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Paper trail eventually lassoes identity theft suspect

Unusual case involved expensive cars, drugs and online trading

David James Moreland was known on the streets for using enough crack cocaine on a daily basis 'to kill a research monkey,' according to an associate's statement to police.

And in the criminal underworld, that habit helped drive the 50-year-old Portland man allegedly to commit one of the biggest strings of identity thefts in recent memory, police say.

'He was trying to live the lifestyle of somebody that had a lot of money, but he couldn't really do it,' said Portland Police officer Jim Lawrence, who for the past nine months has worked on the case along with officer Barbara Glass in the East Precinct special crimes unit. 'A lot of that would have to go back to his drug habit.'

Moreland is accused of bilking money from more than a dozen businesses, financial institutions and individuals during a nine-month period Ñ ranging from a $60,000 Corvette Moreland allegedly tried to buy with a phony name at a car dealership last June to a $150,000 E-Trade Financial account he allegedly opened online using stolen funds.

Lawrence said the amount of attempted theft wasn't unprecedented, but the speed by which he went after it was surprising. 'What was amazing about him was how fast and hard he went. É We knew he was going like gangbusters.'

The run came to an end last Thursday when police were alerted by a bank teller's report that a man matching Moreland's description on a 'wanted' poster was at the Lloyd Center branch of Key Bank trying to activate a checking account with fake documents. Police arrested him without incident and on the same day issued a warrant for his alleged accomplice, Tami Fidler, 36, of Salem.

Moreland was indicted on five counts of identity theft and Fidler on two counts of identity theft. They face between four and 15 years in prison, depending on their past criminal convictions and the amount of money they attempted to steal, according to Karen Immergut, the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.

Moreland pleaded not guilty last Friday, and Fidler was awaiting extradition to Portland from Alabama.

Her arraignment had not yet been scheduled.

Lisa Hay, the federal public defender appointed to Moreland's defense, did not return calls for comment.

Consumer advocates say the arrests and the extensive investigation Ñ involving nearly a dozen agencies Ñ have shed new light on the oft-underestimated crime of identity theft.

'Within the media they may be downplayed a touch in comparison to more violent crimes,' said Deborah Sakamoto, a spokeswoman for Key Bank. 'But identity theft is very real, and it's one of the fastest growing crimes. It can ruin a person's life.'

Real wheels, fake papers

Police say the investigation began last summer, when a man walked into a Ron Tonkin Chevrolet dealership on Northeast 122nd Avenue to pick up the $39,000 TrailBlazer he'd purchased online.

Roger Kehdi, the sales manager, said he was looking forward to meeting the man, who said online that he was a computer analyst for the Department of Defense.

However, when the man walked into the showroom, Kehdi was stunned. It was the same man he'd met two months before when he came to the dealership Ñ under a different alias Ñ and tried to purchase a $60,000 Corvette with no identification.

At that time, he presented himself as the owner of a landscaping business who had just moved to the state and hadn't yet obtained his drivers license.

Kehdi said he offered to have one of his employees drive him to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles, but the man declined. After several unsuccessful follow-ups, the dealership gave up, and Kehdi said he didn't see him again until June.

Seeing him for the second time, Kehdi said 'a red flag went up,' so he stalled man in the lobby while he checked the IDs the man gave him with the DMV. When the ID didn't check out, he called police.

Officers responded and found Moreland 'sitting comfortably' in the lobby, waiting for his vehicle as if nothing was wrong, Kehdi said. He was arrested on an identity theft charge after police found fake drivers licenses and stolen credit cards in his pocket.

Nearby, they found Fidler in a car with her 16-year-old son sitting in a vehicle. Officers said they saw the son toss something into a Dumpster as they approached. Police said it was a plastic bag containing false documents.

Fidler was not charged with a crime at that time, but, police said, the incident helped them continue to build a case against Moreland and Fidler while awaiting a federal grand jury date.

Police began obtaining search warrants to gain more evidence.

The warrants recovered items ranging from computer parts and glass pipes to crystal residue, checkbooks, mail and documents such as Social Security cards. No weapons or cash were recovered during the searches, Lawrence said.

One of Moreland's associates said Moreland Ñ who used at least five aliases Ñ specialized in wire transfers and phone purchases, while Fidler, a former employee at the state collections agency in Salem, specialized in stolen credit card information.

Both bragged to friends about having been arrested, the associate said, but 'that they keep getting away because they are so good at 'building profiles.' '

Yet it was police who were building the profiles as they collected more evidence. Moreland was arrested at least seven times and released without jail time because police preferred to continue building their case. Once Moreland accumulated at least $500,000 in attempted theft, he could receive a more severe prison sentence. As soon as police got the indictment, they went looking for them.

Bank teller takes notice

On March 6, police got their break. A 911 call came in from the Key Bank branch, where the teller recognized Moreland from a color poster distributed two weeks earlier that named him and an armed and dangerous accomplice.

The poster was distributed through an electronic database system founded by a retired Portland police officer who once supervised Portland's fraud and computer crimes units.

Jim 'Gator' Hudson says his system Ñ the only one of its kind that he knows of in the country Ñ distributes updated information about fraud suspects in 10 Western states, linking investigations among local, state and federal agencies.

Police said the teller and other employees kept Moreland busy while he tried to activate an account with a check for $500 and fake identification.

Officers arrived and arrested him without incident as he was leaving the bank. Police that day issued an arrest warrant for Fidler, who was in Alabama.

While at least six other possible accomplices are named in court documents, no other arrests have been made in the case yet. Lawrence says the investigation is ongoing.