Story By: Joseph Golder, Sub-Editor: Joseph Golder, Agency: Newsflash
A young “Catch Me If You Can” conman who posed as an Air France flight attendant to travel the world and was also a credit card fraudster told the judge he was “passionate about flying”.
The fraudster, identified only as Lucas, 24, due to local privacy laws, led a “double life” going from “one lie to the next” while travelling to Bangkok and Tel Aviv – even putting friends on flights to New York and staying in fancy hotels using stolen money.
In the film Catch Me If You Can, Leonardo DiCaprio also plays a conman who travels the world by pretending to be working for airlines in order to get free tickets and forging bank cheques to get cash. He is eventually caught by a character played by Tom Hanks.
The defendant appeared before a judge at the High Court in Bergerac in the south-western French department of Dordogne on Tuesday (26th May) charged with “fraud, usurpation of title, forgery in an administrative document and trickery in obtaining hotel rooms”.
His double life was financed to the tune of 44,000 EUR (40,000 GBP) in cash from his victims and his parents, who knew nothing about it, including 20,000 EUR (18,000 GBP) from an American Express credit card he set up in their names and also without their knowledge.
Sud-Ouest report that he even offered his friends discounted trips to fancy resorts and exotic destinations. The only problem was that they would end up footing the bill and eventually this led to him being caught.
Before being arrested and detained at the Beaumontois-en-Perigord gendarmerie after months of lying to jetset his way around the world, Lucas even supposedly got the parents of one of his acquaintances a fancy trip to Greece, all expenses paid, thanks to his dream job with Air France.
But they ended up having to fork out 1,900 EUR (1,706 GBP) in bills after it turned out the joke was on them.
Another of his victims spent “five days stuck at JFK airport in New York […] like something out of the Terminal”, a reference to the famous Tom Hanks film by Steven Spielberg, after accepting a fictitious deal that would supposedly see him fly from Bordeaux to New York for “300 EUR” (269 GBP) return (including two 35-kilogramme check-in bags).
His young wine-grower friend, who was more than keen to go to America to meet potential buyers for his wine, brought samples of his wine along in two suitcases, but ended up having to cough up 2,200 EUR and spent five days stuck “at JFK airport with the homeless”, just like Tom Hanks.
Lucas was not content with showing off his imagined life to the people he knew, even if it would end up costing them lots of money. In the meantime, he also travelled from Paris to Bangkok posing as a flight attendant.
Wearing his uniform that he ordered online, he tried to pass himself off as a steward in transit to the real flight attendants on the flight, but one air hostess was having none of it after she noticed that his ID card was fake, subsequently filing an internal “incident report” with Air France after having “told him off”.
He would also leave detailed reviews of hotels he had stayed in on TripAdvisor, sometimes leaving without paying.
He also flew from Bordeaux to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv – before simply flying back without ever having left the Israeli flight hub. Explaining his actions to the judge, Lucas said he was simply “passionate about flying”. The court heard he would also walk around wearing his ‘uniform’, hanging out in streets and airports in it.
A psychological evaluation determined that he did not suffer from any “mental pathology” but stated he exhibited signs of “mythomania” and “narcissistic decompensation through role play”.
During the trial, Lucas falsely claimed he worked for “Havas in Paris”. Havas Voyages are a travel agency with outlets all over the French capital.
The prosecutor, Mathilde de Guerines, requested a two-year suspended sentence.
The judge, Gilles Fonrouge, asked Lucas: “What a marathon! Are you not exhausted?”
Lucas said it all “snowballed”, adding: “Right up until the very end, I was sure I would find a solution.”
The president, questioning the defendant’s actions and telling him that training to become a flight attendant costs just “2,500 EUR” (2,243 GBP) before letting him off with an 18-month suspended sentence.
He will also have to seek mental help and will be under judicial observation for two years and have to pay compensation of 14,000 EUR (12,555 GBP) to his five victims.
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