End of the route for the Mailman?
- Nick Budnick
- Portland Tribune - News
Stephen Rowell is one of the county's most prolific, and poetic, identity thieves
Of the many hundreds of suspected identity thieves busted in Multnomah County each year, 27-year-old Stephen Gregory Rowell stands out in two ways.
First, the number of pending charges against him stands at 88 counts. Most defendants face just a few.
Second, for his songwriting ability. During his arrest police seized a page of lyrics celebrating a lifestyle with which most people are not familiar.
Portland is the city where we act outrageous.
We spread this Outlaw life like it's something contagious.
… To steal a car, run some checks, even strong arm rob.
We make our money quick, then we plan our next job.
The lyrics show that there can be more to a life of crime than just a need for money.
Here's a hustle you may recognize from before.
Shhh, be quiet while I creep to this front door.
Credit card and checks you never know what mail you'll get.
If you find the right (expletive) you'll leave your victim in debt.
You know how we do it we make our money and run.
If we ruined your life just know we had fun.
Rowell, whose trial is scheduled for next month, has pleaded not guilty to all counts. His attorney, Stuart Sugarman, declined to comment on any aspect of Rowell's case or to make his client available for an interview, citing the pending charges.
Deputy District Attorney Kevin Demer, the prosecutor on the cases, also declined to comment, except to say the counts filed against Rowell 'speak for themselves.'
As the lyrics suggest, Rowell -who's been arrested 34 times since his teens, leading to seven identity theft convictions in Oregon since 1999 - is not your average crook.
Until the time of his most recent arrest, Rowell, on his voice mail, called himself 'the Mailman' - an apparent reference to stealing mail for use in identity theft scams.
According to his sister, Megan, he even had a U.S. Postal Service jacket embroidered with his nickname - plus a Multnomah County sheriff's office patch for every time he's spent in jail. Records show that the self-described meth addict has used a number of aliases, including Steve Tweeker.
His sister said he's a talented guy whose youthful troubles and addiction led him to crime. 'That's the dangerous thing about Stephen, he is probably the smartest, most artistic, most creative man you'll ever know,' she said. 'If Stephen could get clean and sober, Stephen could be a millionaire, there's no doubt in my mind.'
'If you've seen or know any of the poems that he writes, you'll see where that song came about,' his friend Erika Doane said. 'He's really gifted when it comes to writing and stuff like that.'
Having finished a recent prison stint for identity theft conviction in 2006, Rowell encountered police repeatedly in recent months.
On Sept. 27, two Portland cops pulled over a white 2007 Chrysler for speeding and driving recklessly.
They found four people in the car, including Rowell, and his friend Tuan Kim at the wheel. Conducting a search of the car, they found a stolen laptop in the trunk, other people's mail, including bank statements and insurance documents, and blank checks for the commercially available Versa Check program - a favorite for identity thieves.
Then, on Halloween 2007, Rowell was picked up again in the company of a woman who tried to withdraw money from several fake checks she'd deposited at Wells Fargo.
She told police she would split the money with someone else. Asked if the other person was Rowell, she said, 'You guys are smart. You can figure it out!' according to a police report.
On Nov. 17, Rowell was pulled over again. Police found two duffel bags containing more Versa Check check paper, a scanner, a card swipe machine and a binder with personal information for numerous people.
On Dec. 20, a woman was arrested in Gresham for passing forged checks and fingered Rowell as the source.
On Dec. 21, the police executed a search warrant on the house where Rowell was staying near the corner of Southeast 76th Avenue and Division Street. There, officers found personal information for thousands of people, including some living in Arizona, Virginia and Australia.
One CD, marked 'Mailman's files,' contained Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services files with personal information for tens of thousands of people.
Several of the people whose identities Rowell stole told the Portland Tribune that their sense of privacy has been shattered.
Jennifer Labore said her wallet was stolen years ago, and she has since lost several hundred dollars in withdrawals from her Washington Mutual account.
'I just keep checking my credit,' she said. 'I haven't found anything yet. I think they found my stuff in time, but I don't really know yet.'
Debbie Zavada learned that someone had tried to cash a check sent to her by a credit card company hoping for her business. 'They must have stolen the checks out of the mail,' she said.
Officer Bryan DeClercque, who helped investigate the case against Rowell, said the advice for people seeking to avoid being victimized remains the same: Get a secure post office box, don't leave documents lying around and shred mail that includes your personal information before throwing it out.
Laura Etherton of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group said consumers also should be aware of the passage of the Oregon Consumer Identity Protection Act last year.
Now any Oregonian, whether or not they have been victimized, can request a security freeze from the major credit reporting agencies, thus preventing new credit cards from being issued in their name.
Rowell's song suggests that more than identity theft took place, including stealing cars using master 'jiggle' keys.
(expletive) I gotta ditch this cop.
Zig zag, left right now watch this move.
I'll park it real quick then their case they can't prove.'
The song is dedicated to the 'West Side Outlaws,' which police believe to be a group of Rowell's friends.
Rowell's sister, Megan, thinks the group originated when the Rowells moved to a swank section of Southwest Portland and he joined up with other kids who were less affluent. She said his run-ins with the law began at age 13, when their parents divorced.
The two siblings became estranged six years ago when she found syringes for drugs stashed in her baby's closet when he was staying with her.
She said Rowell has become estranged from other relatives by, for instance, stealing his brother-in-law's identity and causing him to be arrested and detained.
'(Stephen) has lost everything and everyone that was ever close to him in his life,' she said. 'One day I hope he shows up on my front door and he's clean. I really do.
'I'm glad he's in prison now because I know that if he turns up dead, I'll be the one they call. At least now I know he's clean and safe.'