The decades-long nightmare that ruined Marcus Calvillo’s life started when he was a teenager and was wrongly accused of writing bad checks. His driver’s license was later revoked for a slew of unpaid traffic tickets he never received. Then he got fired from his job as a cable installer, being told only, “You know what you did.”
Today, the 45-year-old Texas man can’t keep a job, pay his bills or support his children. But a case unfolding in federal court in Kansas is offering him the first real hope of clearing his name, after federal prosecutors charged a convicted child sex offender with assuming Calvillo’s entire identity.
“My whole life has been put on hold because of this person, and it has gotten worse and worse and worse,” Calvillo said.
After years of fighting to straighten it out, Calvillo, who was born in Oregon, had about given up when he read an Associated Press story about a total identity theft case in 2013 involving Houston teacher Candida Gutierrez. He contacted the federal prosecutor in Kansas who was involved in that, thinking the official, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson, might help him as well.
Anderson said he found Calvillo’s case “especially horrible, frustrating, disheartening,” because the impostor in Kansas was convicted of a child sex crime.
It illustrates the fallout of “total identity theft,” in which con artists go beyond financial fraud. It typically involves people living illegally in the United States who initially use the identities to get jobs. Prosecutors say the workers often then use the identities of U.S. citizens for years – entangling employment records, criminal histories, credit, government benefit accounts and even health information.
The impact can be far more devastating. The thief who stole Gutierrez’s identity didn’t just open fraudulent credit and bank accounts. The woman used her persona to get a job, a driver’s license, a mortgage and medical care for her children. She even listed Gutierrez’s name as the mother on the birth certificates of her two U.S.-born children.
More than 330,000 identity theft complaints were lodged with the Federal Trade Commission last year. While it doesn’t track total identity fraud, 17 percent of the complaints involved more than one type of identity theft.
“All indications are that this is something that is rampant, and once a person finds out that their number is being used by somebody else – as Mr. Calvillo will attest – it is very, very difficult to deal with it and get any peace, any real assurance that nobody is going to be using that number again,” Anderson said.
When the man who assumed Calvillo’s identity had his first run-in with law enforcement as a teenager, his fingerprints became linked to Calvillo’s name in crime databases. So did his subsequent convictions for indecent liberties with a child, bribery, drug offenses and others.
Calvillo was in his 20s when he learned his identity had been hijacked by a sex offender. After being turned down for numerous jobs, Calvillo demanded that the clerk at a temporary employment service explain why he wouldn’t be hired there either – prompting her to highlight the crimes on his background check and give him a copy.
“I almost broke down,” he recalled. “Oh my God! This is why I couldn’t get this job.”
Complicating Calvillo’s efforts over the years is a Kansas statute aimed at helping officials keep track of those convicted of crimes that has been routinely interpreted as requiring an inmate to refer to himself, and be referred to by the Department of Corrections, by the name under which he was convicted.
Calvillo, a father of six, said he has gotten a divorce and owes more than $40,000 in child support he cannot pay while working occasionally at odd jobs. He went to cosmetology school, but then couldn’t get a license. He tangled with the Internal Revenue Service over wages paid to the impostor, who worked at a Kansas meatpacking plant. He lost his house.
Then, in September, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against the man accused of impersonating Calvillo. Fernando Neave-Ceniceros, 43, a Mexican national, was charged with aggravated identity theft, making a false statement to the government, misuse of a Social Security number, and false claim of U.S. citizenship.
Neave-Ceniceros, an inmate at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility, did not respond to a letter seeking comment. Court records do not show an attorney.
To set Calvillo’s record straight, federal prosecutors plan to go back to the counties where the alleged impostor was convicted and seek to correct the defendant’s name.
“I think we will be able to get that done through the U.S. attorney’s office eventually with the help of the courts and state officials and local officials,” Anderson said. “But it is still going to require a lot of time and effort.”