Our client, age 30, had a fairly lengthy criminal history, but it included no crimes of violence or serious crimes. It included sales of a controlled substance, theft of mail and possession of a controlled substance. Such a history did not seem to predict what he then did with a friend serving as a reservist with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
In a Nutshell: Client steals identity of eight U.S. Army soldiers serving in Afghanistan, opens accounts in their names, takes over $200,000, faces 47 years in state prison, case resolved for 7 years at half-time.
Our client’s friend was not on good terms with his commanding officer, so he decided to hurt him anonymously by destroying his credit. He worked in the unit’s personnel office, so he had access to everyone’s social security numbers, dates of birth and addresses.
He called our client and suggested our client, a former service member himself, apply for credit cards and lines of credit with banks and credit unions that specialized in providing service members and their families with emergency funds. The banks and credit unions would accommodate a young spouse back home struggling with finances while her husband was thousands of miles away. In other words, establishing a line of credit was easy.
Our client then assumed the identity of various service members and took out dozens of loans with amounts between just $2,500 and up to $50,000. He then used the money to buy cars for himself and his family. He used some loans to pay back other loans, sometimes paying them completely back.
After doing this a few months, he had taken out over $200,000 in loans. One of the service members in Afghanistan noticed something was wrong when he applied for a home loan and discovered loans in his name that he did not recognize.
The FBI was notified and began investigating the loans, discovering several other loans all originating from the same overseas reserve unit. They then focused on our client’s friend and arrested him. They seized his cell phone and laptop computer, quickly identifying our client in Pomona.
The FBI then carefully investigated our client, eventually serving a search warrant at 3:00 a.m. with the help of 50 or more police. Our client was arrested and bail was set at $600,000.
Quickly, he was arraigned, facing one count of grand theft (Penal Code § 487(a)), 28 counts of identity theft (Penal Code § 530.5) and one count of identity card theft (Penal Code § 483e(d)). The police report was over 300 pages long, meticulously documented with credit card applications, statements and transfers that our client had cleverly orchestrated to shell accounts under other names to avoid using his own name.
Our client’s friend was flown back to Los Angeles County Jail to face the charges with our client in state court. The FBI, while having jurisdiction over the case due to its interstate conduct, deferred to the state court to prosecute.
The Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles County
It was immediately clear by the level of sophistication that the documents provided could really only be the tip of an iceberg, or a small portion of the true scope of the identity theft. The specially assigned DA hinted at this, saying he had evidence to add a further 30 counts and to expand the case to include our client’s family and friends for receiving stolen property and as co-conspirators
Greg Hill understood that the complex nature of the case, while perhaps being hard to prove to a jury, would be easy to prove once a modus operandi was clear. And it was so because our client was video taped on an I-pad explaining his scheme to some friends. Our client had intended to delete the video, but had overlooked doing this. It was an admission that tied everything together very nicely, unfortunately.
Greg Hill had good rapport with the prosecutor from a prior case the two had been on together, but opposing each other years earlier. Therefore, Greg was able to rather quickly negotiate a plea bargain that recognized the immense time that trial would take, the risks that a jury might be lost on the facts, and the expense, while also acknowledging the risk that a jury could convict our client and he would face up to 47 years in prison. It was well understood that because the victims of the scheme were servicemen and servicewomen, the jury might be overly sympathetic or almost believe it was a patriotic obligation to convict our client.
After approximately four months of prosecution, but prior to the preliminary hearing, a deal was reached wherein our client would plead to eight counts (22 were then dismissed) and stipulate to restitution of nearly $217,000, while serving 7 years in state prison at half-time.
The client was happy with the deal, knowing that he faced perhaps 100 years if the complaint were amended to include other offenses he could be accused of. The restitution was joint and several with the other defendant, our client’s friend, who had no prior criminal history besides a DUI. The client’s friend received a prison sentence of three years and eight months, also with half-time.
For more information about the issues in this theft offense case summary, click on the following articles:
- Dismissal of Forgery Charges Reversed Although Defendants Impersonated No One During Scheme
- Court Reverses Felony False Impersonation Conviction Involving Use of Birth Certificate
- Long Beach Court Convicts Tenant of Grand Theft for Breaching Rental Contract
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