Crime

Miami’s ‘fake sheikh’ may plead guilty to millions in cons from here to Europe — or maybe not

Colombian-born Anthony Gignac posed as a wealthy Saudi prince and traveled the globe swindling millions from wealthy investors, federal prosecutors say. Miami-Dade police
Colombian-born Anthony Gignac posed as a wealthy Saudi prince and traveled the globe swindling millions from wealthy investors, federal prosecutors say. Miami-Dade police Miami-Dade Police Department

Since he has spent much of his life pretending to be someone else — including a Saudi prince — Anthony Gignac has struggled with the idea of pleading guilty to charges that he conned millions out of investors from Miami to London.

Last May, after two false starts, Gignac finally pleaded guilty to impersonating a foreign government official, stealing other people’s identities and conspiring to commit wire fraud.

But then, after blaming his defense attorney for keeping him in the dark, Gignac made a move to withdraw his guilty plea in August just before being sentenced — and a federal judge in Miami let him do it.

Now, the ever-vacillating Gignac — who once lived in an exclusive Fisher Island condo but calls the Miami Federal Detention Center home — has decided to plead guilty again, on Tuesday, before an April trial, according to court records. It’s unclear what he’s going to plead to, because his fourth lawyer, public defender Ayana Harris, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office won’t say.

Whatever the 47-year-old, Colombian-born, Michigan-raised Gignac finally decides, it won’t be dull. The “fake sheikh,” as some have dubbed him, has a well-documented inability to make up his mind. In mid-May of last year, Gignac told U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga that “I just want to get this over for the victims and myself and move on. ... I want to take a fair plea.”

But Altonaga postponed his plea because of a host of issues brought up by Gignac, who gained such a notorious profile after his arrest in late 2017 that Vanity Fair featured him in an October takeout last year.

While he was facing several years in prison under his former plea deal, Gignac could now be imprisoned for a longer time if he pleads guilty to newer charges of wire-fraud conspiracy, various fraud counts, impersonating a foreign diplomat, misuse of a passport, aggravated identity theft and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.

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Gignac, who became a U.S. citizen after his adoption by a Michigan family, has lived in Miami on and off for years. He posed as a Saudi prince and traveled the globe swindling millions from investors, according to court records.

His former plea deal reached last May says that Gignac and his partner created a fraudulent investment company, Marden Williams International, in 2015 for purportedly legitimate business 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, prosecutors say. One investment victim from Switzerland sank $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 super-rich real estate developer Jeffrey Soffer, who owns the landmark Fontainebleau resort hotel on Miami Beach. 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,” the complaint said. 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 charging Gignac and a business partner, who is now deceased, does not identify Soffer. But several sources say Soffer is among Gignac’s 26 victims worldwide from whom he is accused of stealing a total of $8 million between 2015 and 2017.

Soffer only lost the $50,000 that he spent on jewelry gifts for Gignac before he figured out he was probably a con artist, according to court documents and sources.

Despite prior brushes with the law, Gignac lived large in South Florida. With millions in stolen money, he bought up Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Rolex watches, Cartier jewelry and a two-bedroom condo on exclusive Fisher Island on Biscayne Bay.

Gignac showed off his extravagant lifestyle on an Instagram account dubbed “Prince Dubai,” careful to never show his face but occasionally posting photos of generic-looking Arab royalty.

The page also showed an affinity for his pet chihuahua, Foxy, who wore his own blinged-out collar, traveled in a leather bag and enjoyed hand-fed pasta.

“Nothing but the best for Foxy,” Gignac said in one post as he dangled spaghetti in the dog’s mouth.

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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