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Miami billionaire's tip helped feds nail fake sultan

Jay Weaver, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- A Colombia-born man posing as a wealthy Saudi prince traveled the world swindling millions of dollars from investors dazzled by his spiel.

When Anthony Gignac set his sights on Miami, he targeted super-rich real estate developer Jeffrey Soffer of Turnberry Associates. At first, Soffer fell for the con man's pitch to buy an interest in one of his hotels, even lavishing $50,000 in luxury gifts on the "sultan," according to sources familiar with a federal investigation.

Gignac, using the alias Sultan Bin Khalid Al-Saud, pretended he wanted to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the Fontainebleau resort hotel on Miami Beach, which had been renovated and expanded by Turnberry at a $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 last summer -- including a business meeting between Gignac and Soffer in Aspen -- the billionaire developer wised up, had his security team check out Gignac and reported to the feds his suspicions that he might be an impostor.

Gignac, 74, locked up in a Miami detention center since November, is awaiting sentencing next month after pleading guilty to impersonating a foreign government official, identity theft and fraud.

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Soffer could not be reached for comment.

Gignac's lawyer, Ayana Harris of the federal public defender's office, could not be reached, and the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.

The original indictment charging Gignac and a business partner does not mention Turnberry Associates by name, only by the company initials "T.A.," nor does it identify Soffer. But several sources say Soffer is among Gignac's 26 victims worldwide from whom he stole a total of $8 million between 2015 and 2017. Soffer lost the $50,000 that he spent on gifts for Gignac before he figured out he was probably a con artist, according to court documents and sources.

Gignac, who was adopted by a Michigan family as a boy, grew up to become an international swindler. Despite previous brushes with the law, he lived large in South Florida. With millions of dollars in stolen money, he bought Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Rolex watches, Cartier jewelry and a two-bedroom condo on Fisher Island on Biscayne Bay.

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