My Doppelganger, the Debt Monger
Last year a 42-year-old convicted felon with a history of fraud stole my identity.
Though Thomas Barrett Stringer admitted to spending lots of money (an estimated $4000) in my name — renting a car, opening two credit card accounts, and connecting three cell phones — the cops can't bust him. According to North Bay Village Police Det. Philip Register, who investigated my complaint, state prosecutors are not going after Stringer. "The State Attorney's Office is doing absolutely nothing," Register said. "They pretty much dropped the whole case."
The saga began August 6, 2006, when I received a letter from Enterprise Rent-A-Car notifying me I had failed to return and pay for a Chrysler 300 luxury sedan in Charleston, South Carolina: "You are in default of your rental car agreement and owe Enterprise Rent-A-Car $948.52. If you do not return the vehicle immediately, Enterprise will be forced to report you to the proper law enforcement authorities."
I was dumbfounded. I have never stepped foot in Charleston or rented a car there, much less anywhere else in South Kakalaki.
So I called Enterprise. Loss control manager Olivia Speares informed me the perpetrator had provided a credit card and a Florida driver's license bearing my name and a home address of 7924 East Dr. in North Bay Village. I never lived there.
Immediately following my conversation with Speares, I filed a complaint with the Charleston Police Department over the phone and called in a fraud alert with the three major credit reporting agencies. On August 9, 2006, Charleston Police Ofcr. Rodney Thompson called me and took my statement.
Nine days later, Thompson faxed me a copy of the police report. Thompson wrote he had spoken to Speares, who had claimed a friend of mine "had called her to say I got spooked by the letter and I had dropped off the missing car at an undisclosed location on Dorchester Road in North Charleston. The car had approximately $400 in body damage." It didn't end there.
On August 22, I received a phone call from John Conenna, a tough-sounding fraud investigator with Merrill Lynch, inquiring about my credit card application with the financial giant. Turns out the former New York Police detective had flagged the application because of my fraud alert. "Wasn't me," I explained. "Someone stole my name and driver's license number."
"That's not all he's got," Conenna said. "He's got your Social Security number too." Then he asked me to help Merrill Lynch bust the chump. "I'll send him a credit card and a checkbook in your name via UPS," he explained. "And when he signs for the package, the cops will be there to arrest him."
So the following day I contacted the North Bay Village Police Department and spoke with Detective Register. On August 25, 2006, Register and several officers went to 7924 East Dr. UPS delivered the package to Apartment 405. A five-foot seven-inch 37-year-old with brown hair and blue eyes named Henry Francis Stringer signed for the package addressed to me. Within minutes, Register knocked on the door and cuffed Henry.
The detective found a piece of paper with my name and a number on it. Worse, there was apparently purloined personal data belonging to three other victims. Henry claimed his older brother Thomas, who was not home at the time, instructed him to accept mail and packages addressed to me and the other individuals. While he was detaining Henry, Register says, he spoke to Thomas on the phone. The sleuth warned Thomas that Henry would go to jail if he didn't turn himself in. "Thomas was arrogant, cocky," Register said. "His last words were 'Catch me if you can.'"
The same day, Register charged Henry with three felonies: fraudulent use of someone else's identity, organized scheme to defraud, and credit card theft. "I know Thomas is guilty," Register said. "And Henry knew exactly what his brother was doing. He was definitely involved. Heck, he was getting free cable in his apartment under your name."
After Henry pleaded not guilty, Thomas, a five-foot ten-inch man with auburn hair, stepped in. This is where the story gets weird. On January 3, he penned a letter to Henry's public defender, absolving his brother. The letter was submitted as evidence. "Henry had no idea what he was signing for, nor did he know anything of the crimes being perpetrated," Thomas wrote. "These charges belong to me, and I would expect the court/police to take appropriate action."
Thomas admitted he had obtained a duplicate of my driver's license by using a prepaid credit card in my name: "I had used the identity of Frank Alvarado for the purposes of committing more of the same type things that this case represents, and originally to avoid using my own identity, all since December 2005."
On the day his brother was arrested for stealing my identity, Thomas was in a hotel in Atlanta, he claims. "I only advised Henry to sign for a package that was due to be delivered via UPS," Thomas wrote, "that my employee Frank Alvarado would be receiving a package." Then he mentioned he had a "well-documented criminal history."
So I looked him up. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Thomas had been arrested in 1990 on charges he set up a phony bank and, with phony checks, went on a $150,000 spending spree that netted him a grand piano, an $8000 painting, and a Porsche. He also stayed at several Atlanta hotels, rented an office, and obtained a telephone number for the phony bank. When merchants called the number to verify checks, the call was forwarded to a hotel room where Henry and their sister Joann answered the phone, saying "Atlanta Bank." The two siblings were also arrested for aiding Thomas in the commission of a crime. They were not convicted.
Then I headed for the Florida Department of Corrections Website. Between 1990 and 1993, Thomas was arrested more than three dozen times for issuing fraudulent checks, committing grand theft auto, and (here's a shocker) failing to return a rental car in Palm Beach and Seminole counties. He received probation each time.
On June 12, 2001, Thomas was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison on multiple felony counts of grand theft and forging checks in Broward County. Henry's name does not come up in the state's criminal offender database. In fact the first time Henry had ever been arrested in South Florida was when he was busted for allegedly stealing my identity.
This past May 23, after three continuances, Henry went before Circuit Court Judge David Young, who dismissed the charges. Although I knew about the hearing, I didn't attend because I had presumed Henry had agreed to do one year of probation and enter a pretrial diversion program, according to information I had received from the State Attorney's Office. I was wrong.
Later that day, Assistant State Attorney Margaret Gerson phoned me to say Henry got off on a legal technicality. "No one actually saw him using your personal information," Gerson said. What about Thomas? "Well, the detective never arrested him," she said, "so there is not much we can do."
Following that conversation, I cursed myself for not reporting the Stringers to the U.S. Postal Service or a federal law enforcement agency like the Secret Service or the FBI. Detective Register concurred. "Since your case, I've taken all my ID fraud investigations to the feds," he said. "They make sure you have an airtight case before you even cuff anybody."
Meanwhile Henry still resides in his North Bay Village apartment. I stopped by twice to introduce myself, but Henry wasn't home. I left him my business card and a note to call me for comment, but I haven't heard from him.
It's not over. Last month I received a letter from a collections agency demanding I send them $1348.52 plus 10 percent interest. The creditor: Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.