Miami's would-be Saudi prince gets long stay behind bars

MIAMI (AFP) - A Florida man who posed as a Saudi royal for three decades and cheated people out of US$8 million (S$11 million) will spend 18 years in prison for fraud, authorities said on Friday (May 31).

Anthony Gignac, 48, constructed a personal world of luxury from his regal scam involving fake diplomatic credentials and a coterie of bodyguards.

Posing as Khalid Bin Al-Saud, he lived in a condo on Miami's posh Fisher Island, drove a Ferrari with a forged diplomatic licence plate and eagerly courted investors and gift-givers.

He was accompanied by bodyguards carrying fake diplomatic papers and demanded to be treated according to royal protocol, which he used to justify demands for gifts from potential investors.

Dozens of people deposited money into his bank accounts, thinking Gignac, whose apartment bore a sign on its door reading "Sultan", would invest it.

Instead, he spent it on everything from designer clothes to yachts to private jet rides.

Gignac moved to Miami in 2017, but Prince Khalid emerged long before then.

Born in Colombia, Gignac was adopted by a family in Michigan at age seven, with his alter-ego first emerging ten years later when he was 17 years' old.

Since then, Gignac has been arrested and convicted several times for fraud, but that wasn't enough to stop Prince Khalid.

Amazingly, his years as a fraudster started to collapse like a house of cards around him when a real estate developer saw Gignac happily eating ham, bacon and other pork products that would normally be off-limits for a devout Muslim prince, according to the Miami Herald.

In November 2017, he was arrested and charged with 18 counts, including electronic fraud and aggravated identity theft.

"Over the course of the last three decades, Anthony Gignac has portrayed himself as a Saudi Prince in order to manipulate, victimise, and scam countless investors from around the world," US Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan said in a statement.

"As the leader of a sophisticated, multi-person, international fraud scheme, Gignac used his fake persona... to sell false hope," she said.

"Dozens of unsuspecting investors were stripped of their investments, losing more than US$8 million."

Judge Cecilia Altonaga handed down the hefty sentence, saying Gignac's life of luxury crime had been "really extraordinary".