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