For roughly 20 years, Isagani Alquero assumed the identity of a transgender friend with whom he had a romantic relationship, successfully obtaining a Hawaii driver’s license, cabbie job, bank account, U.S. passport and other documents using his bogus moniker, federal authorities say.
He allegedly maintained the ruse even after the friend died in 2008.
Not content with just one fake identity, Alquero also presented himself as Sonny Jenson, a name he made up, court records allege. Earlier this year the city prosecuted him for a $4,000-plus check-kiting scheme under the Jenson name. At the time, he told the judge his real name was Alquero.
Today, authorities aren’t even sure of that. Even though he was indicted this month in a separate federal case for multiple charges involving use of a false identity, investigators still are trying to verify who he is.
"The lesson to learn about these kind of cases is you have to look at everything twice," said Tracy Hino, an assistant U.S. attorney who is prosecuting Alquero. "You just can’t accept anything at face value."
Authorities say the Alquero case reflects an unusual slice of what they refer to as a growing identity theft problem in Hawaii. More than a half-dozen impostor cases have surfaced in state and federal courts over the past couple of years, and some law enforcement officials say anecdotally that they are seeing more cases of people taking on false identities to hide from the law, defraud the system or both.
No organization, however, compiles overall data on such impostor cases in Hawaii.
What’s unusual about these cases is that the perpetrators, instead of committing quick, short-term scams, then ditching their aliases for fear of getting caught, go to great lengths to embrace their false identities, sometimes maintaining the fraud for decades.
Some lead relatively normal lives, conducting business, traveling, raising children and doing other everyday activities using their alter egos. Even close friends and neighbors can be fooled.
Authorities generally say the impersonators assume bogus identities for three main reasons: to commit crimes, to evade capture because of past crimes or to enter the country illegally. Some cases involve multiple reasons.
Oahu resident Patricia Pendleton launched her scheme in 1965 when she obtained a second Social Security number using a fictitious name and began working under that name, court documents show. One of her jobs was as a state tax auditor.
By creating the ruse, Pendleton received full survivor benefits when her husband died, and the retirement benefits she received years later were inflated by about $50,000, according to the documents.
Roughly four decades after assuming her fake identity, Pendleton got caught several years ago through a federal initiative to find people with multiple Social Security numbers receiving benefits. By then, Pendleton was in her late 70s.
Pendleton, who could not be reached for comment, pleaded guilty in 2007 to stealing government property and was sentenced to five years’ probation and six months of home confinement, and was ordered to pay the government more than $46,000 in restitution.
Hino, who also prosecuted the Pendleton case, said it was the longest-running multiple ID scheme he’s seen.
Some impostor cases involve illegal immigrants seeking to obtain permanent residency or citizenship.
Virgilio Corpuz, posing as his dead brother, immigrated to Hawaii from the Philippines in 1987 and illegally obtained a Social Security card, passport and citizenship under his brother’s name. He later remarried using his dead brother’s identity, according to court documents.
Authorities got wind of the scheme through an anonymous tip.
Corpuz, who pleaded guilty to visa, Social Security and passport fraud, was sentenced in 2009 to four months in prison and three years’ probation. He could not be reached for comment.
Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security, said her agency investigates numerous cases in which organizations use fraudulent and stolen documents to facilitate the smuggling of aliens.
Since 2007 such fraud-related investigations, including those involving impostors, have jumped 80 percent in Hawaii, according to Haley.
It’s not clear why these type of cases are on the rise. Immigration attorneys are unsure whether more people are using false identities — bogus documents can be purchased on the black market for thousands of dollars — or whether more prosecutions are simply resulting from better detection techniques and greater anti-fraud resources.
In cases in which the names of real people are stolen, the fraud sometimes isn’t discovered until the person realizes someone has racked up credit card bills or obtained documents using the stolen name.
Chris Van Marter, senior deputy prosecutor for the city, said his office likewise has seen an increase in cases involving perpetrators allegedly using multiple aliases over long periods to commit crimes.
One pending case involves a man who had cosmetic surgery to alter his appearance and allegedly used several bogus names to steal from two Hawaii banks and a big-box retailer, prosecutors say.
Tyler Adams was indicted last year on multiple theft counts. He is accused of ripping off two banks through a check-kiting scheme and writing a bad check to buy a $6,000 diamond ring from Costco.
When Adams lived at a beachfront Kahala condo project in 2007 and 2008, he was known to neighbors as Kevin Kennedy. Investigators found hundreds of phony checks and false law-school identity cards at his condo.
Adams is incarcerated in San Diego, where he is facing charges related to a $3 million fraud case. He is expected to be extradited to Hawaii after that case is completed.
Impostor investigations often require the cooperation of multiple agencies to connect all the dots.
In the Alquero case, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service was the lead agency, but it received help from the U.S. State Department, ICE and the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General. The agencies uncovered documents in California, Hawaii, the Philippines and Mississippi, among other places, to gather evidence.
Investigators determined the suspect used the name of his transgender friend, Fabio Lacap, to conduct business and obtain documents in recent years. In 2008, for instance, he got a job as a taxi driver for The Cab.
"I don’t think he ever raised any issues or made trouble," said Wayne Greenleaf, operations manager for the company. "He was kind of quiet, as far as I can tell."
Alquero’s attorney declined comment for this story. His client, who is in federal custody, pleaded not guilty last week to the four charges related to using a false identity.
Hino, the assistant U.S. attorney, also had a hand in one of the more elaborate impostor cases to surface in Hawaii in recent years.
Hino prosecuted Robert Sohnrey, who was sentenced in 2005 to five years in prison for impersonating a dead California man for nearly a decade to avoid paying child support and for collecting the dead man’s Social Security benefits.
Sohnrey so embraced the hoax that he divorced his then-wife in 1997 and remarried her under his bogus name.