Kelly Pope told American Greed.
Sure enough, while she was letting the fame go to her head, Niesha Jackson was forgetting about using her brain to outsmart the authorities. She has traded her American Greed top for a prison uniform, which she will be wearing until her release, scheduled in 2027.