Man guilty of stealing dead neighbor's identity

February 18, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

For three years after he died, Frederick A. Kessler Jr. continued to pay his bills. His mortgage was caught up, his utilities covered and his taxes dutifully paid. His mail, too, was regularly collected.

It turns out that was the problem.

Yesterday, a 45-year-old Baltimore man pleaded guilty to stealing Kessler's identity, in part by stealing his mail. David Anthony Johnson faces 30 years in federal prison and a fine of $1 million, according to the Maryland U.S. attorney's office. The government did not name Kessler in court documents; The Baltimore Sun identified him through public records.

A statement of facts attached to Johnson's plea agreement says he and a co-conspirator, who lived next door to Kessler, swiped the man's mail after he died in July 2004 at the age of 70 and used the information to open or extend credit accounts in Kessler's name. They took over his financial assets and paid his obligations to make it appear Kessler was alive.

As a retired Baltimore County employee, Kessler received a pension and Social Security Administration benefits, both of which were deposited directly into a credit union account he held. Johnson and his partner diverted about $95,000 worth of payments to themselves. By the time the fraud was discovered in late 2007, Johnson had stolen about $140,000, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Plea negotiations are continuing with Johnson's alleged partner, according to a scheduling document filed last month in Baltimore U.S. District Court.

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