Channel surfing on a lazy afternoon and coming across a terrific guilty-pleasure movie is one of my favorite little joys in life. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve seen it, where it’s at in the movie, or even if we can see the DVD from our couch, we all have a list of movies that we will stop and watch until the end credits. These are rarely sweeping, Oscar-winning tours-de-force, mind you. More often than not, they are quite the opposite.
TV/radio/podcast personality Adam Carolla most aptly describes these films as “Basic Cable Classics”. For me, that genre is comprised of Major League, The Rock, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, The Sum of All Fears, Gone in 60 Seconds (Nicolas Cage is the category’s Sir Laurence Olivier, you see.), and the seminal epic Point Break.
Although, if I had to pick a favorite to stumble upon while killing an afternoon it would easily be the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can based on the autobiography of Frank Abagnale, Jr. The film follows the early life of Abagnale who by his 19th birthday, successfully posed as a Pan Am pilot, a Georgia doctor and a Louisiana prosecutor, all while amassing a fortune of millions via Pan Am payroll check fraud. The extents of his ruses were as impressive as they were disconcerting.
Abagnale was a criminal. There is no disputing that. He committed a litany of felonies and deceived nearly everyone with whom he crossed paths. Yet, you still rooted for him. You wanted him to evade justice. Why? Was it his youth? Was it his brazenness? Was it our being in awe of his brilliant ingenuity? (You have to admit, starting a fake flight attendant recruitment program for the sole purpose of having beautiful women walking in front of him at the airport as a diversion was pretty inspired.)
It might be a little of each, but I think it was more that Abagnale was never really hurting any individuals with his fraud. His targets were faceless monolithic financial institutions and there was a distinct absence of any maliciousness in his actions. We just saw him as a kid going on an adventure that we ourselves would have loved to have gone on.
Kasemehas, nicknamed the “Casanova Con” by authorities because of his penchant to target elderly women, has conned hundreds of “investors” across the country. He charms them with his kindly grandfather disposition, earning their trust over time and convincing them to invest thousands in discount gold or diamonds. Needless to say, he and the money disappear shortly thereafter. He will take $48,000 from a Seattle concierge with the same level of cold indifference used to bilk $2 million from an Idaho farmer.
The challenge is that with an estimated 50 established aliases at his disposal, his past is all but untraceable to authorities. While he has spent a combined total of 15 of his 70 years in prison, a thorough trial taking into account his cumulative record is all but impossible because nobody really knows how extensive his record is! Because of this, he only serves fairly short prison terms and is able to move to a new state and put the con in motion once again.
Perhaps San Francisco Police Inspector Greg Ovanessian, the man who has chased Kasemehas for the last two decades is right: “Good con men are usually good con men most of their lives,” he told the Weekly.
Serving the remainder of his sentence as a consultant with the FBI’s check fraud department, Abagnale clearly still had the itch. The movie ends with him in his Pan Am pilot’s uniform about to board a plane only to be stopped by the agent who caught him and negotiated his work release. After the agent tells him he knows Abagnale will be back on Monday morning, Abagnale inquires how he knows.
“Look, Frank. Nobody is chasing you.”
Abagnale was back on Monday morning.
Nick Kasemehas is no Frank Abagnale, Jr.
-- By Darius Schwarz, AGO Public Affairs Intern