Grave Robbers

Even in the great beyond, no one is safe from identity theft

Mays says his client put up much of the down payment the couple used in 1998 to buy a new 4,500-square-foot house in upscale Southlake. When the divorce became final this past May, she came away with a promissory note from Tisdale that he will pay her about $40,000 when the house is sold. Michael Tisdale lives there today, in the largest house on a cul-de-sac named Thistle Court. He declined to return messages left on his home phone seeking an interview.

"No comment" was William Tisdale's response when he answered his phone at the North Dallas offices of America's Team Mortgage, a home loan brokerage he started up last fall with former Cowboys Lockhart and Smith. Deed records show Tisdale remains involved in Dallas real estate, buying and selling houses for KLT Properties, another company he formed last fall with Lockhart and Smith.

The brothers' lawyer, Henry L. Campbell III, declined to return several Dallas Observer messages left at his office.

A couple of mugs: William R. Tisdale Jr., left, and his brother Michael K. Tisdale are accused of sifting through the obits and stealing the identities of the recently deceased. Their alleged spree netted cash, cars and some free shopping at Neiman Marcus.
A couple of mugs: William R. Tisdale Jr., left, and his brother Michael K. Tisdale are accused of sifting through the obits and stealing the identities of the recently deceased. Their alleged spree netted cash, cars and some free shopping at Neiman Marcus.
Robbing the dead: Jennifer Koury, an Austin musician and restaurateur, was among more than a dozen Texans targeted by the identity theft ring. She hadn't even been buried by the time thieves had stolen her credit information, faked a drivers license and went to town with her accounts.
Robbing the dead: Jennifer Koury, an Austin musician and restaurateur, was among more than a dozen Texans targeted by the identity theft ring. She hadn't even been buried by the time thieves had stolen her credit information, faked a drivers license and went to town with her accounts.


The ID theft conspiracy the Tisdales are accused of leading--the looting of the dead--exploded into action in the summer of 2001, less than a year after their real estate business appeared to fail.

The mechanics of it were simple and built on one critical fact: One's credit lives on for a while after one is dead.

Typically, it takes a week or two for relatives to notify the Social Security Administration of a death, and a few more days for the agency to verify that information. Until Social Security's death notices are passed on to the three major credit-reporting agencies, lenders don't know someone has passed away.

From the evidence the U.S. Attorney's Office says it has ready for trial, the conspirators used as their starting point newspaper death notices and obituaries in Dallas, Austin, Houston and elsewhere, culling from them myriad personal information describing the individuals' occupation and station in life, which in turn give a clue to their personal wealth.

They turned then to computer databases and insurance "risk scores," which are tied to creditworthiness, to narrow the field further and gather more specific information, such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth. They ran these checks on at least 27 people, the government alleges. Finally, they ordered full credit reports giving detailed information on the people's accounts and credit limits--then the buying sprees began.

On July 23, 2001, for instance, a 54-year-old Dallas man died, and a brief death notice appeared in The Dallas Morning News two days later.

Before he was buried in a small town in Louisiana, the ring printed out his Farmers "risk score" and went to work. Over the next several weeks, they ran his name repeatedly through PublicData.com and two credit-reporting agencies--checking perhaps whether the Social Security death notification had posted yet.

In this case, it took more than a month.

The indictment alleges that on September 13, 2001, Michael Tisdale went to a Bank One branch in Dallas and handed a loan officer a fake drivers license bearing his photo and the dead man's name. Tisdale walked out with $70,000 in financing for a Mercedes-Benz roadster and a $25,000 loan.

It didn't stop there.

The government alleges Michael obtained an American Express Gold Card in the man's name and that William used it to fill out an online credit application at Neiman Marcus.

It appears from the evidence the government collected from the pair that they weren't even sneaky about how they transferred money from the victims to themselves. Michael Tisdale simply deposited checks made out to them in his own account. The government says it has evidence of nine such checks--totaling nearly $100,000--that Tisdale deposited.

After William Tisdale's arrest at the Jaguar dealership, the conspiracy seemed to take a new and slightly different shape. Rather than using the stolen identities themselves, the Tisdales began relying more on accomplices, and women, especially in purchasing cars. In all, the ring of 11 people stole 23 cars, nearly all luxury imports.

"I believe the evidence is going to show most of these people grew up in the same neighborhood," says defense lawyer Richard Anderson, whose client, Gary Allen Grace, pleaded guilty in the case in late September and is awaiting sentencing. "My client knew the Tisdales for a very long time."

Grace was accused of using fake identities provided by the ringleaders to steal or help steal six vehicles in a 10-month stretch: Bulban's Jaguar, a Mercedes S500 from Stadium Auto in Arlington, a new Corvette from Frank Parra Chevrolet in Irving and a Porsche 996 and a Mercedes CL500 from Park Place Motor Cars in Dallas.

In several of those cases, the indictment alleges, he "brokered" the fake-ID sales and collected several thousands of dollars in commissions from the dealers for bringing them what they thought was good business. Other second-tier accomplices obtained cars and "subleased" them for prices such as $9,000 down and monthly payments spelled out in writing.

In pleading guilty, Grace faces a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a requirement to make restitution. For the 31-year-old Grace, who has a robbery conviction and two parole revocations in his past, it would be his fourth trip to prison.

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