Lora and Jamey Costner of Newport, Tennessee, have joined the ranks of identity theft victims after two illegal immigrants, Douglas Valdez and Elizabeth Velasco Bautista, allegedly used the Costner’s Social Security numbers to obtain employment at the Koch Foods plant in nearby Morristown.
Bautista also filed for workers compensation benefits after she fell off the food processing plant’s production line. Mrs. Costner, on the other hand, had difficulty obtaining workers compensation benefits herself, as state labor officials said she had reported back to work at Koch Foods the previous month.
Mrs. Costner has never worked at Koch Foods.
Koch foods, at least the part of it where Douglas Valdez and Elizabeth Velasco Bautista work(ed), is a chicken deboning facility that, according to reports from employees, bears all the hallmarks of a sweat shop.
Bautista pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation. However, Valdez dodged the identity theft charges because the judge ruled it was not a crime to use someone else’s identity to obtain employment.
When I first read that, I was outraged. It made me wonder what the judge was smoking: not to consider identity theft a crime? But I gave this unidentified judiciary the benefit of the doubt, and learned – to my horror – that he had a point, backed by the legal (not always logical) system.
Tennessee law defining identity theft includes the phrase “with the intent to commit . . . any unlawful activity.” [all emphases added] Criminal impersonation is defined as assuming a false identity “with intent to injure or defraud another person.” Federal statutes are no more helpful, including the phrase “with the intent to commit . . . any unlawful activity.”
Under such laws, using someone else’s identity requires the intention to commit a crime and cause injury to another person before it becomes a crime itself.
And getting a job doesn’t fulfill that criteria. Not even for an illegal immigrant.
Now here’s the kicker: Koch Foods apparently did not deduct taxes from Bautista’s and Valdez’s wages of approximately $30,000 during 2005, so the IRS have levied the bill – not against the perpetrators of the identity theft (Bautista and Valdez), but rather against the victims – the Costners.
Mrs. Costner reported that she and her husband are living in fear that the IRS will begin garnishing their wages. In a letter to her U.S. Senator, she wrote, “The overall burden of it all is crushing us, please help. We have done all we know to do.”
The U.S. Representative for the district, Republican David Davis, has assigned Paul Chapman, a field representative, to assist the Costners in sorting out their financial fiasco. It’s encouraging to learn that at least part of the federal government, their congressional office, has maintained some compassion, integrity, and sense around this situation.
Even without discussing the issue of illegal immigrants, who are desperate enough to take the lowest-paid, ickiest jobs that no one else wants (regardless of how you feel about the issue), there’s more than enough blame to go around here.
There’s Koch Foods, employer to dozens of immigrants across the country and now facing federal charges of “encouraging, inducing or harboring illegal aliens,” according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
There’s the personnel manager at Koch, who accepted the bogus documentation without a background check. (Valdez presented his ID as “Jamey Costner” in Tennessee. Apparently, Valdez doesn’t speak English – so if, as a personnel manager, your job is to screen applicants, wouldn’t it have made sense to look into this applicant a bit more? It would make sense – but only if you really cared about looking into the identities of your employees).
But much of the blame must go to the federal government, which, since 1984, has accepted tax payments filed under the wrong SSN from approximately nine million people. For all the talk of the FTC’s deter, detect, defend program dealing with Identity Theft, the government has done very little (if anything) to fix the problem at the organization which accepts the tax payments from 9 million people. While some of these misfiled payments may be due to clerical errors or name changes, no one has bothered to investigate and find out how much of $500 billion in unallocated tax revenue is due to the use of “borrowed” SSNs.
In light of that federal indifference, for the IRS to charge the innocent taxpayer with the fallout is beyond outrageous – it’s criminal.
With or without intent.