Special Reports

A case of identity, part 5


The cops never came. There was no violence, no emergency – why would they?

They called Dave back a little later – maybe 10 minutes after Debutts left – and asked if he still needed someone to stop by. He said yes, he’d like to file a report.

We watched the end of a football game. The Hawks won. The cops didn’t come.

About 45 minutes later, they called again. Dave gave them more information this time, including the original case number from the report he’d filed a week earlier.

We hung around for a while. I asked Dave how he was feeling. Relieved, he said.

I asked about the cops. How did he rate their response?

“I’m not impressed,” he said. “Cantwell [U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Edmonds] just ran on this, saying she’d passed these laws to make it easier to prosecute this stuff – I’m not seeing it. I mean, what do they expect me to do – play around with this guy for a month?”

Before we left. I told Dave to change the locks. He bought a fancy mechanism with buttons and a code, and spent the rest of the night installing it.

The next day – Monday, Nov. 13 – I called Michael Broom, the spokesman for Cingular, and asked several questions:

Did the company find evidence that Debutts accessed private customer information? Did Cingular inform the Bothell cops? How had Debutts been hired? What did this say about their hiring process?

Broom, only a spokesman, not a decision-maker, gave non-answers.

“We are fully committed to protecting our customer’s sensitive information,” he said. “We take allegations like this seriously. We can’t discuss the employee’s situation in any detail.”

The visitor

That afternoon, Dave called me. Breaking his work routine, he’d stayed home. An unexpected visitor showed up, stymied by the new lock: Debutts.

“He’s back,” Dave said. “He’s coming back up to get his clothes out. I’m gonna try to get his side of the story.”

While the visit was still going, I called Dave back.

Debutts wanted the rest of his stuff, Dave said – clothes and other things. Dave said he could take the clothes but not the rest, not until Debutts repaid his debts.

I said I’d be happy to talk with Debutts. Dave relayed the offer. Debutts accepted, and said he would talk to me the next day.

Later, Dave and I had a post-mortem talk. He told me that during the visit, Debutts admitted his real name.

“He said, ‘Please call me Ken.’ His name explicitly is Kenneth Brown Debutts,” Dave said. “He says it’s the worst name in the world.”

Dave relayed more details: He said Debutts talked about being “sick of running,” and explained that his downfall, the source of his constant need for money, was gambling.

Debutts admitted his past contact with the real Michael Dorley, Dave said. He admitted stealing Dorley’s name, saying he was, “kind of tired of being that other guy,” Dave said.

“I go, ‘What you did was really wrong and it really stunk, and it made me not feel safe,’ ” Dave said. “He goes, ‘I know it’s gonna take a long time for you to trust me.’ ”

Dave said Debutts talked of getting a new job under his real name. He wanted to talk to me, Dave said – to share his side of the story. I said that was fine, and I’d like to hear it.

Broken promises

While Debutts was still at the condo gathering his stuff together, he told Dave he would call me on Tuesday, Nov. 14. He didn’t. He repeated the same promise to Dave several times in the days that followed. I never got a call.

On Saturday, Nov. 18, Debutts sent Dave an e-mail, apologizing for his actions again, still saying he wanted to talk to me. Here's the text, unedited:

I am sorry I have not gotten in touch with Sean I have been living out of my truck and I am sorry for lying to you about everything. this was the first time I could get to a computer to email you, If you want sean to email me I will and send him my side ot the story. I dont have phone to call you, I cant even call from work since I got in trouble when I called you the other day. I hope to hear back from you soon and I was wondering if I could borrow 50 bucks until friday so I can have something to eat and gas money. I will understand if you say no but I have no where else to turn.

Ken aka Mike

Dave shared the e-mail with me, so I sent Debutts a note, telling him where to reach me.

I got a response from Debutts later that day – a confession of sorts, admitting his creepy treatment of the real Michael Dorley and Dave. Here’s how it began:

In the note, Debutts admitted his contact with Kim Brown, the woman who posted the Web site that accused him of being a con artist. He described her with a slur I won't repeat, and said she was lying about him. He also said this:

I e-mailed him back twice, most recently on Nov. 22. I offered to meet with him face to face, buy him coffee or lunch and listen to his side of the story. He never responded.

On Nov. 27, Det. Sean Ungvarsky of the Bothell Police Department confirmed that the Renton police had relayed the report about Debutts. Ungvarsky said he couldn’t say more – the department doesn’t comment on active investigations.

The same day, Michael Broom, the Cingular Wireless spokesman, said the company had launched an investigation. Here’s the relevant portion of his e-mail:

While I can't share details with you, I can tell you that the individual you've mentioned is no longer a Cingular employee. In addition, we are working with various law enforcement agencies who have asked that we not discuss this case with the news media.

Debutts called Dave a few more times as November wound down. The tone was strange, Dave said – his ex-roommate still talked like a friend.

“I’m a little terrified that he’s gonna be calling me all the time,” Dave said. “I don’t know if I want to hear from this guy anymore.”

Debutts kept promising to pay the money back. Dave figures his total losses at about $3,000.

So far, he hasn’t seen a dime.


The last words above were written Nov. 28. Since then, the new year has passed. Dave doesn't know where Debutts is and neither do I. The calls stopped after a while.

Where did he go? A little reverse-tracing of his final mid-November phone calls to Dave suggested Debutts worked at a mall in Lynnwood for a few days. An editor and I tried to catch him there, but he was gone.

Over the next few weeks, I dug up more scraps. The biggest was a second arrest warrant for Debutts out of Las Vegas.

It was filed on April 27, 2005, in the Henderson Justice Court, one of several small courts around Sin City. The charge was theft. Here's a copy of the document:

Debutts warrant2.jpg

The victim was a wireless phone company. The warrant accuses Debutts of removing money, cell phones and other equipment from the business.

I spoke to the owner of the company, Vincent Yaldo, who said he filed the report with Las Vegas police. Yaldo said Debutts worked at the company in early 2005 – around the time Debutts was living with Kim Brown.

"I don’t know why they didn’t arrest him," Yaldo said.

To me, that was significant – a fourth victim and a second arrest warrant, filed before Debutts moved in with Michael Dorley. It meant the cops in Nevada had prior knowledge of Debutts, and probable cause to arrest him three months before Michael Dorley's identity was stolen.

Last words

My friend Dave kept getting mail for Debutts. Copies of The Army Times and The Navy Times showed up in his mail box.

A wireless phone bill from Cingular arrived with Dave's name on it. It topped $400.

The call details revealed scores of text messages to Germany: the trail of Debutts, riding for free on the phone he bought in my friend's name. Fortunately, Cingular told Dave he didn't owe them anything.

Cingular sent more correspondence to Dave's address. One big envelope was a health-care notice addressed to "Michael Dorley," the identity Debutts had stolen and abused.

The notice said Debutts was eligible for health benefits under the company's insurance plan, two weeks after he'd been fired for working under a phony name. A legal obligation, I suppose – Debutts worked for them, after all – but it still looked strange to me.

Back in November, after we evicted Debutts from Dave's apartment, Michael Dorley sent me a message saying he would try to "stay positive." He knew I planned to write a story about Debutts, and he hoped it would make a difference:

I want his face to be seen by as many people as possible so that he gets taken off the street, and so that I keep him from using my identity any more.

The Renton police didn't abandon the case. In mid-December, Michael Dorley told me he was asked to provide a taped statement. He said detective John Awai hoped to nationalize the warrant for Debutts.

My friend Dave got the same call. Awai wanted Dave to look at a photo montage of Debutts. On Wednesday, Feb. 7, Awai e-mailed me to say Dave had identified Debutts from a photo.

"I will contact Cingular next Tues. and file the case with a request for a nationwide extradition," Awai said.

I got one more tidbit: A page from MySpace.com, the social networking Web site. It looks like Debutts created the page last summer, after he moved in with Dave.

I didn't find the page myself – Michael Dorley's sister in New Hampshire spotted it, and sent me the Web link. Here's a screen grab:

Look closely. You'll see Debutts didn't do much with his page. He calls himself Michael, and his last login is listed as Aug. 21, well before all the events described in this story.

The page includes a picture. When I saw it, I knew exactly where it was taken: the bathroom in Dave's condo in Renton. Look behind Debutts, and you'll see the doors that mask the closet.

The picture haunts me. It's a digital relic, a moment in time captured by a man in the act of deceit. He calls himself Michael, though that's not his name.

I find myself wondering what went through his mind that day as he took the picture, as he loaded it on Dave's computer and posted it on the Internet for anyone to see, claiming a name that didn't belong to him.

I never got to talk to Debutts. I never got to ask him why. I could have. The moment was there, waiting to be seized. As I sat there that day in Dave's apartment, I could have confronted Debutts.

Maybe he would have given me a sob story. Maybe I would have scoffed - but at least I would have heard an excuse. Maybe I would have understood.

All I know now is cheap mechanics: how it was done, how small lies are easily told and easily overlooked.

I found one on the MySpace page. Notice the astrological sign: Aries. I hate to mention this – I imagine Debutts, wherever he is, will read these words.

If so, maybe he'll spot his mistake: Posing as Michael Dorley, Debutts tripped over the zodiac.

Michael Dorley was born in early August 1965. He's a Leo.

Kenneth Debutts was born in late March 1969. He's an Aries.

Sean Robinson 253-597-8486