ID Theft Suspect Pulls ID Switch; Man Held in Car Dealer Identity Thefts Had Assumed the Identity of Another Man, Was Released from Jail, and Has Disappeared

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Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI

BRUNSWICK -- A former Glynn County car salesman charged with stealing customer identities and using the information to buy about $200,000 in cars and trucks appears to be a skilled imposter who was able to hide his real identity from authorities.

The man was using the identity of Nehemiah Hightower, 34, of Brunswick, when arrested by Glynn police detectives Dec. 22 on 14 felony charges stemming from an ongoing investigation into the elaborate scheme, which involves identity theft and credit card fraud.

However, he really is Ronald Staten Jr., a 40-year-old ex-convict on parole for first-degree forgery, according to police and Georgia Department of Corrections records.

Police and FBI agents were searching for him Friday.

Confirmation of Staten's true identity came late Thursday through an analysis of fingerprint records, authorities said. But by then, Staten was gone.

Under the name Hightower, he was released Dec. 29 on $337,000 bail from the Glynn County Detention Center, jail records show.

His last known address was the 900 block of Brunel Street in Waycross, records from the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole showed Friday.

Police said he worked at Carl Gregory Chrysler Dodge Hyundai of Brunswick.

It is the most recent twist in a case that investigators have said might have a trail of victims in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

The possible victims include anyone who bought a car or truck in Glynn County last year. Police are asking those people to carefully check their personal credit report for suspicious activity, such as fraudulent loans or credit card purchases.

The case apparently is rooted in a September incident when police responded to a report that an imposter using the name Dallas Hightower Jr. was working as a salesman at the Carl Gregory auto firm.

Dealership officials declined to comment.

However, the incident is detailed in a Glynn County police report. The report shows the following:

Police responded to the dealership on Sept. 13, 2005, when an employee reported that one of its salesmen was working under an assumed identity.

The employee said she received a telephone call from a Georgia Division of Family and Children Services caseworker in Waycross who was attempting to verify the employment and income status of one of their clients.

The client had the same name, date of birth and Social Security number as the car salesman. The salesman had been working at Carl Gregory since July 15. …

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