The other me 

Adventures in identity theft -- care of my devious doppelgänger

Page 3 of 5

It was this ID that Katacinski handed to Miller that night in Sarasota. Katacinski had to be a little worried. After all, he was two inches shorter than the guy pictured on the license, 40 pounds lighter, six years older. Surely no cop would fall for that.

Deputy Miller did. On the numerous arrest reports, my name, weight, height and age are all dutifully entered from the driver's license. Never mind that right in front of Miller's face sat living proof to the contrary, his besotted head now propped up by a neck brace.

Katacinski one, Fennessy zero.

When it comes to restoring your good name, there's something reassuring about the clinical nature of the law. In the real world, memories are long and gossip is crippling. But in law enforcement, reputations can be destroyed -- and sometimes renewed -- with just a few keystrokes. Normally, this fact would scare the shit out of me. But it now became my best hope for redemption. In the case of Brian Katacinski/Stephen Fennessy, I was on a mission of erasure.

First, I learned that authorities in Sarasota had locked up Katacinski, who, of course, they believed was me. But three days after his arrest, a fingerprint examiner in the Sarasota sheriff's office discovered that the prints of the man they'd arrested belonged not to Stephen Fennessy, but to Brian Gregory Katacinski. The examiner, Brenda Viana, notified the prosecutor, and the case was amended accordingly.

Somehow, though, as the charges against Katacinski were either dropped or reduced, Sarasota sent a DUI conviction in my name to Georgia. Which is why, on a cloudy day in late September, I got a letter in the mail telling me my license was suspended.

So, since it was Sarasota that screwed up my life, it was Sarasota that could restore it.

Wrong. Sarasota needed permission from a higher authority. I found myself following two strings: Florida Highway Patrol troopers and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. From the Atlanta police headquarters at City Hall East, I faxed fingerprints to the FDLE, and then mailed them to trooper Faith Goodwin.

That's when the square wheels of justice cranked into motion: Tallahassee faxed Georgia motor vehicles, which then mailed me a second official letter a week later. Their tone this time was much more conciliatory, and lacked the bold caps. "You may retain license," it read, almost grudgingly.

At the same time, Brenda Viana, the fingerprint examiner who a year ago first noticed that Katacinski and I were different people, sent a letter to the FDLE, asking the agency to delete all references to me from Katacinski's record. "This has adversely affected that person, who is attempting to clear his name," she wrote.

I realized now that my name had been an alias for Katacinski. All of his crimes became my crimes, which was why it appeared our relationship went back 10 years. Last week, a search for my name in Sarasota's online criminal records turned up no results. Katacinski's crimes, though, were still there.

I was me again. Not him.

Perhaps I'm making the process of my exoneration sound easier than it was. It was, in fact, a pain in the ass. Over one week's time, I called and re-called officials in the Sarasota County Court, the sheriff's department there, the victim's rights office in Sarasota County, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, motor vehicle departments in Florida and Georgia, the Florida state troopers, the Georgia DMV's habitual violator unit, its license fraud unit, the Atlanta police.

The average time spent clearing up a case of identity theft is 175 hours; mine was probably around 100. But this includes only the time spent going through reams of paperwork, explaining my story for the umpteenth time to yet another bureaucrat, and withstanding endless hold times. It doesn't -- it can't -- include the countless hours I've spent obsessing over this guy. Who the hell does he think he is? Nor does it include the hours I spent trying to find Katacinski. I couldn't.

Carl Moulder understands this. He's head of the white-collar crime division for Gwinnett County police. Amid all the cases of embezzlement and forgery that Moulder's five investigators face are dozens of identity theft complaints. But despite his unit's best efforts, the reality is that most cases -- mine included -- become solitary hunts for the perpetrator. Police just don't have the time.

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