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Published: Sunday, 12/21/2008

Siblings with sordid past turn to Bernadette Noe

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

On Halloween, Daniel Gignac said good-bye to his family in Michigan, packed his belongings in his car, and set out for a new life in the Florida Keys. He had a surprising destination the home of Bernadette Noe.

Two days later, Gignac, 37, a convicted felon who has served time in state and federal lockups on drug and fraud convictions, arrived at the oceanfront home of Ms. Noe, where he is staying as a guest until further notice.

Since he arrived six weeks ago at the sprawling 5,000-square-foot house on the Atlantic owned by Ms. Noe the wife of incarcerated rare-coin dealer and disgraced political insider Tom Noe Daniel Gignac has made himself at home.

Photographs Gignac e-mailed to family back home in Michigan show him drinking Bud Light with Ms. Noe, chasing iguanas near the boat dock, and standing outside the Noe home. He tells his family back in Michigan that he's partaking in nightly bonfires by the ocean.

Daniel Gignac's brother, Anthony Gignac, 38, is a notorious con man who pretends to be a Saudi prince as he runs up bills at posh hotels, buys designer clothing and jewelry on ill-gotten credit cards, and convinces car dealers to sell him luxury automobiles.

The often-incarcerated Anthony Gignac who used the alias Khaled Bin Al-Saud when he carried out schemes in places like Michigan, Florida, California, and Hawaii is in federal prison in Atlanta serving a 5 -year term for bank fraud and impersonating a foreign diplomat.

Ms. Noe, a lawyer for the Florida Department of Children and Families, is now representing the purported prince, aiding him in his contest of the will of his adoptive mother, serving as a trustee, with power of attorney, for his trust, KBAS Trust, short for Khaled Bin Al-Saud, and representing him in matters with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Eaton Rapids, Mich., resident Lisa Whitehead, the stepmother of the Gignac siblings, says the brothers have a history of being  parasites.  She suggests that they see Bernadette Noe as  prey,  as a  vulnerable woman with money. Eaton Rapids, Mich., resident Lisa Whitehead, the stepmother of the Gignac siblings, says the brothers have a history of being parasites. She suggests that they see Bernadette Noe as prey, as a vulnerable woman with money.
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Ms. Noe, in an e-mail to The Blade, said she opened her home to Daniel Gignac because she saw him as being down on his luck.

'I gave Daniel a place to stay down here after his mother died to give him a chance to get on his feet,' wrote Ms. Noe, who added that she has had other house guests including four current ones who have lived with her to help offset expenses since 2005.

Ms. Noe, however, said she was not aware of much of Daniel Gignac's criminal past.

Daniel Gignac's Michigan family members say he portrayed Ms. Noe as a powerful woman with connections and resources who can provide help for his imprisoned brother.

'They see her as prey,' said Lisa Whitehead, the stepmother of the Gignac brothers, a licensed social worker from Eaton Rapids, Mich., near Lansing, who said the Gignac brothers have a history of being 'parasites' taking advantage of people they believe are in a position to help them. 'They see her as a vulnerable woman with money.'

In the early fall, Daniel Gignac joined Ms. Noe and her family for a day at Cedar Point in Sandusky. In an e-mail to a niece, he described Ms. Noe as  sweet and very motherly. In the early fall, Daniel Gignac joined Ms. Noe and her family for a day at Cedar Point in Sandusky. In an e-mail to a niece, he described Ms. Noe as sweet and very motherly.
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Ms. Noe's husband, Tom, is serving an 18-year term in state prison for stealing millions from two rare-coin investment funds he created and managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. When Tom Noe was convicted in November, 2006, the judge ordered him to repay the state $13.7 million.

Ms. Noe became acquainted with Anthony Gignac after her husband met him while both men were incarcerated at the federal prison in Milan, Mich., in late 2006 and early 2007.

After the prisoners met, Anthony Gignac contacted Ms. Noe, she said in an e-mail to The Blade. Ms. Noe said she met Daniel Gignac through his brother and that her husband, who is now in state prison, is aware of Daniel and they've spoken once on the phone.

Noe who like his wife is a former Lucas County Republican Party chairman emerged as a key political ally of former Ohio governors Bob Taft and George Voinovich. In October, he completed a nearly two-year term in federal prison, mostly in Florida, for making $45,400 in illegal contributions to President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. He is now at the Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio, moved there last week from Orient, Ohio.

The Noes' world of largesse which included entertaining the politically connected at their Florida Keys home and homes along the Maumee River and Lake Erie came crashing down in April, 2005, after The Blade began raising questions about his deal to buy and sell rare coins on behalf of the state.

Noe quickly sold his homes in Maumee and Catawba Island and retreated to the Florida Keys with his wife and family before he returned to Ohio in late 2006 for his state trial, which ended with his conviction.

In their heyday, the Noe family didn't shy away from attention. Since her husband was whisked away to prison, Ms. Noe, 48, has gone public to voice her complaints of her husband being put in the 'hole' in the Edgefield, S.C., federal prison. She also made a recent appearance on former Toledo-area radio personality Denny Schaffer's radio show, where she insisted her husband did nothing wrong and that a 'just decision' is forthcoming.

On Monday afternoon, The Blade reached Daniel Gignac on his cell phone. Gignac, without commenting, handed his phone to Ms. Noe, who declined to discuss why he was living in her home. 'It is not any of your business. I'm not commenting.

Thanks for the inquiry,' said Ms. Noe before hanging up.

A couple days later, she responded to an e-mail from The Blade, shedding more light on her ties to the Gignac brothers.

For the Gignac brothers, their journey from an orphanage in Colombia three decades ago, to their adoption by a Michigan family, and now to the world of the Noes has been a long and arduous one, marked by criminal missteps, newspapers headlines, and lavish living.

In 1977, Nancy Fitzgerald and her ex-husband, who were from Michigan, traveled to Bogota, where they adopted Anthony, 7, and Daniel, 5, from an orphanage. Before their adoption, the boys witnessed their father kill their younger brother because the family couldn't afford to keep him, according to court records. Anthony and Daniel roamed the streets for two years before their adoption.

In grade school, Anthony Gignac started showing signs of the problems that would land him behind bars later in life, court records show. He told classmates that his mother owned the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, which wasn't true, and that he was the son of Dom DeLuise.

As Anthony Gignac's lies became more exaggerated and his behavior more aggressive, the couple in 1985 terminated their custody, although Ms. Fitzgerald continued to act as his mother, even after she became domestic partners with Lisa Whitehead, according to a memo written by his attorney in his most recent sentencing.

Anthony Gignac fled to California in 1988, at age 17, where he started his career in crime.

For the past 20 years, masquerading as a member of the Saudi royal family, Anthony Gignac has pulled off numerous scams, big and small, against hotels, designer clothing stores, car dealerships, and credit card companies.

The victims of his schemes or planned frauds included the Ritz-Carlton

Hotel in San Francisco County, the Walt Disney World Grand Floridian Beach Resort in Orlando, Fla., the Grand Bay Hotel in Dade County, Florida, a Cadillac dealership in East Lansing, Mich., and Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus in Troy, Mich., according to court records.

In what federal prosecutors called his 'boldest crime,' Anthony Gignac was behind bars in Florida when he tricked Syracuse University officials into believing that he was a Saudi prince and that he planned to donate $45 million to the New York school.

Working with his brother, Daniel, Anthony required Syracuse University to wire $16,000 to an account in East Lansing, opened by Daniel, to offset the taxes on the donation. Syracuse wired the money, which Daniel Gignac withdrew.

Investigators eventually caught up with the Gignac brothers, and both were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the Syracuse fraud and ordered to pay restitution.

'I do realize my conduct was illegal, improper, and wrong, and I wish to apologize for any harm that may have been brought about by my conduct,' Anthony Gignac wrote in a statement to the judge as he was sentenced to 46 months in 1996.

But in 2002, as Orlando police arrested Anthony Gignac, pulling him from behind the wheel of a Mercedes convertible with a trunk full of designer clothes and leading him to a patrol car, he continued his long-standing charade.

'Call the embassy!' he shouted as he was taken away in handcuffs and charged with grand theft, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

In and out of prison over the past decade for new scams, Anthony Gignac is

serving a sentence that expires in 2011 for charges stemming from his impersonation of a member of the Saudi royal family.

As prosecutors put it in a 2007 memo before Anthony Gignac's most recent sentencing, 'Gignac is a lifelong confidence man.'

Daniel Gignac, who did one stint in federal prison for his role in the Syracuse University scam, has served time in state prison in Michigan on drug convictions, including selling cocaine in Livingston and Wayne counties. He was released from prison last year.

In 1991, while a student at Michigan State University, Daniel Gignac was charged with sexually assaulting a student in a dorm on campus. The sexual assault charge was dismissed, but he was convicted of a related misdemeanor and sentenced to probation.

Ms. Noe said in her e-mail to The Blade that, aside from Daniel Gignac's drug convictions, she was not aware of the rest of his criminal record.

For more than two years, Ms. Noe has worked for the Florida Department of Children and Families as a lawyer for Children's Legal Services in Monroe County. She makes $61,800 per year and is classified as a senior attorney.

A year ago, Ms. Noe filed paperwork with her superiors to notify them she planned to begin serving as a trustee for KBAS Trust.

'I would like to accept the opportunity to be the trustee of a trust of a friend of mine who is an inmate in federal prison,' Ms. Noe wrote in a Dec. 17, 2007, e-mail to her supervisor. Her request was approved.

Last spring, Daniel Gignac returned home to Eaton Rapids after receiving the news that his adoptive mother, Nancy Fitzgerald, was terminally ill with cancer.

Over the next months, he continued to talk incessantly about the Noes, speaking on the phone with not only Ms. Noe, but her adult children, his stepmother and stepsisters said. He also linked up as friends with Ms. Noe's three daughters and son on Facebook.com, a social-networking site.

In July, Ms. Noe wrote a letter on behalf of Khaled Bin Al-Saud to a lawyer representing the estate of Ms. Fitzgerald, the Gignac brothers' adoptive mother. The letter, on Ms. Noe's letterhead with her Tavernier, Fla., home address, informed the lawyer of Al-Saud's plans to contest Ms. Fitzgerald's will, in which she bequeathed her estate to Ms. Whitehead, her longtime partner.

Ms. Noe, who is not licensed to practice law in Michigan, noted that she would not be representing Anthony Gignac in the will contest, but she was attempting to make arrangements with a major law firm in the state to handle his complaint.

In the early fall, Daniel Gignac joined the Noes for a day at Cedar Point and for drinks at a nearby bowling alley.

A week before he headed south to Florida, Daniel Gignac sent an e-mail to one of his nieces with photographs of him and the Noes at Cedar Point pointing out Ms. Noe.

'... the older lady is the one i am going to be staying with, she is sweet and very motherly...' Daniel Gignac wrote.

Since arriving in Florida, Daniel Gignac has called his stepsister, Monica Lazzell, who still lives in the Lansing area with her husband and three children. In those conversations Daniel Gignac expressed disappointment that his brother's appeal in federal court which was not handled by Ms. Noe was denied. He also said he doesn't have a job and that Ms. Noe was helping him as he gets settled.

On Nov. 15, Daniel Gignac emailed Ms. Lazzell 20 photos from his new life in Florida, some featuring the Noe's house and view, others of iguanas, and a few of him drinking with Ms. Noe with the blue sky in the background.

'Enjoy the pictures and don't be jealous ...,' Daniel Gignac wrote.

The family of the Gignac brothers believes that Anthony Gignac may have access to millions in offshore bank accounts.

Documents provided to The Blade show memos between Anthony Gignac using the name Khaled Bin Al-Saud and his former attorneys, authorizing foreign banks including Citibank Private Banking in Switzerland, Saudi American Bank in Saudi Arabia, and National Commercial Bank in Saudi Arabia to move millions of dollars into a trust account in Florida.

It's unclear if the documents, most of which are dated to the 1990s, are authentic. If they are authentic, they raise questions: Why did Anthony Gignac have access to the money? Was he able to successfully transfer the money, including millions to his attorneys to pay legal bills? Or are the documents just another layer of his schemes?

Ms. Noe said in her e-mail to The Blade that the Gignac brothers had not told her about having any access to offshore money. She did note that she serves as Anthony Gignac's co-counsel with Guy B. Bailey, Jr., a Miami attorney, whose name appears repeatedly in the documents obtained by The Blade.

Mr. Bailey, who said he met with Ms. Noe earlier this year, said he couldn't discuss Anthony Gignac's finances with The Blade because of attorney-client privacy issues. He said he does not currently represent Anthony Gignac.

Ms. Whitehead said she believes Ms. Noe may have been tricked into believing she would profit from her arrangement with the Gignac brothers. 'It is hard to see these people continue to prey on people and get away with it,' Ms. Whitehead said.

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 419-304-1680.



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