The many swindles by Anthony Gignac, a Colombian who posed as a Saudi prince in Miami during the 1990s, have not been forgotten by the men who posted his bond and later tracked him to New York.
Francisco Marty and Thomas J. O’Connell still remember Gignac’s ostentatious behavior and claims that he was Sultan Bin Khalid al Saud — claims that led to a confrontation with police in New York.
The tale of the two men, then in the bail bond business, started in 1994 when Gignac’s lawyer, Óscar Rodríguez, became convinced he was dealing with a real member of the Saudi royal family.
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Gignac was then jailed on charges of scamming $27,000 from the Grand Bay Hotel in Coconut Grove and $51,175 from a Saks Fifth Avenue store. Despite the evidence and his Hispanic background, the Michigan-raised man insisted he was a Saudi prince.
Marty told el Nuevo Herald that the company where he worked approved a $5,000 bond — 10 percent of his bail — to get Gignac out of jail. The “prince” promised to pay it back as soon as he could replace a credit card that had been stolen.
The former Cuban policeman said he started to suspect Gignac was a charlatan as they drove near the Miami airport, when he pointed to an airplane and claimed it belonged to an uncle.
But the next day he and O’Connell accompanied Gignac to an American Express office in Coral Gables. “I don’t know how he did it. He went into a private office and came out with the credit card,” Marty said in a phone interview.
An el Nuevo Herald story from that time said the American Express employees doubted Gignac’s story because he could not provide the date of birth of the real prince, but gave in when he shouted that his father the king would be angry when he learned of his treatment.
Card in hand, Gignac went on to buy two watches and a bracelet with emeralds and diamonds valued at $22,210 from a Miracle Mile jewelry shop and a $3,189 suede shirt in a Coconut Grove shop.
Two days later he landed in New York aboard a Delta flight where he had reserved all the first class seats, because “a prince needs privacy,” said O’Connell, who now owns a cigar business.
Gignac lived the good life in New York, booking an entire floor of the five-star Four Seasons hotel “for security reasons,” until the two bail bondsmen and Rodriguez turned up at the hotel, by then aware the prince was a real fake.
Gignac insisted throughout the encounter that he was a Saudi prince, O’Connell said, but eventually agreed to go with the men to La Guardia airport for a flight back to Miami. He asked only that they use a limousine.
Nothing had prepared the three men for what followed at the airport.
As they bought the tickets at an American Airlines counter, Gignac started shouting, “I am prince Khalid Al Saud. They are kidnapping me. Call the embassy. Call CNN!”
Amid the disturbance, several police agents surrounded the group with guns drawn in a scene that looked straight out of a Hollywood movie, O’Connell recalled as he laughed. “Of course, it was not funny at the time,” he said.
While police held Marty and Rodriguez against a wall, O’Connell produced the documents showing that Gignac faced criminals charges in Miami-Dade County and was free on bond.
The documents persuaded the police, but by then the men had missed the flight to Miami and decided to make the trip by land — an uneventful drive during which Gignac continued to claim he was royalty, O’Connell added.
But the bail bondsmen and the lawyer lost track of Gignac again after they reached Miami.
Gignac, who has been accused of fraud and other crimes in Michigan, Orlando and Palm Beach, is now being held in a prison in Oklahoma under an indictment by a grand jury in Florida related to an attempt last year to defraud two companies in Miami-Dade.
He is accused of conspiring to commit a crime against the United States, passing himself off as a foreign diplomat, misuse of a passport, aggravated identity theft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
He was jailed in Palm Beach from June 1997 to September 1998, and in Michigan from 2004 to 2006, when he was released under parole until 2009, according to Michigan prison records.
Follow Johanna A. Álvarez on Twitter: @jalvarez8.