Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sunday Globe Special: The Weird Case of Jeremy Wilson

"The lives and lies of a professional impostor" by James C. McKinley Jr. and Rick Rojas New York Times  February 07, 2016

NEW YORK — He strolled into a police station in Manhattan on Jan. 4 wearing a Harvard sweatshirt, a “Wounded Warrior” cap, and military dog tags. He said he was Jeremiah Asimov-Beckingham, a veteran of Afghanistan, wounded in combat, now working as an airline executive. He had come to the station to pick up his car.

His new BMW had been impounded, he believed, as evidence in a random crime. But it was a ploy. Police were hoping to lure a man suspected of forging checks in Cambridge, Mass., to steal $70,000 and the BMW, which they had tracked to a Manhattan garage. They put Asimov-Beckingham in handcuffs and charged him with larceny.

Investigators soon learned that the man’s name was not Asimov-Beckingham. He had never been wounded in combat, nor had he ever served in the military. New York detectives and Homeland Security agents found an Indiana birth certificate in his immigration file showing his name as Jeremy Wilson, born in Indianapolis in July 1973. It was the oldest document in the file, so they charged him under that name.

Still, his identity was a puzzle. He had spent 25 years stealing Social Security numbers and fabricating new aliases, leaving behind a thicket of confusing and falsified records. Six weeks earlier, he had been released from a federal prison in New Hampshire, where he had served six years for identity theft as Jeremy Clark-Erskine. But he had more than 27 aliases in five states. His birth certificate had been altered several times. Even his citizenship was in doubt. Now he is at Rikers Island jail, awaiting trial.

“There is so much misinformation about me, no one can say with absolute certainty who I am,” he said in an interview there late last month. 

That's about when I lost interest. Sorry.

Further complicating matters, Wilson, 42, was now calling himself Jeremy Keenan and claiming to be the son of a famed Irish Republican Army leader, Brian Keenan. (Keenan died in 2008.)

The IRA is still punching (or Drumming), though.

Whatever his parentage, investigators say Wilson is a professional impostor and a skilled forger.

He fits the profile of scammers who derive as much pleasure from hoodwinking others as they do from reaping a profit, said Louis B. Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The elaborate fictions these swindlers spin tend to inflate their own egos.

“It’s always grandiose,” Schlesinger said. “It’s always extraordinary.”

Criminals like Wilson also tend to lack empathy for their victims, experts said.

“That’s their watch; it just happens to be on the other person’s wrist,” Schlesinger said. “They see the world very differently than you do.”

In other words, he sees it like a Wall Street banker.

His most embittered victims say he has a gift for lulling people into trusting him. His lies are detailed, and he backs them up with forged documents, checks, letters, passports, court orders.

His life of duplicity started early. His family in Indiana said he pulled his first con job while still in high school in Indianapolis, coming to class in a wheelchair to gain sympathy, then stealing from other students.

He grew up in a home where money was tight and father figures inconstant, family members said. His father, Lonnie Wilson, and his mother, Patricia Clark, split up when he was a toddler. His mother remarried, but it was a rocky union.

Not long after Wilson graduated from high school, his grandfather took him in. He absconded with the older man’s car and credit cards, wrecking the automobile in Colorado.

“He became persona non grata with the family after that,” an uncle, Dr. Charles Clark, said.

It turned out that Wilson had taken more than the car. He also filched his cousin Brian Clark’s Social Security number and assumed his identity, procuring driver’s licenses and credit cards, even cashing a $2,000 check.

“He is a con man, and he knows what people don’t ask questions about,” Clark said. “He is one of the smartest people I ever met.”

Given the number of times Wilson has been caught, it is hard to call his career a success. In the mid-1990s, he served prison sentences in Ohio and Pennsylvania for forgery and theft. Immigration authorities detained him for several months in 1999 and 2000 after he tried to enter Washington state from British Columbia and two forged passports were discovered in his car.

In 2001, he was sentenced to eight years in prison in Indiana after he was caught running up $7,400 in charges at strip clubs and hotels on credit cards he had obtained under a fictional identity. He had been posing as a Microsoft executive, court papers said.

In March 2006, he escaped from a work-release program in Indiana and fled to Canada, only to be recaptured in May 2007 as he tried to slip back into the United States to see his dying mother, family members said.

He was briefly released a year later but was rearrested in August 2008 after he checked into a luxury hotel in Indianapolis, court documents show. He had charged the room to an Eli Lilly corporate account; he had persuaded the company’s accounting department over the telephone to give it to him.

Returned to jail in Indianapolis, Wilson spent his days reading widely. His cellmate, Uriah Goins, recalled he was particularly interested in obituaries and death notices.

When Wilson was released, Goins picked him up and helped him find a place to stay. A friend, Michael Lafferty, had an extra room, and Goins introduced them.

Lafferty said Wilson portrayed himself as a well-educated man, schooled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who had fallen on hard times and had a young child dying of cancer.

Three weeks later, Lafferty reported to police that Wilson had run off with his credit card numbers, his Social Security number and an original birth certificate. Wilson fled to Chicago with a 19-year-old woman named Angela K. Stamm, whom he had met online.

What a Laff, huh?

She said she believed Wilson’s story that he was a recently discharged British soldier named Finn Keenan who was facing deportation. They stayed in Chicago for a month, where he tended bar, she said. Then he told her the government had “found him.” They drove to Missoula, Mont., where he started calling himself Angus Jocko Ferguson.

They found a place to stay with Reid Reimers, a theater teacher. He bonded with Reimers and his friends over a shared love of theater.

He would disappear for days at a time, returning with duffel bags full of military gear and hinting about missions with a secretive commando force, said Reimers and Stamm, who now uses the surname Venado. But he was actually forging a new identity, investigators said.

He had obtained a driver’s license with his new alias, having switched Lafferty’s Social Security number to Angus Ferguson with a forged court order in Chicago.

He was arrested as he tried to enter Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, Mont., with Venado. A guard discovered that the car was stolen. When FBI agents interviewed him at the Cascade County jail in Great Falls, Wilson stayed in character.

“He goes through the whole spiel about how he’s in the 5th Special Forces Group,” Special Agent Ernesto L. Negron said.

Before the agent could check his fingerprints against a national database, Wilson persuaded Reimers to post his bail and give him a ride back to Missoula. He packed his bags and left immediately, just an hour before agents knocked on the door, Venado said.

In New York, Wilson is charged with forgery and possession of stolen property. He also faces charges in Cambridge, where police say he set up a bank account under the name Jeremiah Asimov-Beckingham with a forged driver’s license, Social Security card, and military discharge papers, then deposited more than $70,000 worth of checks drawn on the account of a local design company.

On a recent morning, Wilson walked into a chapel on Rikers Island, wearing a khaki prison uniform. His head was shaved and he wore a short red beard. He was fit and compact, and looked young for 42. His body was adorned with Celtic tattoos. On the back of his head was a dent, a scar he claimed had been caused by a rubber bullet.

“People have a tendency not just to believe people, but to want to believe people,” he said when asked how he deceived his victims. “And that’s part of the wrong in the things that I have done, because I take that away from people.” 

He is also like the new$paper then.

He spoke candidly about his past crimes but would not comment on the new charges against him. He feels no remorse, he said, for ripping off credit card companies and banks, but he is sorry for fooling people who befriended him. Every friendship in his life was built on lies and half-truths, he said. 

Is he reading the Globe, too?

“That’s the evil behind everything I have done,” he said. “I get involved with people who don’t deserve the betrayal that’s bound to come.”