The BBC reports the arrest of Colombian conman Juan Carlos Guzman-Betancourt, who first attracted attention in 1993 when he claimed to be a 13-year-old orphan by the name of Guillermo Rosales who had hung on to a plane's landing gear on a flight from Colombia to Miami. Nothing like being discovered wandering the tarmac looking winsome after a supposed intercontinental exploit. That was enough to tug the heart-strings of well-wishers until he was sprung a few months later, with the oh so inconvenient revelation that he wasn't an orphan, hadn't spent a couple of frigid hours in the wheel bay high above the clouds, was age 17, had relatives near Miami and had a criminal record in Colombia.
The fraud is reminiscent of other exploitations of good will (or sheer gullibility - especially in relation to 'children' - and the absence of ready mechanisms for identity verification). Serial imposter Frédéric Bourdin, for example, recurrently posed as a teenager. At age 31, in 2005, he was sprung after spending a month at a French school in the guise of a 15 year old (supposedly a Spanish orphan named Francisco Hernandez-Fernandez). His headmistress defended the delay in recognition, explaining that he "appeared a bit older than his friends - two or three years at most".
As noted in a more detailed discussion of identity and identity crimes, Bourdin had previously served a six-year prison term in the US after posing as a long-lost son. He also claimed in 2004 to be a boy of 14 who disappeared near Grenoble in 1996 at the age of six. In his guise as the long-lost son he lived with his supposed parents for three months before his deception was exposed by a journalist and confirmed by a DNA test. He was deported from Spain after he claimed to be Ruben Sanchez Espinosa, whose mother supposedly died in the 2004 Madrid train bombings. He also posed as a tiger tamer, a rich British holidaymaker, a businessman and a college lecturer. The tiger tamer I can understand - everyone wants to be a lion or tiger wrangler.
28 year old drifter James Hogue, portrayed in The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue (New York: New Press 2008) by David Samuels, persuaded Princeton University that he was a 16-year-old. If you're shaving a mere 12 years off your age it is presumably a doddle to also claim that you are an orphan (cue tea, sympathy and access to the endowment), a cowboy and and a star athlete. Hogue got rumbled from Princeton, served time for defrauding the university and then turned up at Harvard. He went on to commit a range of crimes under different names.
29 year old convicted sex offender Neil Rodreick attended an Arizona public school for four months in the guise of Casey Price, supposedly a seventh grader, and Oklahoma schools in 2005 as a supposed 12 year old. Rodreick was arrested in 2007. 32 year old Brian MacKinnon duped teachers and pupils at Glasgow's Bearsden Academy into believing that he was 17 year old Canadian Brandon Lee. He had been a Bearsden student 13 years earlier. After matriculating from Bearsden he started a medical degree at the University of Dundee, being discovered when his passport was found during a holiday in Tenerife.
22 year old US sex offender Joshua Gardner less successfully posed in 2005 as 17 year old Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, supposed fifth Duke of Cleveland. If he had adopted a less glittering persona - how many dukes go to Minnesota high schools - he might have got away with it.
Guzman-Betancourtcase has been in and out of prison and detention centres, punctuating a life of frauds that typically appear to take place in upmarket hotels. A UK court sentenced him to three and a half years in prison in 2005 for stealing jewellery worth £150,000, cash and other goodies over six years. When arrested he was found to have a range of false IDs, including a Russian passport and a Spanish passport in different names with his photograph. After two months as a guest of HM he reportedly persuaded prison authorities to allow him go to a dental appointment without a minder. Oops, he didn't come back to his cell. In 2006 he was sentenced in Eire to two years for a burglary at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, along with two concurrent sentences of 18 months for theft by deception. Reporting at that time suggested that "awaiting him upon his eventual release is a European arrest warrant issued by the French authorities in connection with 13 offences allegedly committed in hotels in France". The BBC report indicates that he's used at least 10 aliases and has been wanted in Canada, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Thailand, Colombiaand Venezuela. Reports elsewhere note that he has been deported from the US three times and has received two non-custodial sentences for theft along with one for credit card fraud.
His latest detention was in Vermont, for an attempted illegal border crossing. (He supposedly inadvertently wander across the line from Canada to seek help for a broken-down car and produced a Spanish passport in the name of Jordi Ejarque-Rodriguez with travel stamps - from Turkey, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Jordan - that may or may not be genuine).
It's been a good month for identity offences, with Paul Terroni for example being refused bail by a Sydney court over a conspiracy with his mum. She'd claimed that he'd drowned on a trip to Ecuador and asked for his $239,000 life insurance cover. She duly provided an Ecuadorian death certificate. Ah, the age of miracles is with us - Terroni allegedly returned to Australia from the Ecuadorian equivalent of the Reichenbach Falls a year or so later, using an Ecuador passport in the name of Gabriel Sanchez Cedeno. He seems to have lived in Sydney for a year before being arrested, along with his mum, and hit with a string of charges that include provision of a false death certificate and obtaining money by deception.
The scam is an echo of past death-by-drowning to collect insurance, including John Stonehouse, Ivan Manson, Robert Granberg, Bruce Dale and of course canoeist John Darwin.