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Navy personnel clerk accused of running identity theft ring

The Virginian-Pilot
October 14, 2004

NORFOLK — Middle-class merchandise from Target and predictable purchases from Home Depot on one end – and Cadillac, BMW and Lexus cars on the other.

Both ends were allegedly part of the spoils from an identity theft ring that struck more than 20 naval officers assigned to the Norfolk-based carrier George Washington last year.

Navy lawyers say names, Social Security numbers and other personal information were “stolen” by Curtis L. Phillips, an enlisted personnel administrator aboard the ship.

Phillips, 28, has been charged with illegally accessing government information to open fraudulent accounts, stealing vehicles, wrongfully using a government computer and exceeding authorized access to obtain personal information of other sailors.

At an Article 32 hearing – the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing or grand jury proceeding – at Norfolk Naval Station on Wednesday, the government added on an additional charge: fraudulently enlisting in the Navy in 2000 , a charge stemming from Phillips’ not admitting that he had been arrested numerous times, according to testimony.

Lt. Mark Takla , the government’s attorney, said Phillips’ actions resulted in the theft of more than $250,000 worth of property. A key piece of evidence tying Phillips to the crimes: the key to a BMW 528 that Baltimore County police said they found during a search of Phillips’ house in January.

According to a microchip embedded in the key, the 2000 model car was registered to Ensign Eric M. Laettner , a fellow sailor on the GW. Laettner testified Wednesday that he didn’t purchase the $31,000 car – or an $11,000 Suzuki motorcycle that later showed up on his credit report, or an $840 television from Sears.

Laettner, who appeared to be one of the ship’s first victims, said he reported the identity theft to credit bureaus in June 2003 and filed a report with the Portsmouth Police Department.

About three months later, while at sea, Laettner found out he wasn’t alone. A Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent stationed on the ship, Lee Young , got word of a possible ID theft ring from a Baltimore County police detective.

Young said Wednesday that once he learned of the problem, he e-mailed all the officers on the ship, urging them to check their credit reports.

It was the Baltimore detective who apparently cracked the ring. The detective – who because of undercover work asked not to be named in print – also testified.

The police officer, a member of the Baltimore County police department’s economic crimes unit, said Target Corporation alerted them to fraudulent credit accounts started in Maryland last November . Further investigation showed that multiple victims were stationed on the GW, so the detective notified Young.

The detective also testified to a second link between the ID theft ring and Phillips, saying that a suspicious employee at a motorcycle dealership thought something was wrong when four individuals arrived to pick up a motorcycle that had been purchased by someone else.

The officer said that a clerk wrote down the license plate number of their car – a Crown Victoria registered to Phillips, whose wife lives in Maryland .

Navy Mid-Atlantic regional spokeswoman Beth Baker said Phillips, who is not in custody, still serves aboard the carrier – though not in the personnel office.

Phillips has two lawyers defending him – one from the Navy and David Price , a retired captain who practices privately.

Price said the government has not proved that Phillips stole other sailors’ identities, even if he did have computer access to their records.

Price called the BMW key and the license plate connection to Phillips circumstantial, and noted that Phillips was never seen at the stores where individuals used the stolen identities to apply for fraudulent accounts.

Price also disagreed with the newest charge – that Phillips fraudulently enlisted by not disclosing at least 10 arrests in the late 1990s, on charges that ranged from theft to trespassing to possession of a deadly weapon with intent to injure. Price said the government didn’t submit documents showing that Phillips failed to include his record.

Investigating Officer Karen Somers – a lieutenant commander and the judge of whether the case has merit – didn’t issue a ruling Wednesday.

She said she has a range of options, from recommending that the charges be dropped to recommending a court martial or “captain’s mast,” a non-judicial punishment decided by a sailor’s commanding officer.

Reach Kate Wiltrout at 446-2629 or kate.wiltrout@pilotonline.com

Here's the point that The Legal Eagles would like to make. Each of those gentlemen whose identities were stolen should have 100% unlimited legal access, and 100% unlimited identity theft protection.

We know that the best way for them to do it (according to the American bar association), is by checking out a prepaid legal plan.


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