Identity theft is one of the most commonly prosecuted white collar crimes in Texas. If you intentionally use someone else’s name, Social Security number, or other personal identifying information (PII) to obtain money, credit, or anything else of value, you can face serious federal criminal charges. And prosecutors will not hesitate to charge a potential defendant just because they happen to work for the government.
Indeed, federal prosecutors here in Houston recently obtained an indictment against a Laredo-based Department of Homeland Security employee accused of committing identity theft. According to the indictment, which was filed on July 14 in Houston federal court, the defendant allegedly stole PII from at least three individuals, all of whom were deceased, and used that information to obtain loans in their names.
The indictment identified three loans obtained by the defendant between December 2018 and July 2019, each using the PII of a different deceased individual. One of the individuals was an unidentified former Border Patrol agent who “died in the line of duty when struck by a motor vehicle near Abilene, Texas,” in February 2019. The defendant allegedly obtained a loan for $3,750 using the agent’s PII approximately five days after he died.
Altogether, the indictment alleged the defendant obtained over $33,000 in loans, all from the same lender.
The indictment specifically charged the defendant with three counts of wire fraud. This refers to the defendant’s alleged use of the Internet to apply for loans online using the stolen PII. If convicted on any of the three counts, the defendant faces up to 20 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. According to a July 17 press release from Houston U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick, the defendant was taken into custody pending a July 24 hearing.
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It is important to remember that an indictment is not a conviction. Under the U.S. Constitution, a grand jury may issue an indictment whenever there is “probable cause” to believe a person may have committed a crime. This is a significantly lower burden of proof than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the standard necessary to actually convict someone.
Another thing to keep in mind: Before a grand jury votes to issue an indictment, it typically only hears one side of the story, i.e., the prosecution’s account of what happened. The defendant does not have the right to present evidence or cross-examine witnesses before the grand jury. This only takes place at the defendant’s trial.
None of this is to suggest you should not take an indictment. To the contrary, if a grand jury has issued an indictment against you, that means prosecutors are confident they can ultimately prove your guilt at trial. So you need to take the matter seriously. Your first step should be to hire an experienced white collar criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston, Houston or League City today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away. Call (281) 280-0100.