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.PlayCourtesy Dyanna Williams/Courtesy Placer County Sheriff
WATCH Brazen Identity Theft

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.

Kidd had "absolutely no remorse for what he had done to this guy. When confronted and shown that he was not Larry Smith, he said, 'Well I must have amnesia, I don't want to talk anymore,'" Hudson said.

Larry Smith first noticed that something wasn't right when he didn't receive a tax refund in 2004.

"I filed my income taxes and I was supposed to get a refund of $704.80," Smith said.

His refund was sent to California to pay a fine for a fraud charge that he knew nothing about.

To this day, Smith receives bills from collection agencies and Medicare that don't belong to him.

"I've got a 500 page-folder from the last 10 years and I go through it every day," he said. "Florida was going to suspend my driver's license that I've had for 40 years unless I paid $426 that the California Highway Patrol said that I owed them."

Smith was able to straighten that ordeal out and keep his license.

When he received the bill for a cataract surgery he had in Florida on May 21, 2010, he was charged for an ambulance ride in California on the same day.

"How can I be in Florida and California at the same time?" Smith said.

Kidd, reportedly, had been rushed by ambulance to a hospital in Sacramento, Ca., Smith said.

Smith's family constantly worried about him, his daughter said.

"How did this happen? Is this guy going to do something serious and hurt somebody and dad would be accused," Dyanna Williams said.

Williams helped her dad contact identity theft agencies and helps him sort through all the bills he constantly receives.

Now that Kidd is in custody, Smith, a father of three and grandfather of nine, said he can finally rest a little easier. But undoing the damage that has been done will take time.

"I've been doing this for 15 years and I've never seen such a successful takeover of a man's identity, just ruin a man's life," detective Hudson said.

"Undoing 17 years of damage to this guy will take years to fix, but I'm committed to making sure Mr. Smith is no longer considered a felon and I want to give him back his medical benefits."