Like a movie, a person’s life consists of three acts. For most people, the third act is a simple continuation of the second, continuing to work in that same field, getting a promotion, or finally retiring. In rare cases, the third act comes with a complete reversal where the person changes their behavior and thereby improves their life dramatically.
Although society rarely (fully) forgives felons, there a few who certainly deserve some consideration. Men who, after a life of crime, decided to make amends by helping to catch other criminals.
10. Frank Abagnale
Frank Abagnale is likely the most well known name on our list, considering he was the inspiration for the hit film Catch Me If You Can. His life of crime started at an early age. After his parents’ divorce, Abagnale traveled with his dad on business trips, where he began using his own father’s gas credit card to make a small profit on each sale. Abagnale was unaware that his father was struggling financially and stopped after realizing that he’d stolen nearly a thousand dollars.
After being sent to a wayward school, Abagnale ran away from home at 16. Without any money, he began writing bad checks to support himself. Abagnale would soon write hundreds of bad checks, overdrawing his account by thousands of dollars. He knew that the authorities would be after him, and that if he were to continue he’d have to take on a new identity. Abagnale would do more than that. By 21, Abagnale would successfully pose as an airline pilot, doctor, lawyer, and college professor. During that time, he’d write more than $2.5 million in fraudulent checks.
Frank Abagnale was finally apprehended by the French police and served five years in prison. He was allowed an early release under the conditions that he’d work with the US government. Abagnale helped the FBI for more than 30 years while also consulting with financial institutions, corporations, and law enforcement agencies on fraud and security. He also started his own company, educating consumers on how not to fall victim to people like his former self.
9. Kevin Mitnick
In 1992, the FBI stormed into the apartment of Kevin Mitnick – a computer hacker wanted for stealing software. The only thing federal agents found was a box of donuts in the fridge, labeled “FBI Donuts.” Mitnick began hacking as a teenager when a friend showed him “phone phreaking,” which entailed hacking the circuits and switches of telephone companies. He soon became more ambitious and began stealing source code from IT companies.
After three years of evading authorities, Mitnick was arrested in1995 in North Carolina and would serve five years in prison. His plea agreement restricted him from using the Internet for three years after his release, and also profiting from his story for seven years. What did Mitnick do?
He started his own computer security firm, helping businesses protect themselves from hacking and data theft. Mitnick still admits to feeling that same rush when he breaks into a client’s system, but this time, he says the company’s paying him.
8. Wayne Bradshaw
Wayne Bradshaw lived the life of an outlaw. A member of the biker gang the Pagans, he collected debts, robbed drug dealers, and got into more fights than he could count. Bradshaw remembers one particular bloody encounter, where he broke a man’s nose. As blood was pouring out of the man, he realized that he couldn’t continue. He knew that sooner or later, he’d be arrested, or dead. Bradshaw decided to leave the Pagans, and join the police force.
Officers were skeptical of Bradshaw at first, but the former outlaw was able to show his value in undercover work. On a sting operation, Bradshaw and his partner were nearly caught when Bradshaw’s partner said, “God Bless you,” after Bradshaw sneezed. The small act of courtesy might have blown the deal if it wasn’t for Bradshaw. He punched his partner in the mouth then asked, “When has God ever blessed me?” Bradshaw then turned to the gang member and asked if the deal was still on? It was, and they had their man.
Bradshaw would serve as a Police Officer for 20 years before finally retiring, and now teaches self-defense classes for women. It’s hard not say that the former outlaw has not had quite the turnaround.
7. Frank Lucas
The film American Gangster portrayed the life of drug kingpin Frank Lucas. He was made to leave his home in North Carolina after an altercation, and fled to New York City. Lucas got involved in hustling and petty crime to stay afloat, became a drifter, and eventually traveled to Bangkok, Thailand. There, Lucas met a black American soldier who was able to connect him with a heroin supplier. Lucas knew that the only way to undercut the Italian mafia was to have a direct connection with a supplier, and now he had it.
Much has been made of how exactly Lucas trafficked the drugs into the US. Lucas himself has admitted to stashing the drugs in dead soldiers’ coffins, but others deny this, stating it was hidden in furniture. Either way, the heroin that arrived on US shores was 98-100% pure, making it the hottest commodity on the streets. Lucas named his signature product “Blue Magic” and would amass a fortune of $50 million. Although he purchased properties around the country, Lucas kept a low profile and only allowed family members to work in his business.
In January of 1975, Lucas’s home was raided by 10 agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency. He was convicted of both state and federal charges and sentenced to serve 70 years in prison. However, Lucas decided to use his life of crime and knowledge of the drug underworld to help officers. He provided evidence that led to more than 100 further drug-related convictions, and as a result of his work, his sentence was commuted.
6. Xavier Monsegur
One of the founding members of LulzSec, Hector Xavier Monsegur, was given a reduced sentence of 7 months after working with authorities to “disrupt or prevent 300 attacks” targeting the military, congress, and private corporations. Government officials believe his work prevented a loss of millions of dollars to those targeted. It was a far cry from his hacker personality, Sabu, where he led the attacks against Sony and Fox News Channel. LulzSec championed itself as righteous hacking, targeting corporations or institutions that they perceived as being wicked or malicious.
After being arrested, Monsegur continued to identify himself as Sabu, garnering the trust of his fellow hackers. Then, according to members of Anonymous, he instructed members to hack a global intelligence firm which led to the arrest of Jeremy Hammond, a hacker well-known to authorities.
5. Sven Jaschan
Born in Germany, Sven Jaschan developed the Nesky and Sasser worms in 2004 while he was still a teenager. The viruses were found to be responsible for nearly 70% of all the malware that spread over the internet at that time. Those around Jaschan believe that he created the malware to help support his family’s PC support business, and was actively looking to develop an antidote to the worm. Nonetheless, Jaschan was found guilty and received a suspended sentence and three years probation for his crimes.
Jaschan would not go on to create more viruses, but instead he began working to keep them from infecting computers. He was hired by German security company Securepoint as a security analyst later that same year.
4. Joseph Valachi
Joseph Valachi is most remembered as the first mafia member to ever fully acknowledge the existence of the mafia, and the term “Cosa Nostra” became a household term after his testimony. Valachi was a soldier in the Genovese crime family in New York City, primarily working as a getaway driver. Some of his most heinous offenses were the mortal wounding of Joseph Catania, aka “Joe Baker” and underboss to Joe “the Boss” Masseria, and the murder of a man in prison who he mistook for a mafia hitman.
Valachi reached out to authorities claiming that he wanted to testify as a public service, hoping to dismantle the mafia organization and rid society of their criminal elements. As a result of his testimony, law enforcement was able to solve previously unsolved crimes while also finally having a full understanding of the workings and operations of Italian mob activities.
3. Joseph “the Animal” Barboza
It’s fair to say that Joseph Barboza’s nickname was not coined for his affinity for animals, but rather his tendency to behave like one. One of the most feared hitmen for the Patriarca crime family, his nickname was earned after an altercation with a mafioso in which he used his teeth to maul the man. Some believe that Barboza was responsible for the deaths of 26 people, but he would only confess to seven. His arrest came at a moment when the FBI was desperately seeking an inside man in the mob, and Barboza became their prized informant.
Barboza’s work helped convict many members of the Patriarca crime family, and he became such a prized possession that the FBI covered up his participation in a murder. It went further. The FBI never prosecuted Barboza for this crime but allowed him to take the stand and implicate four innocent men instead. Barboza’s FBI handler, H. Paul Rico, boasted afterwards that they had gotten four “pigeons” for a crime they didn’t commit, allowing Barboza to continue his work.
2. Ralph Guarino
In 1998, three men pulled off a daring robbery of the Bank of America offices inside the World Trade Center, stealing $1.6 million in the process. Despite successfully escaping with the money, the robbers seemed to forget one of the most fundamental rules of bank robbery: don’t show your face. Two of the robbers were caught on camera, and then subsequently tracked by police. The leader of the outfit? A gangster by the name of Ralph Guarino.
Guarino was intimately tied to the DeCavalcante crime syndicate and agreed to go undercover and infiltrate the New Jersey family. Gaining the trust and friendship of Vincent “Vinny Ocean” Palermo, Guarino made his way into the inner circle of the crime family. He wore a wire and also planted bugs to record incriminating conversations. His work was crucial in the dismantling of the DeCavalcante family as his testimony led to the arrests of nearly 45 men. However, Guarino soon became targeted, as a leak inside the police department revealed that he was working as an informant. Guarino was then forced to join the Witness Protection Program.
1. Barry Minkow
Like most criminals on our list, Barry Minkow started young. However, he was far more ambitious and entrepreneurial than most miscreants. Minkow, at the age of 16, started his own carpet cleaning and restoration business called ZZZZ Best. Wanting to expand his business, he attempted to get financing from a bank, but was unable. California law, at the time, did not even allow him to open a checking account. Minkow would not be deterred and decided to do the only thing he could to finance his business: robbery.
Minkow not only stole from his own grandmother, but faked break-ins at his business in order to get money. He also engaged in check fraud to cover his credit card expenses. As time passed, he created a legitimacy to his business by stealing letterheads from other companies. The business seemed to all the world to be a success and Minkow was able to take the company public, amassing a fortune of $100 million.
Nothing that good lasts long, and investors soon realized that the company was too good to be true. Minkow was arrested on a whole host of charges, including racketeering, money laundering, and fraud. After serving 7 years in prison, Minkow was released and started a business that specialized in exposing corporate fraud.