South Florida

Fake Saudi prince from Miami gets 18 years for string of scams. But ‘I’m not a monster.’

Anthony Gignac was not born into the Saudi royal family — his birthplace is Bogotá, Colombia. But the 48-year-old Miami con man, diagnosed with a mixed personality disorder, has pretended to be a rich sheikh throughout his adult life.

And it has gotten him into lots of trouble. During the past 30 years, Gignac has been arrested for impersonating a Saudi prince at least 11 times and been in and out of prison, according to federal prosecutors.

On Friday, his long-running role as “Sultan Bin Khalid Al-Saud” came to an end: A Miami federal judge sentenced him to 18-1/2 years in prison for swindling millions from dozens of investors from South Florida to England who believed he had the backing of the Saudi royal family in his various phony business ventures.

Gignac, who has a documented history of mental health problems rooted in an abusive childhood, admitted in court that he was responsible for hurting people financially and emotionally. But he also tried to portray himself as the only one being punished in a ring of criminal partners who collaborated with him to fleece at least $8.1 million from unsuspecting victims.

“The entire blame of this entire operation is on me, and I accept that,” Gignac told U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga, but he also insisted that “other people” should have been charged along with him.

“I am not a monster,” he declared.

Altonaga imposed a sentence near the high end of the federal sentencing guidelines, highlighting Gignac’s unending impersonation of a Saudi sheikh in his litany of financial scams. The judge, almost breathless, declared that Gignac’s criminal life of fraud and theft was “truly remarkable.”

“He was the mastermind,” Altonaga said. “He was the so-called Saudi prince. He enveloped himself in the trappings of Saudi royalty. He had everyone believing he was a Saudi prince.”

Until his arrest in late 2017, Gignac was living a glamorous life, leasing a condo on exclusive Fisher Island, driving a red Ferrari and snapping up Rolex watches, Cartier bracelets, Louis Vuitton luxury goods and a Royal Selangor tea set. With his sentencing, the U.S. Marshals Service will now auction all of his baubles, and the Justice Department will try to reimburse his investment victims.

Prosecutor Frederic Shadley said the defendant — whose birth name was Anthony Moreno — only cared about material things, not the people’s lives he destroyed in his investment scams. Shadley read a letter by one of Gignac’s victims, who said the defendant had promised to help her and her dyslexic son after the death of her husband — but he betrayed her personally and financially.

“He’s not sorry, and he will do it again,” the prosecutor told the judge, describing Gignac as an unrepentant recidivist. “He sold hope to all these people.”

Gignac’s assistant federal public defender, Ayana Harris — the fourth lawyer to represent him — acknowledged his life of crime as an impostor of a Saudi prince. But she also stressed that his difficult childhood in Colombia and then with an adoptive family in Michigan contributed greatly to his troubles.

At the sentencing hearing, Harris read excerpts from a statement by Gignac’s younger brother, Daniel, who said it would be too painful to attend.

Harris said that Gignac and his brother were abandoned as children by their parents in Bogotá, Colombia, and were later adopted by a Michigan family. Gignac, she said, took care of the younger brother.

“This horrific history is the underlying reason for his criminal life,” Harris read from the brother’s statement.

In late March, Gignac finally admitted that he pretended to be a member of the Saudi royal family so that he could try to snooker investors — including Jeffrey Soffer, the owner of the Fontainebleau resort hotel on Miami Beach — to pay for his lavish lifestyle on Biscayne Bay. He pleaded guilty to a wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, aggravating identity theft and impersonating a diplomat, including using fake diplomatic license plates.

But that plea came after a couple of false starts. Gignac had pleaded guilty to fraud charges a year ago, only to ask the judge to let him withdraw the plea deal in August because of claims that his previous attorneys had left him in the dark on certain defense issues.

Gignac, who is a U.S. citizen, has lived in Miami on and off for years. According to court records, Gignac and a now-deceased North Carolina business partner, Carl Williamson, created a fraudulent investment company, Marden Williamson International, in 2015 for purportedly legitimate investment opportunities around the world.

In sales pitches, Gignac and his band of co-conspirators represented that he was a member of the Saudi royal family and had exclusive business deals — including a private offering in a Saudi Arabian company, according to the investigation by the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service. One investment victim from Switzerland poured $5 million into that deal.

Then in March 2017, Gignac targeted new prey in Miami. He again pretended to be a Saudi prince with $600 million in a bank account as he went shopping for an upscale hotel. He set his sights on Soffer, the wealthy real estate developer. At first, Soffer fell for the con man’s pitch to buy an interest, even lavishing $50,000 in luxury gifts on the “sultan,” according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Gignac, using the alias “Sultan Bin Khalid Al-Saud,” pretended he wanted to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the Fontainebleau hotel, which had been renovated and expanded at a whopping $1 billion cost.

“Believing that Gignac was royalty and a Saudi Arabian diplomat, with the means to purchase the hotel, the [developer] expressed interest in the deal,” according to a criminal complaint, which did not mention the hotel or Soffer by name.

But over the course of negotiations in the summer of 2017 — including a business meeting between Gignac and Soffer in Aspen — the billionaire developer wised up, had his security team check out Gignac and reported his suspicions to the feds that he might be an impostor.

Soffer “became increasingly wary of Gignac,” according to court records. One reason for the developer’s suspicions: Gignac happily wolfed down bacon and pork products during meals, which as a devout Muslim prince should have been against his religion, according to sources with knowledge of the case.

The original indictment, which charged Gignac and the now-deceased Williamson, did not identify Soffer. But several sources said Soffer was among Gignac’s 26 victims worldwide from whom he was accused of stealing a total of $8 million between 2015 and 2017.

Jay Weaver writes about bad guys who specialize in con jobs, rip-offs and squirreling away millions. Since joining the Miami Herald in 1999, he’s covered the federal courts nonstop, from Elian’s custody battle to A-Rod’s steroid abuse. He was on the Herald team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news in 2001. He and three Herald colleagues were Pulitzer Prize finalists for explanatory reporting in 2019 for a series on gold smuggled from South America to Miami.
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