Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Very Good News

I just got off the phone with an officer from Jacksonville Beach Police Department and this time the news is good. I am no longer a felon in the FCIC (Florida crime database) or the NCIC (national crime database.) In fact, the process to have me removed began in July of 2006. The local police officer that I had filed the report with in June '06 was eventually able to find the right person in Miami-Dade county to let them know of the error. Travis, if you ever read this, Thank You!

This doesn't mean all is well, but it at least will keep me from being harassed by the police for being thought to be a felon. The problem that still exists is that the FBI sold my information to many companies that resell said information as employment background checks. Unlike the consumer credit reporting agencies, these companies appear to have no legal obligation to verify the information in their databases is accurate. Some may, others may not.

As of today there are still many different databases with information about me in them. For example, the Miami-Dade County Clerk's website still has not been updated. Search for my name and it still returns my name as the primary identity for the crime of drug possession.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) website now returns a record for Antoine Barzotti when you search for my name. The record now shows my name as well as Makenton's as aliases of Antoine. (Makenton was his real name, Antoine was an alias.) It also now says that he is female. Go figure.

If I have to apply for a job or anything else that requires a background check I will still have to provide a copy of the police report explaining what had happened. What I don't like about this is that it requires an extra step for lazy Human Resources people to verify my eligibility for a job. On the other hand, I no longer think I'm destined for a corporate job. For better or for worse, this experience has forced me to make it on my own and now I can't see going back to a cubicle if I don't have to. I'm still going to hedge my bet here and point out that I don't think that all Human Resources people are lazy, just in case.

Over the last year and a half I've had four not-so-pleasant experiences with police officers due to this whole fiasco. First, there was the officer from the bank that was so obnoxious towards me when he dropped off my driver's license, before I knew he thought I was felon. Then there were the three officers that ganged up on me to falsify all those tickets--I'll still be paying for that for years to come insurance-wise. After that there was the bicycle cop that rode up to my house on the Fourth of July and accused me of being a drug dealer in front of all my guests. And finally there was the officer that ran my license plate and locked me in the back of his police car until he could verify that I wasn't really the guy that committed the crimes.

I wrote in one of my posts that I had decided not to live my life in fear, and since I made that decision I've stuck to it. But it's always been there in the back of my mind. Every time I left my house I'd go into a heightened state of alertness. Whenever a police car would be driving behind me the hair would stand up on the back of my neck and a cold sweat would start just below my hairline. There were dozens of nightmares where I was chased by cops, beaten by cops, or shot by cops. I guess when I said I that I wasn't living in fear what I meant to say that I wasn't letting fear control my life because, in reality, the fear was still there.

That's why the news today that I'm no longer in the FCIC and NCIC databases is such a big deal. The officer I spoke with today told me when he ran my name in the computer the felonies had been removed; they didn't just add a note that I'm not that guy, but my name is actually no longer showing up! I know when I finish writing this and I walk out my front door I'm going to feel a lot different than I've felt in a long time. I can't really explain how I'll feel different, which is why I've just described how I had been feeling for the last year and a half.

I have more that I need to write, so please don't think that this is the end of my blog. If you have subscribed, please stay subscribed. I just need to go outside for a bit. Thanks for reading.

...more to come...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Update

Just a little warning for fellow residents of JSO jurisdiction: Wearing a Halloween mask in public in public is now illegal. "If you are caught wearing a mask in public and you're over 16, you can face a fine of about $1,000 and a year in prison." [Read about it here.] Wow, I'll sure feel safer this Halloween. Anyway, back to the irregularly scheduled blog...

Sorry I haven't updated my blog in a while. I've made zero progress resolving the Identity Theft issue since last time I wrote, but today I received a phone call that makes me think things are about to change. More on that in a minute, but first I'd like to answer an e-mail...

Tom B wrote:
That’s one hell of a story. What I don’t understand is what the benefit was for this Louis guy to steal your identity if it wasn’t for financial reasons. He still goes to jail either way. Was he using your good credit too or did that criminal record causing you to be banned from working and unable to pay your debts ruin your credit?
I responded:
To answer your question regarding Makenton Louis: He was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with intent to cause serious injury in 1996. As far as I can tell he fled the state on bail and assumed other identities. Despite the fact that he was wanted for such a serious crime he continued to commit more crimes, and when caught he would use another identity. He was able to avoid going to prison or even paying his fines by doing this until 2003. It appears that someone finally figured out who he really was and some of the identities that he used. He was finally incarcerated in December of 2003 and released on parole in October of 2006. He currently resides in Hillside, NJ. Unfortunately several criminal databases still list the identities he used as my AKA's instead of his.

He did not use my good credit--my credit was destroyed when I went from making $25/hr to making $7/hr. I used my credit cards to pay my bills confident that I would soon find another job and be able to pay them off. By the time I figured out what was going on my credit was already wrecked. Since it was legitimate debt that I incurred there isn't really any way to fix it other than paying it off or declaring bankruptcy.

Fortunately my software business has started bringing in enough money to support myself and to start setting things straight. I need to update my blog to reflect this. I appreciate your offer to help and I think the best thing would be to let people know about my blog if you run into anyone that might be interested. This is something that really could happen to anyone. I personally just want to go back to living a normal life, but I would like the problem itself to get more attention. I'm not the only person that this has happened to, and it will continue happening to people until something changes.
In short, he was able to avoid jail and fines because he got a bail bond using my identity and then skipped out on it.

Again, my apologies for waiting so long to update this blog. Also, I'd like to thank the people that donated. The total donations to date are $60. It's not a lot, but one month it saved me from accidentally overdrafting my checking account when I paid my rent. I have since returned the $60 to my savings account.

At this point my financial situation has improved enough that I'm no longer struggling to keep a roof over my head. I've even been able to get medical and dental insurance since the last time I wrote. If anyone still wants to donate because they like my blog, that's great and the money is appreciated. However, I think it's important to let people know my financial situation is no longer as dire as it was when I first added the "donate" button to my blog.

The issue of legal fees was the other reason for the donate button. It looks like I may not need that pricey lawyer anymore after all. Remember that phone call I mentioned at the beginning of this post...? The phone call was from Brian at the Identity Theft Resource Center in California.

The ITRC is a non-profit organization that helps victims of identity theft. I initially contacted the ITRC in June of 2006 when I first found out about my criminal record. At the time they didn't have anyone available to handle my case since it was a Criminal ID Theft case. A couple months later I received a call from a new volunteer at the ITRC named Brian. Brian was retired and volunteered at the Center because his wife had also been a victim of ID theft. I liked him and could tell that he was a dedicated individual, but most of the information he had for me was things I'd already figured out. I guess that was about a year ago.

Last month I received a voicemail from Brian asking me to give him a call and to let him know if I'd had any luck resolving my case. He also said that he'd found out a lot of new stuff since we had originally talked and that if I was stalled he could help out. So we did the phone tag thing for about a month, and then as I was writing this post he finally caught me while I wasn't on the phone. We talked for about 40 minutes. One thing I can tell about Brian is that he can be a bureaucratic paper-pusher's worst nightmare if they aren't willing to do their job; the kind of guy that is going to make you AND your supervisor both wish you'd never gotten out of bed that morning if you give him any crap.

So the good news is Brian says he's got the Florida system figured out. He says he knows which people he needs to talk to and what needs to be done to have this removed from my record.

The next step is for me to go back to the police station and have them take my fingerprints and mugshots so they can be compared with the records in Miami. This is where I got stalled last time. I filed reports with both police stations but then nothing happened.

This time I need to make an appointment with someone from the fraud department if they have one. Either way I have to make sure they know that they need to send my prints and mugshot to Miami-Dade PD. This is where Brian comes in. I'll give him the name and number of the person that takes the report and he will follow up with them for me. He will either help them if they need help or hound them if they need hounding. And he'll do it repeatedly if necessary. For as long as it takes.

The other good news is that Brian is no longer a volunteer, but is now a full-time employee at the ITRC. He told me he can sit on the phone all day now hounding people to solve these problems. And I can tell he enjoys doing it too.

Next post: Very Good News

Friday, June 15, 2007

Another victim of the system

Drew You Too posted a couple comments to my blog, including one that links to his experiences as a victim of the same crime. He's clearly pursued the matter further than I have at this point. What he's found out so far is extremely disturbing. Here's a snippet from his blog:
There must be some legal recourse you’re thinking. There isn’t. Well let me rephrase that, if I were wealthy I would have plenty of legal options. As I stated before I am on the verge of losing everything I own so needless to say I don’t have five to ten thousand dollars to drop on a high priced lawyer as a retainer. I have spoken with eight different attorneys and all have said that they would require a minimum retainer of two and a half thousand dollars to assist me. That assistance would only be in clearing my name at the national level and would not involve any monetary compensation. In other words, it’s not profitable so we don’t want to touch it. I have spoken with my State Senator on the phone and been told that I am doing everything I can. Gee, thanks Congressman, I feel a lot better now about my tax dollars paying your salary. I have contacted the Federal Trade Commission, Social Security Administration, ACLU, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (who petitioned Congress to do something about this particular form of identity theft in 2004), and several other groups and agencies. The general consensus is that without money I am doing everything that can be done currently, all at my expense of course.

Perhaps the biggest insult of all comes in the form of how this will continue to affect me even once I have been cleared at the National level. For the rest of my life (that is assuming I can continue to stomach living in this country) I will have to report to the Authorities once a year. I will have to be fingerprinted and have a background check run on myself . Upon being cleared I will be issued documentation that I have to carry on my person AT ALL TIMES. Also, once the information is cleared from my record there is no guarantee that the Data will not once again be merged. In addition, the documentation will not prevent harassment by Police or other law enforcement agencies. After all, if they can't be bothered upon booking and incarcerating a criminal to verify their identity they're certainly not going to do much better with a routine traffic stop.

(Full text here: It could happen to you)
So what happens next? Well, here's a snippet from another post on Drew's blog:
I have gotten my "clearance" from state Authorities regarding my criminal record and nothing has changed. Well, okay, something has changed. Any small shred of hope I had for ever regaining my life has now completely vanished. The State Authorities have issued me a letter of clearance which I took to the Local Authorities. The Certificate and letter state that "I have no criminal record" and the Local Authorities view is that since "I have no criminal record", there is no reason for them to remove the charges that are on my local criminal record. The State Records Inspection Department determined that someone was arrested as me in 1997, but since it was verified though Fingerprint Identification that it was not me that I have no reason to pursue this matter further. No reason to pursue this matter further?!! Why the hell couldn't they have verified in 1997 when the offender was arrested that he was not me? And what kind of drugs are these people on to think that after having this ruin my life for the last decade that I have "No reason to pursue this further"???

(Full text here: Disgustapated)
In my post Why don't they just fix the error? I speculated on the obvious question, "Why don't they just fix the error?" Drew responded with the most reasonable explanation I've seen yet. There's certainly an incentive to sweep these mistakes under the rug.

Drew wrote:
They don't just fix the error because that would be an admission of guilt by Law Enforcement. Admission of guilt + correction of record = Civil Liability. Sucks doesn't it? And for all these comments suggesting you sue, I suppose they don't realize that when you can't get a job (a REAL job) you can't afford an attorney. I've only found ONE attourney who would handle my case and the lawsuit it involves and he won't touch it unless I have at least $50,000 dollars to spend on the litigation. Fifty Grand???!!! I'm lucky these last two years if I have Fifty Cents in my pocket.
I'm just so disgusted with this whole thing. A system like this is not what our forefathers fought and died for. The constitution says that it is our right to face our accusers. We were denied that right, but rather than set things straight, the government would prefer to continue victimizing the victims in order to avoid possible liability for its negligence.

Remember that article from the Washington Post about Elias Fishburne that I wrote about back in April? Here's an excerpt from the newspaper article:

A brochure from the District Court of Maryland explains that if Fishburne wants to expunge the record he shouldn't have, he will first have to sign a waiver freeing the state from any liability and forfeiting any right to sue.

Anyone starting to see a pattern here? Is this the type of country that we want to live in? What's it going to be like when our children grow up if we continue to accept these things? Will they have a government that serves them well, or will they be servants of their government? I've already picked my side in that battle.

Don't wait for the mainstream media to pick your presidential candidates for you otherwise you'll be voting for the lesser of two sell-outs. Voting in November 2008 alone is not going to get us out of this mess. If you want a change you need to start doing your research now so you can vote in the primaries. There are good candidates that aren't hard to find if you look. Remember, the candidates with the most funding are the candidates that will get the most air-time. And, the candidates that are getting the most funding now aren't being funded by organizations with America's citizens' best interests at heart. Just some food for thought.

Next post: Halloween Update

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Donation Button Disclosure

OK, I feel a little weird about this, but I'm doing it anyway. I really intended to take care of this problem myself. I talked to an attorney about this a year ago when I first found out that there were crimes on my record. He warned me back then that I would need legal help to get the crimes removed, but I naively assumed that I could work my way through the system and get it fixed. In a couple days it will be a full year since I found out what was going on, and to be honest I haven't really gotten anywhere.

Well, recently I've had several people encourage me to request financial assistance. A couple people commented that I should add a PayPal "Make Donations" button, and now I have. Until now I've declined everyone's offers for donations, but I've finally been convinced to swallow my pride and accept the help that others are offering. I sincerely appreciate all the kind words and moral support that everyone has given me so far. It's made me feel a lot better about the world to find out that so many people that don't even know me would be so caring.

One of the other reasons, besides my pride, that I didn't want to accept donations is I wanted to remain somewhat anonymous. I was kind of vague about the "local police department" because I didn't want to get into some kind of pissing contest with them over this story. Also, I was concerned about future customers/employers googling what I've written and not wanting to deal with me. But at this point I don't think that really matters.

If I'm going to accept donations I think people should know who I am. My name is Todd Fennell. I grew up in Blairstown, NJ and I currently live in Jacksonville Beach, FL. I've been programming computers as a hobby since my first Apple II+ computer in 1981. My career however was mostly tech support until 2000 when I took on a year-long programming project. Presently I own and maintain software I wrote that helps car dealerships manage their inventory--it's a little more complicated than that, but that's the simple explanation.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections and the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the guy that stole my identity is called Makenton Louis. He's also gone by the names Antoine Barzotti, Kevin Baker, and Louis Makenton in addition to my name. All I have figured out about him is that he was accused of assaulting some people in New Jersey in 1996 and was finally captured in Miami, FL in late 2003 after committing several crimes along the way. He was released from prison in late 2006. I don't know what he's up to now.

My goal is to clear my name and repair my credit as best I can. Some day I think I'd like to get my story published and hopefully help others that have something like this happen to them.

Next post: Another victim of the system

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why don't they just fix the error?

One question I'm sure people are asking themselves is "Why doesn't the state just fix the error?" They already know and have proof that the person they convicted was not me--that's not in question. Well, I've had a year to think about this so I've come to some conclusions.

The simple answer seems to be "Because it's no one's job to fix it." And trying to get a government employee to do something that is not within the scope of their job is difficult to say the least. Not because they refuse to do it, but because they say "Oh, that's not our department. You need to contact someone else. Not sure who you need to contact, but it's not me!"

The more complicated answer seems to be something like this: There's someone somewhere who's job it is to fix it, but they can't fix it without someone else somewhere else telling them to fix it. And that someone needs another someone to tell them to tell the first someone to fix it before they can tell them to fix it. I could continue with this explanation further, but let's just say that there are several bureaucracies involved, and navigating through them is pretty much impossible without an attorney.

You would think that it would be a priority to fix such a huge error, but since there is no money in it for them, they just don't care. On the other hand, if it was a situation where they felt I owed them money, they would most certainly do everything they could to make sure that I did my part to make sure they got that money. At some point they would send a car to pick me up and bring me downtown. Then they'd put me up at their facility across the street from the courthouse for a couple nights until they could provide me with a judge to sort it out. That's the kind of thing they care about.

Next post: Donation Button Disclosure

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The New Jersey Connection

So far I've tried to get everyone up to date with my current situation via this blog. However, I had to leave a lot of things out in order to get this far in the story this quickly. Now it's time to start filling in some of the blanks, starting with this post.

I knew from talking to the State Attorney's Office that I needed to file a report with the Miami-Dade Police Department. I was able to do this over the phone, so I was able to take care of this right away. The other thing they told me I had to do was file a report in person so they could verify that I wasn't the criminal that committed the crimes. This meant I needed to visit the local police department which I was somewhat reluctant to do given my recent experiences with the police.

I'd already scoured the Internet for information about the other AKA's that were listed on my record. One with the first name of "Makenton" stood out because it was a fairly uncommon name. The other reason it stood out was that the last known address I could find for Makenton was in Rahway, NJ. In 1989 and 1990 I went to school at DeVry Tech and the off-campus housing that they put me in was in Avenel, NJ, right on the border of Rahway, NJ.

I began to wonder if he knew someone at the school and was able to get my information there. Or maybe he or someone he knew moved into my old apartment and got mail directed to me after my mail stopped being forwarded to my next address. I'm still wondering these things because I still don't know how he got my information.

One night I was hanging out with some friends and we had the idea to check the Florida Department of Corrections website to see if they had any information. Sure enough, they had a record of him complete with a photo. Then I went on to check out the New Jersey Department of Corrections website. Bingo, another hit with a more recent photo. He was in prison in New Jersey for two counts of aggravated assault and attempting to cause serious bodily injury. The crimes had been committed in June of 1996. He was taken into custody on December 23, 2003. He'd been on the run for seven and a half years.

Prior to looking the the NJ DOC website I hadn't known about the assault charges. It put some things into perspective. The police officer from the bank grilling me about where I'd lived prior to my current address... I'd told him that I had moved down from New Jersey--and it just happened to be that I moved down from New Jersey not long after the assaults had been committed. No wonder he thought I was a criminal.

With the print-outs of the DOC information on Makenton AKA me, I finally felt I could walk into the local police station to file my report. I still notified a friend that I was on my way to file the report, just in case I didn't return.

After explaining my problem at the local police station I had to wait about an hour for a police officer to arrive to take my report. There were a couple people talking in the lobby, so the officer had me step outside with him to take the report. I asked him to run my driver's license through the computer in his car to see what would come up. After a couple moments a screen full of information popped up, and the audio on the computer said "WARRANT."

Looking at the screen, the first words out of the officer's mouth were "Man, this guy's a real piece of shit." He then told me that if I hadn't brought proof that it wasn't me we would have been taking a ride downtown. The county jail is located downtown, so in this case "downtown" isn't just a euphemism.

He said that the warrant probably was no longer in the JSO's computer, and that was why the JSO officer didn't arrest me. After all, the guy was already in prison, so the warrant was no longer valid. Unfortunately, not everyone has the updated information even though he had been in prison for over three years.

Next post: Why don't they just fix the error?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Good news / Bad news

The good news is that I'm not going to have a "Driving While Suspended" charge added to my record. The bad news is I still had to pay $190 in court costs to get out of the ticket. It stinks that I had to spend two days in court and $190 to avoid this, but at this point I'm just glad to have it out of my way. I was really concerned that I was going to end up with an offense on my record that I would never be able to get rid of. It's been hard enough trying to figure out how to get the crimes of the identity thief removed.

The judge was willing to drop the charges because it was obvious that I had paid the fines and had acted in good faith. I asked her specifically "So, if I pay fines by mail they don't enter them as paid until they actually deposit the check, as opposed to when the payment is actually received." She confirmed that this was the case, and also said that the best way to avoid this is to hand-deliver your payment so that you will receive proof of when you actually paid the fines.

After leaving the courthouse I went directly to the County Clerk's office and paid the $190 in court costs so that they can't do the same thing to me again. I have a dated receipt this time, so it shouldn't be a problem again. At least I hope it won't.

Later that evening some friends and I went to a local sports bar to get some wings, and while we were eating I noticed two of the clerks from the County Clerk's office sitting at the bar. The one that I had paid the court costs to was on his cell phone, and the other was sitting there with no one to talk to. So I went up to her and joked, "Hey, I just paid you guys $190 in court costs today. Any chance you could pick up my tab?" She recognized me and we ended up having an interesting conversation about people's licenses getting suspended.

I told her that my neighbor had just told me that the same thing happened to him. He had paid his fines, and nearly two years later he got pulled over and received a ticket for driving while suspended. He had never received notification that his license had been suspended either. The clerk said that she had actually talked to a judge about this before. She was told that the state expects you to know the status of your driver's license regardless of whether they notify you or not. She also told me that the judges had to execute the law so they can't just dismiss these tickets outright. What they can do is amend the charge to driving without your driver's license with you, which they can drop the fines for and just charge court costs. At least that's my understanding. I didn't get around to confirming the details of this.

She also warned me about another common "trick" (her word) that they use. In Florida, when you drop an insurance policy the insurance company is required to notify the state that you no longer have insurance on your vehicle. If you don't turn in your tags or give them proof that you've sold the uninsured vehicle they will automatically suspend your driver's license. You should be notified when this happens, but obviously this is not always the case.

The "trick" however, occurs when you switch insurance companies. If the old company notifies them that you dropped your policy before the new insurance company notifies them that you have a new policy they will suspend your driver's license. Even if you have an insurance card proving that you have insurance you can still be issued a ticket for driving while suspended. You will then be required to go to court to prove that you had insurance before they will drop the charge. The court costs for this add up to $250. She said they would usually drop the court costs in this situation, but you have to ask them to drop them. Keep this in mind if this ever happens to you.

She said the only way to be certain to avoid this when switching insurance companies is to immediately bring your new insurance card to the DMV and show them that you've got a new insurance company. Also, if you have a vehicle that you've sold or no longer drive, make sure to bring your tags back to the DMV or an affidavit stating that the vehicle has been sold or is no longer being driven. Otherwise it's very likely that your license will get suspended.

Is this a failure of the system, or does it work this way by design?

Next post: The New Jersey Connection