By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Like all good scam artists, Gabriel Francois put off prison as long as possible.
On two occasions last month the 42-year-old con man's sentencing date was postponed because he was purportedly hospitalized with medical problems. But on November 16, after Hennepin County District Judge Beryl Nord threatened to issue a warrant for his arrest, Francois finally showed up in court.
Wearing a black-and-white checked blazer and dress pants, the Bloomington resident declined to comment when given the opportunity by Judge Nord. Francois was then sentenced to 37 months in state prison and escorted out of the courtroom by the bailiff. He'll serve an additional sentence of 15 months concurrently.
For years the native of Eritrea had managed to stiff unsuspecting business partners out of money (see "Gabriel Francois Has a Bridge in Bloomington to Sell You," 8/18/04). According to court documents, he has operated under at least 16 different business names--Adventure Travels International, One World, Inc., Pueblo Latino--and has been the subject of approximately 186 lawsuits in Hennepin County alone. He's ripped people off on everything from phony vending-machine deals to bogus cleaning contracts to ersatz real estate transactions.
Francois repeatedly ignored civil court rulings that he compensate his victims. At the same time, he led a comfortable life, driving a Mercedes and owning a $378,000 house in Bloomington.
One reason that Francois managed to avoid serious recriminations up until this point is that he primarily exploited immigrants, many of whom are wary of the cops and the courts. In 2002, for example, he began promoting plans for a Hispanic-themed shopping mall in northeast Minneapolis that he called Pueblo Latino. Potential tenants gave him thousands of dollars, but the development never materialized.
Earlier this year--as the Pueblo Latino project unraveled--the justice system finally caught up with Francois. In June, facing numerous criminal charges, he pleaded guilty to two counts of theft by swindle in Hennepin County District Court. Even so, Francois could have limited his sentence to just six months in the workhouse if he'd been able to pay some $200,000 in restitution to his victims. But he failed to come up with the money prior to his sentencing, and at that point, the grift was finally over for Gabriel Francois.