Man gets 10 years for multiple ID thefts
A man who assumed the identities of at least four people -- opening numerous credit accounts and credit cards in their names and attempting to cash counterfeit checks -- was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison.
Keith Steven Baker was convicted of 19 felonies and three misdemeanors in four separate cases that left a trail of victims here and on the mainland, including a former co-worker, scrambling to clear up their credit histories.
"This is much more than an economic crime," said Circuit Judge Michael Town, who denied Baker's request last week for a deferral of his guilty plea. "It appalls me that someone of your stature and intelligence could make these kinds of choices."
Baker, who says he has been homeless for the past three to four years, has computer science and business degrees and worked in the computer field for many years.
"He's quite intelligent, and I believe that's what makes him particularly dangerous -- it's because he's that way," said Deputy Prosecutor Paul Mow. "He has many tools that he can bring to bear to exploit people."
The state Department of Education and a temporary job placement service that employed him at one time became his victims. At one point he was under scrutiny by the U.S. Secret Service.
According to prosecutors, Baker tried to cash a counterfeit check in May 2004 for $1,361 at Money Mart using a state ID with his photo, but with the name Sueko Inao attached on a sticker. When asked why the ID had been altered, Baker replied that the state ID office had told him he could do it. He subsequently left Money Mart, leaving the bogus check and state ID behind.
A couple of months later, the Secret Service contacted Honolulu police about a man suspected of using stolen credit cards via the Internet at the Ala Moana Hotel lobby. A police detective who was investigating the Money Mart incident went to the Ala Moana Hotel and recognized the man sitting at the computer area for guests as Baker, a suspect in his case.
Police arrested Baker for second-degree forgery and recovered from him a black wallet and black nylon bag. In searching the property later, police found a glass pipe with methamphetamine residue, marijuana, identification cards and six platinum business cards issued by Fleet to six individuals.
Wallace Wong of California later learned that Baker had opened a credit card, First Hawaiian Bank and credit union accounts using Wong's name, date of birth and Social Security number without permission. First Hawaiian Bank suffered a loss of a little more than $3,000 for a $1,500 loan plus overdraft protection for the same amount that they had approved for Wong.
Nena Kawamoto, who is disabled, and Steven Keith Baker of Utah also indicated they did not open a Fleet business Visa card or gave anyone permission to do so.
Lester Wong of Honolulu also told police he never applied for the Fleet card or gave anyone permission to do so. But he had worked with Baker in the past and had even tried to contact him after they parted ways to offer him a job but was unsuccessful.
Baker pleaded guilty in December 2004 and last June to multiple identity theft and forgery counts in the two cases.
But while out on bail just more than a month later, Baker apparently began committing more crimes, attempting to cash counterfeit checks at Ace Cash Express, including a state Department of Education check in the amount of $1,630. One of the owners of Ace, Keoni Soares, was familiar with DOE checks and became suspicious, detaining Baker until police arrived.
Just a few weeks later, Soares received two checks back from the bank that Baker had cashed earlier at Ace totaling nearly $800 that were determined to be counterfeit. The checks were purportedly paychecks from Manpower Inc., where Baker had worked some months before.
"He used computers to make these checks and was able to make convincing copies," Mow said.
For Wong in California, he spent hours on the phone trying to untangle the mess Baker put him in and sought a minimum of $50 in restitution for long-distance calls he had to make.
Lester Wong had to convince Fleet that he was not responsible for the $10,000 to $12,000 he was told he owed on two or three credit cards he never opened.
"It blew me away," he said upon learning that a man he had at one time considered his friend had done this to him. "I felt betrayed; I felt violated from an emotional sense," he told the court.
He had tried to contact Baker, whom he knew was out of a job, to let him know about openings at the company he was working for, but was unable to track him down.
As a Christian, Wong said he holds no animosity for Baker, "but it was a really painful process to clean up."
Nelson Goo, Baker's attorney, argued for a deferral, saying Baker had no record until now and had been previously employed for 14 years as a corporate manager for Intercom Corp.
He described Baker as a good person who had contributed to society but later graduated to a $3,000-a-month "ice" habit.
While they do not deny that the victims have suffered, "he didn't go out and rob banks, he's not a murderer or sold drugs -- he was a user," Goo argued. Baker relapsed after he was released on bail, and that is why he committed more crimes, he said.
Individuals who submitted letters to the court indicated Baker's actions were an aberration and unlike the man they knew, Goo said.
Baker addressed Soares and Lester Wong in court, saying there were no words to express how sorry he was for what he did to them.
Losing his job when his longtime employer went bankrupt "hit me bad," he said. "I want to do everything in my power to make things right again."
Honolulu police worked hard to get Baker off the streets, Mow said.
"I don't trust him on the streets. Every chance he's had when he was out in the public gave him more opportunity to commit crimes," he said. "This is not the guy we want on the streets."