The News Tribune - Tacoma, WA
A case of identity, part 3
By Sean Robinson; The News Tribune
Wednesday, Nov. 1
The Renton cops will get a convenient package: two victims in two states identifying a fugitive, and a state investigator itching for the collar. Clagett made happy noises about extraditing Debutts.We give the cops the information, they grab him. Easy.Before picking up Dave, I call the Renton police and tell them were about to file a report. Detective John Awai wants a briefing. He gets it, along with the number for Chester Clagett in Las Vegas.Two cops, two states, two bureaucracies after talking to Clagett, Awai calls me back. There's a problem.Awai says the warrant in Vegas only covers the state of Nevada. Clagett's bosses have to extend it beyond the states borders before the Renton cops can hook Debutts. That could take a while.Awai says Dave still needs to file the police report to start a paper trail up here. I tell him were coming.Moments later, Clagett calls from Vegas. He thinks he can extend the warrant, but he needs permission from higher up. He adds one more thing:
I dont know how good your rapport is with your friend, but tell him if Debutts has even an inkling of whats going on, hell be gone.My rapport with my friend is good. On our way, I tell Dave what Clagett said. Dave feels sick and crummy, doesnt say much but he understands."Over the last four months"
At the police department, Dave files the report. Awai is in the field, so we talk to a decent, skeptical officer who takes notes and asks for details: When and how did this fraud stuff start?Dave hasnt thought this through. He struggles to remember dates and times. He finally says he thinks the fraud has been going on over the last four months.
I tell the officer John Awai knows about this case. That gets his attention. He leaves to make a call. Dave sighs.
I hear myself saying that: over the last four months, and I feel like such an idiot, he says. He fiddles with his cell phone, and plays me his latest ring tone: a cheery, tinny samba. The officer returns, less skeptical now. He wants to know where Debutts works. Dave answers: Cingular Wireless. Debutts is a technical support guy you call and say youve got a problem with your cell phone, and he helps you fix it.
Access to customer accounts. Nice.The officer says hes talked to Awai, and gives Dave a card with a case number. Now the waiting starts.
The officer is kind about it, but he cant say its easy: Daves going to have to pretend a while longer, and hope the state of Nevada comes through.
Youre in a catch-22, he says, and shakes Daves hand.One more chore: We have to stop at Daves condo. Hes got a few digital photos of Debutts quickie self-portraits. Debutts posted them on Internet dating sites, repeating his pattern from Vegas. The images are stored on Dave's computer.We go to the condo. No danger, Dave says Debutts works until 8 or so. I push keys on the computer, and Dave collapses into a chair, worn and tired.
So these photos were taken here? I ask.
With my fathers camera, Dave says, yawning.
His cell phone jangles a few times. He answers and I dont pay much attention Daves always on the phone.
I find the pictures. Click: Theres Debutts in extreme close-up.
As I start to go, Daves phone rings again.
Sam-ba, sam-ba. Dave looks down, sees the callers number flash, and looks over at me.
This is him, he says.
He flips the phone open, presses a key and his voice shifts into a smooth gear called Tired Yet Professional:
This is Dave, can I help you?
Oh, who could possibly be calling?Feeling stressed and lousy, Dave banters with Debutts as if he knows nothing, as if he didnt just spend an uncomfortable hour filing a police report against his roommate.Answering a question, Dave says hes home early. The phone crackles with taunting static. Dave laughs a little.
When he rings off, he tells me Debutts complained about all the phone calls Dave got yesterday.
Hes like, You were on the phone all night, and I say, Well it was Halloween, and he says, Halloween never ends how do you want to be killed tonight slowly? Hes always saying things like that.
Horror-geek humor. Tremendous.Before I leave, Dave gives me a code: If I call him and hes short, that means he cant talk Debutts is there.Thursday, Nov. 2
More waiting. Chester Clagett calls and says he doesn't expect a decision on the warrant until next week. John Awai calls and says hes waiting for the warrant. Dave has to hang on.
Weekend with roomie. Friday, Nov. 3
E-mail from the real Michael Dorley in Vegas. Yesterday, I sent him the pictures from Daves computer and asked if the face looked familiar.Dorley's answer comes with exclamation points:
Phone rings: Chester Clagett in Vegas. He wants to push the warrant for Debutts up the official chain, but he needs to talk to Dave and get a positive ID.
I just want to call him up, tell him whats going on, tell him to hang in there, Clagett says.
Does Clagett have the photos of Debutts taken at Daves condo? Has he seen them?
Oh, yeah sitting on the couch, real close up.
Oh yeah no doubt in my mind.Three IDs on the pictures from Renton and Nevada: Dorley, Dave, Clagett and Clagett's a cop.I give Clagett Daves mobile phone number, figuring Dave will be on the road working, free to talk.
Five minutes later, Clagett calls me again, laughing.
Well, I got your friend at the wrong moment, he says. Sounds like Debutts was with him.
Whoops.Clagett says Dave danced, pretending the call was an unwanted sales pitch.
He told me to stop trying to sell him pharmaceuticals, Clagett says, cackling. Tell your friend he did a hell of a job.A little later, Dave checks in.
A guy from Nevada called. It wasnt cool.
Debutts was right behind him, Dave says.
Im on the deck slowly he opens the door and says, Who is it, Dave? So I made like it was a telemarketer, and I dont want any prescriptions.
Did he buy it?
I think so.A money decision
Clagett talks to Dave later in the day alone this time then calls me. He says hes asked to extend the warrant for Kenneth Debutts beyond Nevada.
Thats a money decision: extra court fees, administrative time. Clagett figures hell get approval. Hell know more next week, he says, but hell be out until Tuesday.
Three days. As I drive home, Dave calls from the road.
New wrinkle, he says.
Daves been feeling rotten lately sick and slow, always fatigued, and hes not sure why. Hes self-employed, and his health insurance is terrible. Hes been looking for a doctor who takes his plan. Today, he says, Debutts made a strange suggestion.
He says hes gonna put me on his insurance, Dave says.
How can he do that?
He said it wasnt too hard. He goes, Youre my roommate and I care about you.
What is that about?
OK, keep me posted.I drive, chewing on possibilities. Before long, my phone rings again.
Another wrinkle, Dave says.
I just got a letter addressed to Kenneth Debutts.
I nearly drive off the road.
It was in the mailbox.
Whats the return address?
Is MD short for Maryland?
Just read it to me.
Hold steering wheel, press tiny cell phone against shoulder, fumble for pen and paper with free hand. Dave reads me a post office box number and a Maryland address.
He says the envelope is first-class, pre-sorted. Im guessing its some sort of credit thing.
You want me to open it?
I tell him to leave the envelope sealed and put it somewhere safe. It connects this address to Debutts the cops might need it. Dave agrees, but he cant resist a jab.
What if hes outsmarted us all, Sean?
Monday, Nov. 6
Finally, finally, the riddle of the third victim untangles.Her name is Kim Brown. She got my message. She runs a Web-hosting company. Her name also shows up in Nevadas corporate registry.
Brown, 45, says she posted the con artist alert Web page that identifies Debutts.
The third victim. Ken moved in with me for three weeks, she says. I filed a police report. The police didnt do jack about it.
Her story follows the pattern Dave and the real Michael Dorley described. In March 2005, she posted a roommate-wanted ad. Debutts answered it and talked his way in, she says. He begged off his first rent payment, saying he was having a hard time raising the money. Brown says she started seeing unexpected bills a week or so later, including charges for online porn. She says Debutts tapped her credit cards and her Social Security number, and started calling himself Kenneth Brown.
He told everybody that we were brother and sister and he got by with all kinds of stuff, she says. He opened up two or three cell phone accounts with my name.Brown says she and a friend confronted Debutts and told him to get out. Debutts wasn't happy.
He looks like and acts like the boy next door, she says. He has a temper you wouldnt believe a lot of screaming, a lot of yelling and slamming the door.Three victims with the same story, and they don't know each other. Thats something.E-mail from the real Michael Dorley: He hasn't heard from me in a while, and he's worried. When he hears about Dave's police report and Clagett's effort to extend the arrest warrant, he's pleased.
Phone rings: Dave.
My roommate just called me, he says. He goes, My sister just called me and said Im being investigated by a Sean.
Bad luck. Now Debutts knows we're onto him.
Cant be helped.
OK.Dave says he played the fool.
I go, Well, what did you do that was worth investigating? he says. He goes, Nothing, I havent done anything.
Games were all playing now.
Dave says he lied, pretending he had no idea what was going on. Hes not sure how long he can keep that up, especially if Debutts starts asking more questions.
Hes a little jumpy, Dave says. I think hes gonna be doing something that he hasnt been doing, which is feeling me out. But Im playing dumb, and I do that so well.Stuck waiting again. Dave and I both figure Debutts will bolt any time. Maybe well get lucky. Maybe Nevada will extend the warrant.Tuesday, Nov. 7
Nevada isnt moving.
Its not a dead issue here, Clagett tells me. Im just waiting for my boss to get a definitive answer.Its all about budgets, Clagett says. Extradition costs money. If Debutts fights, Nevada eats King Countys court fees.
Thats not Clagetts call. He says the decision hasnt been made, but sounds like he expects a no. He wonders if Washington can do anything about Debutts.
Hes up there. Hes posing as somebody else. Hes working for Cingular, Clagett says. Theres got to be a law in Washington State that hes violating right now.
Theres got to be a law.
The other thing hes going to do is hes probably going to steal Davids identity, Clagett says. If he leaves the state, hell become David. Back to Renton. Detective John Awai isnt sure he can make a case without the Nevada warrant. He needs paperwork from Dave, and there isnt much. The Internet porn is tough to trace, and harder to prove. The credit cards are equally tricky. Debutts rang up a few bills, but he promised to pay Dave back and actually came up with some money.
In a way, that means Dave gave his roommate permission to use the credit cards. By trying to solve the problem on his own, hes ruined his case.The statutes
Theres got to be a law.Washington supposedly has the toughest identity theft law in the nation at least thats how the attorney generals office describes it. I look at the statute, RCW 9.35.020. The first section is direct:
(1) No person may knowingly obtain, possess, use, or transfer a means of identification or financial information of another person, living or dead, with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any crime.Well, hes using a stolen name, and he knows it.The second section explains that its a felony, and describes how its committed:
(2) Violation of this section when the accused or an accomplice uses the victim's means of identification or financial information and obtains an aggregate total of credit, money, goods, services, or anything else of value in excess of one thousand five hundred dollars in value shall constitute identity theft in the first degree.Debutts got a job using Michael Dorleys name. He gets salary and benefits from Cingular, using Michael Dorleys name. Daves case is weak but Cingular might have a stronger complaint. Corporations dont screw around.When I call Awai and share this thought, he says hell touch base with the Bothell police. The Cingular office where Debutts works sits within the city's borders.Next: "I know it's just gonna be ugly."Sean Robinson 253-597-8486