A case of identity, part 2

January 4, 2007 

Friday, Oct. 27
If the real Michael Dorley is real, every record suggests he’s still in Vegas. Where is he?

Call the Las Vegas police again, checking on the status of my records request. A recording answers and tells me the office is closed.

It turns out to be Nevada Day, the state’s annual three-day weekend to celebrate joining the Union on Oct. 31, 1864.

So the gatekeepers aren’t working, but I know the cops are. I look around for another police line, find it and thread my way to someone in records who tells me I’ll have to wait until next week, because it’s a holiday.
Nevada Day.

No police report for now. Once more, I try the only good-looking number in New Hampshire, where I’ve already left one message. The records suggest Dorley has siblings. Every name, including his, traces back to this number. I figure it’s the family homestead.

Ring. Ring.
“Hello?”
It’s a young woman’s voice. I introduce myself, and say I’m trying to find Michael Dorley.
“Is this because he got his identity stolen by that jerk?”
Oh man.
“Yes – yeah.”
“Just a minute – I’ll give you his cell phone number. He lives in Las Vegas now.”
Lucky – so lucky.
“OK – thank you, that would be really helpful.”

I don’t ask the young woman for her name. As she rummages for Dorley’s number, she tells me how terrible the experience was, how it was really hard for Michael, how she hopes they can catch that guy.
She shares the number. I thank her, hang up and punch the keys.

The first victim
Ring. Ring.
“Hello?”
“Michael?”
“Yeah?”
I tell him my name, tell him I’m a reporter from Tacoma and I’m trying to reach Michael Dorley.
“Yeah, I’m Michael Dorley.”
Gold.

I tell Michael a short story. It ends with a name: Kenneth Debutts. Michael knows it.
“I met him on roommates.com in Las Vegas,” he says.

Dorley’s summary sounds familiar. He says Debutts answered an Internet ad in spring 2005. Debutts pitched a poor-mouth story: He didn’t have enough money for the first month’s rent, but he would soon. He had two bags of clothes and that was about it. Dorley took him in.

Debutts got a job at the Olive Garden, Dorley says…started paying a little rent, but was always behind and never bought groceries. Dorley finally complained about it.

A few days later, Debutts showed up with armloads of groceries. Enough for three weeks, Dorley says. Then he gave Dorley a gift – a flat-screen TV.
Another flat-screen, huh?

Dorley tells me how he called Debutts one summer day and left a happy message about buying a new Mazda. That was in July 2005. Debutts never called back. Dorley never saw him again.

Then bills arrived, debt in tens of thousands: maxed-out credit cards, paperwork for the Jeep bought in Dorley's name.

One bank showed Dorley a photo of Debutts withdrawing money from Dorley’s account. When Dorley tried to renew his driver's license, he found Debutts already had. The records revealed that every time Debutts paid rent, he was doing it with Dorley’s money.

“I had to prove who I was to the mailman,” Dorley says. “He had everything covered.”
I ask for a description of Debutts.
“He’s probably about six feet tall, overweight, keeps his hair short.”
“Dom DeLuise with a Bob Hope nose?” I ask.
“That’s him.”

Dorley says he’s got pictures. Debutts took a few point-and-shoot self-portraits and posted them on Internet dating sites. The images are still on Dorley's computer. He can e-mail them to me when he gets home from the late shift.
Beautiful.

I ask about the police report – does he have a copy? He’s not sure, but he’ll look. We'll talk more tomorrow.
Dorley says he has boxes of paper on this: the residue of a painful quest to rebuild his credit.

“It’s been a nightmare,” he says. “I know I’m never getting my money back.”

That night, I call Dave and tell him I’ve talked to “the real Michael Dorley,” who’s going to send pictures. I relay Dorley’s story: the car, the credit cards, the fraudulent driver’s license.
When Dave sees the pictures, he’ll know for sure, and then he can decide what to do.
“OK,” he says.

He seems oddly calm, his voice placid, no sign of irritation. I don’t get it.
“You don’t sound angry about this.”
“You think I’m not angry?” he says.
“Well, it sounds like it doesn’t bother you.”

“I’m relieved,” he says. “I feel relieved. Now I know – I know why. The karma on this is just awful. He’s already done it to that poor guy in Nevada, and he’s doing it to me, and if I don’t do something now, he’ll just go do it to someone else.”

'Con artist in Las Vegas'
Later that night, I realize I'm stupid. All this searching, and I haven't tried something blindingly obvious: feeding Kenneth Debutts to the Google god.

Up comes the familiar site, in go the search terms. Back come the hits. Only a few, but the first one says “Con Artist in Las Vegas.”

Debutts Google hit cut

What’s this? Did Michael Dorley set up this site?

Click.

Up it comes: a postage-stamp-sized mugshot of Debutts and a list of accusations: identity theft, theft of cash from his employer, elaborate lies, embezzlement, unauthorized credit card charges, and occasional use of an alias: Kenneth Brown.

The claims don’t match Dorley’s story – the details are different, the dates slightly earlier, and this site never mentions Dorley.

No, not Dorley – another victim.

At the bottom of the Web page, more pictures, big ones: Debutts smiling, arms around a couple of friends?…

Ken in Vegas (Brown 1)

Debutts grinning, striking a rakish pose in an on-the-town white shirt.

Ken Vegas (Brown 2)

Big guy. Short hair. Thick body. Puffy.
Dom Deluise with a Bob Hope nose.

Too late to call anyone now. Check the site for contact information. No phone numbers, but there’s a place to send messages. I send one with my name and number attached, and "Kenneth Debutts" in the subject line.

Saturday, Oct. 28
Afternoon, on the phone with the real Michael Dorley: Can he get to a computer? He can. Is he online? Yes.

I spell out the Web address of the con artist Web site and listen, knowing what Dorley is about to see.
Silence.

“That’s him – that’s him,” Dorley says.

“Jesus. Holy Christ. That’s definitely Ken.”

That’s one witness. One more to go.

Dorley walks me through the detailed version his story, adding dates and memories: Debutts talking of an ex-wife and kids back East, claiming to send them money...Debutts driving a Jeep and claiming it belonged to his ex – the same Jeep that later showed up on Dorley’s wrecked credit.

Dorley recalls his humiliating slog with skeptical creditors, sitting in bank offices, going line by line through the records, answering questions about transactions he never made.

“I’ve had nothing but bad luck,” Dorley says. “It’s just crazy – I just can’t believe that he’s doing it again, that he’s trying to do it with someone else.”

Dorley berates himself.
“I’m gullible,” he says. “I never believed he was pulling anything on me, so I just believed everything he said.”

Dorley says he’ll e-mail me his pictures of Debutts. He can’t find the police report he filed – it’s buried in boxes. Instead, he'll give me the name and number of someone who worked on his case: Chester Clagett, an investigator from Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Dorley’s e-mail arrives almost instantly. It includes a few tiny mug shots.

kendebutts2.jpg

Debutts again: A baseball cap covers his head, and his shave is closer, but the round face is familiar now.

Debutts from Dorley

The e-mail ends with a small plea from a man driven into bankruptcy:

Dorley hope cut.jpg

Another ID

Now it's Dave's turn to look at pictures. I call him, guide him to the con artist site and listen for the sound of recognition.
Silence.

“Oh, God,” I hear Dave say.
He starts reading aloud, exclaiming at the list of allegations. Then he sees the pictures at the bottom of the page.

Ken Vegas (Brown 2)

“Oh, that’s special,” he says.

Debutts Brown 1.jpg

“Oh, this is creepy. That’s him.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.”
Two positive IDs from two men in two states – substantial, but not enough.

Who posted the con artist site? The mysterious third victim hasn't responded to the message I sent.

The police report Dorley says he filed in Vegas is critical. If he filed it, and if a warrant exists, this airy trail of anecdotes starts to feel real.

I tell Dave we won’t know anything more until next week. Meanwhile, he’ll have to live with his roommate and keep the secret.

Monday, Oct. 30
Still no response from the Vegas cops. Need the police report, need it – I call them again. They say they’ll find out who’s working on my records request and get back to me.

Dorley gave me the name and number of the investigator with the Nevada state DMV who knows about his case. I call, and Investigator Chester Clagett’s message says he’s out until Oct. 31. At least he's real.
Dead ends.

New e-mail from Dorley. As an afterthought, I'd asked him to send me pictures of himself for verification purposes. He's enclosed a few snapshots. In the first, he flashes a big grin.

Dorley closeup

Happy guy. Doesn't look much like Debutts.

In the second shot, Dorley wears a spiffy tux.

dorley tux

Nope. Not Debutts. This guy's in good shape.

The prospect of snaring Debutts is lifting Dorley's spirits. His e-mail is a little giddy.

Phone message: Aaron Davis, returning my call from an 801 area code - Utah.

Can’t remember Davis at first, then it comes to me: One Google hit showed “Ken Debutts” in Utah in 2004, speaking at a peace rally.
He was described as Gulf War veteran, appearing with a local chapter of a national group called Veterans For Peace. Aaron Davis is the chairman of the Salt Lake City chapter. I’d called him and forgotten. I call him back.

Davis has a grandfatherly voice. He remembers Debutts, accepts the Dom Deluise description (“I guess you could go along with that”) and says he hasn’t seen him for more than a year.

Is Debutts a veteran? Davis thinks so. He says he has a copy of Debutts’ discharge papers: the DD-214 form, a familiar document in military circles. He says he can mail me a copy.

He wants to know why I’m asking these questions. Hearing the answer, he sighs, and says Debutts seemed eager to get out of Salt Lake.

“I was aware that he had what some people called the dark side,” Davis says. “The needy kind of a person – he was always needing financial help, he was always needing various things.”

The day yields nothing else. Dave calls with a question:
“I’m wondering if I should tell anyone I’m living with an impostor sociopath.”

Tuesday, Oct. 31
Chester Clagett, the Nevada state investigator who supposedly worked on Michael Dorley's case, is back in the office, giving me his titles.

Clagett is a state police officer, assigned to the Nevada DMV as a fraud investigator. Yes, he says, he knows Michael Dorley, and he knows the name Kenneth Debutts.

“I can tell you that there’s a warrant out for the subject’s arrest, because I submitted it – it’s a felony,” he says.
Drum roll.

I tell him the story. Clagett says he wants to talk to the Renton cops about Debutts.

“He fleeced my victim down here for an enormous amount of money,” Clagett says. “I would love to have this guy extradited. I’d be happy to go up there.”
Trumpets. Fanfare.

“If you want, I can grab the file.”
Cannons.
“Sure.”

Clagett thumbs through his file, started more than a year ago.
“I have pictures of this clown,” he says. “Kind of a round-faced, heavyset guy?”
“Uh – yeah.”

Clagett says he has the Vegas police report, his affidavit for the warrant, a copy of the warrant and Debutts’s photo on a bogus driver’s license.

DEBUTTS warrant1.jpg

He says he’ll give the Renton police all the information they need. I ask if Dave should file a police report up here.
Clagett says yes, but he needs a little time.

“Have the police up there call me – give me a day.”
Finally.

I call Dave, tell him we’ll meet tomorrow and pay a visit to the Renton Police Department.
This is getting official and intense. We’re not guessing anymore. Dave knows he needs to play it cool, but I tell him anyway.

Dave says Debutts says strange things.
“He makes crazy threats.”
Oh good.
“Like what?”
“I’ll be on the phone, and he’ll be like, ‘What are you doing? Who are you calling?’ ”
“OK, but what are the crazy threats?”
Dave says he’s seen his burly roommate furious. He tells me Debutts once said, “Sometimes I black out, and when I wake up, people are hurt.”
Bull. Macho posturing. No violence in the guy’s record.
I hate this.

I tell Dave I’ll see him tomorrow.

Next: "What if he's outsmarted us all, Sean?"

Sean Robinson 253-597-8486
sean.robinson@thenewstribune.com

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