Fla. Grandfather Reclaims His Identity After 17 Years

PHOTO: The identity of Larry Smith, shown left, was allegedly stolen by Joseph Kidd, shown in this booking photo, right, for the past 17 years, said Placer County Sheriff spokesperson Dena Erwin.

A homeless man who allegedly stole the identity of a Florida grandfather who spent time in jail for a crime he did not commit will be arraigned today on multiple counts that include identity theft and welfare fraud, police said.

Joseph Kidd is accused of stealing Larry Smith's identity for 17 years, also costing Smith access to his medical benefits. The other charges against Kidd are giving false information to a police officer and grand theft of services.

In 1993, Kidd was arrested and fingerprinted in California for an unspecified, nonviolent crime as "Lawrence E. Smith," beginning a nightmare for the real Lawrence E. Smith, who lives in Lehigh Acres, Fla.

Investigators say they have discovered that Kidd had a birth certificate, a marriage license and even a driver's license with Larry Smith's name on it. He married a woman in 2007 allegedly using the alias.

Amid the confusion, the real Larry Smith has been wrongly ticketed for driving a purple Camaro too fast in 2001, billed $300,000 by Medicare and almost had his driver's license revoked for offenses he didn't commit.

"I spent eight days in jail in 2006 and my wife was on the phone 24-7 saying that it's not me," Smith said. "She sent paycheck stubs from where I was working when these crimes occurred to prove it wasn't me."

Larry Smith said he can't recall ever meeting Kidd and has no idea why the man targeted him.

Kidd, using the name "Lawrence E. Smith," had violated his parole and police nationwide were looking for him in July of 2006, officials said. Florida police apparently thought the real Larry Smith was the wanted man and booked him into an Orlando jail.

"I had no idea what was going on. I kept telling them it wasn't me," Smith, 67, said. "This one police officer in the prison said, 'This prison is full of people that didn't do it' and that was the end of it," Smith said.

The identity of Larry Smith, left, was allegedly stolen by Joseph Kidd, shown in this booking photo, right.

Smith's wife took action, calling authorities to try and free her husband.

"I was panicked, very panicked ... at any time, he would have been extradited to California," Sue Smith said.

Sue and Larry Smith were able to convince Florida authorities that he wasn't the Larry Smith they wanted. Police found Kidd, the man allegedly pretending to be Smith, in Arkansas. Kidd was extradited to California.

But, instead of correcting the error, police rebooked Kidd as "Lawrence E. Smith," officials said. Kidd served time in prison for his parole violation and when he was released, he was given a parole ID card with the alias on it as well.

"We get into law enforcement to do the right thing and when I see people who had the opportunity to do the right thing and took the short way out, it's frustrating," Det. Jim Hudson of California's Placer County Sheriff's Department said.

Missing Refund Check Was a Clue

Hudson helped arrest Kidd Tuesday in Auburn, Calif. He said that Kidd, 56, is a transient and not a "respectable citizen."

Kidd has been booked on several nonviolent crimes in California throughout the 17 years, Hudson said, declining to release details about the crimes for fear of damaging Smith's reputation any further.

Hudson, who focuses on cases of identity theft, was tipped off by Placer County welfare investigators after Kidd allegedly tried to apply for welfare benefits using Smith's name.

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