Editor's note: In "A Case of Identity," we allowed staff writer Sean Robinson to write about a situation he also was living, something we normally don't allow. However, we thought this was the best way to explain what often happens in cases of identity theft. To ensure another layer of objectivity, we assigned staff writer Adam Lynn to verify the facts of this story.
This is a story about a friend of mine who just became a national statistic: His identity was stolen.
My friends name is Dave Winship. His story is common, his experience typical. Hes seen his finances and credit unravel. Hes watched his money drain away even as he tries to stop the leaks. Hes learned that someone he thought he knew could betray him utterly, and do it with a smile.
Im the instrument of Daves revelation, though I never meant to be. He asked for my help several weeks ago. What started as a small favor led to something I didnt expect: a trail of deceit winding through three states, and a wanted man on the run.
Im in the middle of this story, so I wont pretend Im not. After you hear it, you may think my friend made some dumb decisions, that he was trusting to a fault.
Hed admit it, but hes not alone.
A guy named Mike answered the ad. Dave snapped him up. At the time, he told me Mike was a techno-wiz who worked for a wireless phone company on King Countys East Side.
I never met Mike face-to-face, but after he moved in I talked to him once or twice on the phone, kind of liked him and wanted to meet him. He was amusingly abrupt, he liked horror movies and Dave complained that he was a neat nut.
Mike teased Dave, which was another plus. Dave cuts his pasta sauce with water chestnuts, prefers microwaved eggs and guzzles tiny bottles of convenience-store ginseng he needs a lot of teasing.
The arrangement worked out at first, as far as I knew. Then, in late summer, Dave told me it wasnt going so well.
He got a bill for a mobile phone he didn't buy. At first he suspected computer hackers. Other odd charges popped up on his credit card and bank statements fees for Internet porn.
Dave suspected Mike and confronted him. Mike denied, confessed, begged forgiveness, coughed up stories of a screwed-up life and promised to pay the money back.
I told Dave to cut Mike loose. Dave said no - the situation was under control.
He said he made Mike promise that along with paying back the money, hed get some counseling. Supposedly, Mike agreed. I scoffed.
A few weeks later, Dave told me Mike was making progress on the payments, and still paying rent along with it. I let it go, reminding myself to save the story for teasing purposes then Dave called me in late October.
He knows Im a reporter, so sometimes he asks me things. Typically, he hounds me to write stories about deceptive stereo ads. Three months ago, he wanted to know if Mike was a criminal.
I taunt him about his roommate hows that travesty going?
Well, I think its still happening, Dave says. I found some more charges on my bank statement.
Oh good, I say, instantly annoyed. I told you to cut him loose.
He jams me with details. I half-listen. Everything is vague typical Dave.
Hes found new bills on the bank account, or the credit cards, or something he doesnt know what they're for, but the moneys getting up into the thousands now. Mike admitted some of it, but not all of it.
Dave says he thought all this would stop after he confronted Mike before. Now hes not so sure.
He shifts back to earlier stories, mingling old with new, confusing as hell: Mike bought mail-order clothes from Lebanon
he just gave Dave a bunch of Asian stuff and said it was a gift
he claims hes dating a cop, he bought this flat-screen TV with one of Daves credit cards, and
What? I say sharply. A flat-screen?
Yeah, Dave said.
Youve got to get rid of this guy, I say.
Ive already changed all my bank accounts. Ive changed my numbers.
Youve still got to get rid of him. No waiting. Right now.
Well, hes paying rent, and hes says he gonna pay me back hes been paying me back. Hes supposed to give me two thousand next week.
No, man out the door. Kick him out. Screw the money. Keep the flat-screen.
I cant, Dave says. Its busted. He broke it.
A social car wreck. Hunks of steaming, twisted metal at the intersection of Loser Avenue and Stupid Street, and I cant stop looking.
Im really worried about this, Dave says. I dont know what else is out there.
OK, I say. Let me check Mike out. Let me see what I can find. Tell me his last name again.
Dave gives me the name: Dorley. Michael Dorley. Middle name Henry. In his late 30s, Dave thinks.
OK Ill call you back.
Not proof. Could be a different guy with the same name its a big country.
The rough details are close: Michael Henry Dorley, age 41, born August 1965. Lived in New Hampshire before Vegas. One bare hint of a record shows him on Seattles Capitol Hill in early 06 just before Mike moved in with Dave.
I look a little more. No criminal convictions good handful of liens and judgments not so good then a bankruptcy case in Nevada.
The court file looks pretty simple: A basic Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, filed in federal court in October 2005.
Quick run though the file: Dorleys debts run to about 70K mostly credit cards looks like 14 or 15 of them also a car, a 2006 Mazda Tribute.
Theres an objection in the court file a standard form where the debtor can challenge the claim of a creditor.
Looks like a battle over the car: Dorley says he doesnt owe the money, creditor says he does.
Dorley submits a signed affidavit. He says hes a victim of identity fraud by my former roommate, Kenneth Debutts. He had purchased a vehicle in my name and on my credit.
Dorleys affidavit describes the scenario: In July 2005, he bought the brand-new Mazda from a Vegas dealership.
Says he got a bill the following month made a payment got a statement back.
The statement said hed just made a payment on a 2002 Jeep Wrangler which made no sense, since he didnt own a Wrangler.
But a piece of paper at the bank said he did.
In the affidavit, Dorley says Debutts somehow got a drivers license in Dorley's name.
Then comes the kicker:
The end of Dorleys signed statement says he called the Vegas cops and filed a police report. His ex-roommate is missing.
Mike isnt Mike?
Fake drivers license. Stolen credit card numbers. Identity fraud. Fifty grand. Bankruptcy.
Police report. Ex-roommate missing.
My soft-touch friend.
No, only guessing. Dont know yet. Not proof. Dorley could be lying, inventing a roommate who spent all his money.
Still, he filed a police report, signed an affidavit...
A hit: Kenneth Brown Debutts. Records say hes 37, born in March 1969. They show him in Vegas in 2005, Utah in 2004 and before that, a decade or more in New Hampshire.
What, theyre both from New Hampshire? Oh, dont make it easy. Make it hard.
The records show civil liens and judgments on the East Coast, and one misdemeanor conviction in Virginia in absentia traffic violation, my guess.
I call Dave.
This is Dave, can I help you?
Hey has Mike ever talked about being in Las Vegas?
What about New Hampshire?
Yeah he said he was from New Hampshire. He was born in Germany.
OK - describe him.
Oh, kind of, kind of hes big. Like Dom DeLuise with a Bob Hope nose. Dark hair, keeps it really short. Hes six-one, six-two, maybe 250. Hes big.
Not fat but hes
Puffy, I say.
Dave tells me a little more. Weeks earlier, after the first stories of unexpected credit bills, I bugged him to check Mikes drivers license.
Didnt happen, Dave says Mike had refused, played coy, saying it was too embarrassing, that Dave would know he wasnt the youthful thirty-something he claimed to be, that he was really over 40.
So you thought it was what, a vanity thing? I ask.
Oh, you dope. How could you buy that?
Patterns leave trails in my head. Dave rambles, recalling the day Mike answered the roommate ad. Mike said he'd lost his apartment because a roommate had stolen his debit card and maxed it out. He was all weepy, saying he was homeless and his mother had died, and it was his birthday
When was this? I ask.
That was in March, Dave says.
But then, Dave says, In August, he was just saying it was his birthday in August, and I thought hed said before that it was March.
Michael Dorley born in August of 65, Kenneth Debutts born in March 69...
OK, I say. Dont say anything to him. Ill call you back.
Hey Kenneth, how was Vegas?
No even now I cant be sure, and if Im wrong, Im such a jerk.
If Im right and Mike finds out, he just splits with Daves personal identifiers in his back pocket, and nobody will know where to find him.
Call the cops? At this point all Mike has to do is deny everything, and the cops yawn: A couple of roommates, fighting over money. Nothing to see here.
Mike can say yes, he sure is Michael Dorley from New Hampshire, thank you very much, and yeah, he had a bankruptcy, and he moved up here from Nevada to get away from it, to start over, and yeah, a roommate robbed him, and hed sure like to find that Debutts guy...
No. I need more. I need the real Michael Dorley, if he exists.
The records show phone numbers for Dorley in Vegas. None of them work. I try the best-looking phone number in New Hampshire and leave a message, hoping Ive reached a relative.
In the bankruptcy file, only a year old, Dorley says he works as a security guard and stagehand in one of the Vegas show palaces. I call the hotel, pinball through a few employees, including a guy who says he supervises security guards, and I get nothing. Theyve never heard of a Michael Dorley.
Brick wall so far but the bankruptcy file says Michael Dorley filed a report with Las Vegas police about Kenneth Debutts.
Did he? That would confirm Dorleys affidavit at least, boost his credibility a little.
I call the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. In Sin City, law enforcement titles are sort of funky its the police department, but the guy who runs it, Bill Young, is the sheriff.
A weary-sounding woman in the public information office tells me I have to e-mail a public records request and wait. Another dead end.
Its a risk to call them. They might tip him off. But if hes done anything like this before, maybe they wont.
Dave said something about his roommate being married there were kids, but he and his ex werent on speaking terms.
Maybe a lie, maybe not. If not, an unhappy ex might know something.
I scan the list of names in New Hampshire, make a guess and pick up the phone.
A woman answers. I identify myself as a reporter, stumble through an explanation of why Im calling and mention the name Kenneth Debutts.
Silence, then frost: She wants to know how I found her, how I got this number. I explain that public records often include phone numbers, and they showed me that Kenneth Debutts had relatives in New Hampshire, so Im trying to find someone who might know him.
Frosty isnt satisfied. Why am I calling her?
I say I have some information that suggests Kenneth Debutts may be out here in Washington, and may be involved in some questionable activity but Im not sure I have the right guy, and Im looking anywhere I can for information. I apologize for disturbing her.
She says shell have to verify who I am. I give her my phone numbers, my e-mail address, the newspapers Web site.
You may or may not hear from me, she says.
I thank her, apologize again and hang up the phone, feeling a touch of adrenaline.
A few minutes pass, and my phone rings. Another woman this time, with an older-sounding voice. First frost, now ice.
She identifies herself. She does not want her name in the paper. She tells me never to call her family again.
I say Im sorry, that I had no intention of disrupting her familys life, and I dont need to use her name. I say my only concern is helping someone here who may be getting victimized by Kenneth Debutts.
She tells me a few things about Kenneth unhappy details. I promise her I wont call her family again, but I need her permission to ask one or two things, just to help me make sure Ive got the right guy.
She listens. I give her Daves description of his roommate: Dom DeLuise with a Bob Hope nose, short dark hair, six-one, two-fifty. Could this be Kenneth?
That sounds like him, she says.
I mention another story Dave heard from his roommate, who claimed he was born in Germany.
Yes, she says thats true. Kenneth was born in Germany.
I give her a quick description of the situation out here: stolen credit card numbers, possible identity theft. She is not surprised. But this conversation is over.
You do what you have to do, she says.
She tells me again to keep her family out of it. I tell her I will, thank her again and we say goodbye.
Not proof not conclusive, not yet. But close enough for a friend.
I call Dave.
Youre not getting your money back, I say.
What do you mean?
I mean youre not getting your money back. Dont even hope for it.
I hesitate, then answer.
Hes not Michael Dorley. Thats not his name.
I walk Dave through it. Ill print out some records and show him when we meet for beers.
So what's this guys real name?
Still not completely sure, I tell him anyway.
I spell it for him. He is amused.
He leans back, shaking his head.
How can people do this?
I tell him I could be wrong. All Ive found is a weird chain of coincidence not enough for the cops. Ive got to figure out if the real Michael Dorley is still in Vegas. I need a photo, a picture of Dorley, of Debutts, something. Ill try to get it tomorrow.
Dave wonders what to do he says hes transferred all the mail for his credit cards and bank statement to a new address. He thinks some of his mail is missing.
I tell him changing the numbers and the mailing address sounds right, but he may have to close all his accounts, even the main bank account, and be prepared for a lot of painful paperwork.
Hes not happy, but he nods. I tell him Ill know more tomorrow and I tell him to say nothing to his roommate.
Next: The real Michael Dorley
Sean Robinson 253-597-8486