by Adam Clymer, New York Times
WASHINGTON - Federal authorities announced a nationwide sweep
of identity theft arrests today, charging the people with using false
credentials to cover up a murder, sell homes belonging to the elderly and
exercise 176,000 stock options belonging to an unknowing company
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the prosecutions, many of them
fraud cases, to demonstrate sharply stepped-up federal efforts, and he
called on Congress to pass legislation to ensure that identity thieves
received longer sentences.
In recent years, sentences imposed on identity thieves who were sent
prison often did not exceed one year. Mr. Ashcroft asked Congress to make
sure newly convicted people served at least two years beyond what they would
Mr. Ashcroft called identity theft "one of the fastest growing crimes
the United States," victimizing 500,000 to 700,000 people each year. He
United States attorneys had brought 25 new cases in the "last 24 hours
Justice Department officials acknowledged that the new charges were
bunched together today to call public attention to the problem and the call
for new legislation. They also noted that prosecutions had significantly
risen each year since the original federal legislation on identity theft
passed in 1998. In the 1999 fiscal year there were 569 cases, then 775 in
2000, 879 in 2001, and through today, in slightly more than seven months
the current fiscal year, 816. At that rate, this year's total would reach
about 1,400 cases.
Department officials could not say what typical sentences were now, but
according to Justice Department data collected by the Transactional Records
Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University, the median term for those sent
to prison in 2001 was 13 months for Secret Service cases and 7 months for
F.B.I. cases. About a third of those convicted were not sentenced to
One indictment announced today charged Joseph Kalady of Chicago with
suffocating a homeless man, William White. It said Mr. Kalady, who was
awaiting trial on charges of counterfeiting birth certificates, Social
Security cards and driver's licenses last December, sought to have Mr. White
cremated under Mr. Kalady's identity. The indictment said Mr. Kalady chose
homeless man for a victim because he expected no one to look for him.
Mr. Kalady was arrested in Boston a few days later by the Secret Service,
a spokesman said. Today he and seven co-defendants including his
brother, sister, niece and doctor were indicted in Chicago.
Mr. Ashcroft cited other cases, including one in Detroit in which
"defendants who located houses owned by elderly citizens assumed their
identities in order to sell or refinance fraudulently the properties." There
were five defendants in that case, which was handed up Wednesday.
In another Detroit case, an administrator of the Kmart Corporation's
stock option plan was accused of stealing the identity of Warren Cooper,
retired executive, and exercising 176,000 options for a gain of
In another case, Mr. Ashcroft said, a hospital employee allegedly stole
the identities of 393 hospital patients to obtain credit cards.
In another case mentioned by the attorney general and explained by the
department, Christopher Lee Jones of Pembroke, N.C., was indicted on
Wednesday in Raleigh after allegedly selling Social Security numbers at
auction on eBay. One notice, the government charged, read "100 (one hundred
social Security # Numbers Obtain False Credit Cards Idenity Theft I Don't
Care Bid Starts At a Dollar a Piece USPS Money Orders only all
Along with the additional two years in prison, the proposed legislation
would make it a crime to possess identifying information about someone else
with intent to commit a felony. Current law bans use, but not possession.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, attended Mr. Ashcroft's
news conference and said she would sponsor the legislation. "This is a crime
that has not been taken terribly seriously until recently," she said.
Ed Mierzwinski, speaking for the United States Public Interest Research
Group, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, said that while tougher
penalties were desirable, they were not enough. The federal government
should force "creditors and credit bureaus to verify and match identities
better, while weaning them from the use of risky and easy to obtain Social
Security numbers," Mr. Mierzwinski said.