PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A Pittsburgh man has been sentenced to eight months in federal prison for what a prosecutor called an elaborate scheme to steal Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s identity and spend $658 using a credit card in Allen’s name last year.
Brandon Lee Price, 30, should his term in a halfway house downtown, the judge recommended, but federal prison officials are not bound by that suggestion.
Price’s public defender, Jay Finkelstein, took issue with prosecutors’ claims that the scheme was elaborate, and U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry seemed stumped by how a man with limited education who was AWOL from the Army at the time pulled it off.
“I’ve been mystified in a certain respect as to how this could’ve happened by an ordinary, everyday guy,” McVerry said. “And I still don’t know.”
Finkelstein argued that his client’s behaviour was influenced by head injuries he suffered playing youth football that were aggravated by his Army service.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wilson argued that detailed notebooks in which Price listed Allen’s account information and other personal details used in the scheme — including his wife’s maiden name — suggest it was more than a random one-off.
“This wasn’t a lark of some kind,” Wilson told the judge.
The notebooks contained roughly 20 pages including Allen’s account numbers, phone numbers and even a script that Price followed when he’d speak to account representatives over the telephone in trying to convince them he was Allen, Wilson said.
According to the FBI, Price called Citibank in January 2012 pretending to be Allen and changed the address on one of Allen’s accounts from Seattle to Pittsburgh. He called back three days later to say he had lost his debit card and asked for a new one to be sent to him.
The card sent to the Pittsburgh address, where investigators said Price lived with his parents, was used to attempt a $15,000 Western Union transaction and make a $658.81 payment on a loan. The wire transfer failed and no purchases went through before the fraud was detected by the bank, which alerted law enforcement officials.
Only the loan payment apparently was approved, which Price was ordered to repay Tuesday as part of his sentence.
Price was absent without leave from Fort Polk, La., from July 2010 and wasn’t found until the FBI arrested him in Pittsburgh in March 2012. He has since served a six-month Army jail sentence and was given a discharge under bad conduct, which is less severe than a dishonourable discharge but still means he forfeits most veterans’ benefits.