You could say that Charleston caught his eye.
Frank Abagnale, arguably once the country's most famous con artist, is settling into life as a downtown Charleston resident. It's part of a chapter of his life as a reformed person who no longer forges checks or boards planes with fake airline pilot credentials.
At 62, he still travels to Washington to work for the FBI, even as he deepens his Lowcountry ties.
Abagnale's criminal history was made popular by the 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can" by Steven Spielberg, who bought the rights to Abagnale's best-selling autobiography, but waited 20 years to see how his life evolved before scripting the movie.
"It's a burden you live with all your life," Abagnale said Thursday during a session of the Homeland Security Innovation Conference in North Charleston.
A well-traveled public speaker and security consultant who was portrayed in the film by Leonardo DiCaprio, Abagnale detailed the mischief he got into as a young adult, which was his means of coping with his parents' divorce.
Abagnale's criminal history had an unremarkable start at age 16 when he realized he could earn a higher wage
with a fake identification that portrayed him as 10 years older.
"People gave me more money and more hours," he said, "but it was still difficult to make ends meet."
Then he started writing bad checks.
When he exhausted the circuit of Manhattan banks, he realized posing as an airline pilot would give him the opportunity to cash checks in an endless number of banks around the world.
All it took was an airline badge, an unwavering sense of confidence and a knack for picking up on the industry's cultural habits to help him fit in. He later used the same tactics to fake proficiency as a doctor and an attorney.
"Once you pick up on that jargon, it's the same type of question over and over again," he said, drawing applause from an audience of defense contractors, military personnel and security entrepreneurs, who seemed to understand his point.
By the time he was arrested by French police, the 21-year-old con man had traveled more than 1 million miles to 26 countries. He was serving a 12-year federal prison sentence when FBI officials offered him a chance to leave early to work for the agency.
Abagnale said he didn't fully embrace living within the law until he started his own family several years later. He raised three boys in Oklahoma.
His middle son, now an adult, has opened a high-end boutique, House of Sage, just off King Street's shopping district. And Abagnale and his wife bought an extensively renovated house on Church Street last summer for $3.3 million.
For work, he teaches at the FBI's academy, preparing colleagues to police an environment that he said makes white-collar crimes easier to commit. He pointed to the vast amount of financial information available through the Internet and computer programs that make forgery easy.
"It would be 4,000 times easier to (replicate my crimes) today," he said.