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Alabama man says identity theft ruined finances

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By SCOTT JOHNSON
Montgomery Advertiser

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Air National Guard Maj. Zane Purdy was making more than $100,000 a year working for a defense contracting company when his identity was stolen and sold to a tax fraud ring.

Now, Purdy makes $7.25 an hour at a Krystal restaurant in Trussville to support his two children.

"It has been a struggle, and it has been very damaging," the former Montgomery resident said of the identity theft, which has left him thousands of dollars in debt and fighting to clear his credit report.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson on Wednesday sentenced Angeline Austin, 41, of Montgomery to 65 months in federal prison for stealing the identities of Purdy and hundreds of others by accessing a Troy hospital database.

Purdy's job with General Dynamics Information Technology required a top secret security clearance, something Purdy could not maintain as the theft of his identity ripped his credit to shreds.

His security clearance was suspended, and he lost his job with General Dynamics. He also is blocked from active duty with the Air National Guard while his security clearance is suspended.

"In my 18 years in the service, I never (previously) had an issue with my security clearance," Purdy said.

Austin worked for Southern Records Management at Troy Regional Medical Center between June 13, 2010, and March 25, 2011, court records state.

The job gave her access to the personal information of current and former patients, including names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth.

Austin stole the personal information of more than 800 patients and sold it for between $6,500 and $8,000, evidence presented during the trial showed.

The identities were used to file fraudulent tax returns and collect false tax refunds in a stolen identity ring officials said was responsible for the theft of about $1.6 million in taxpayer money.

Purdy said he found out early in 2012 from the U.S. Attorney's Office that someone had gained access to his personal information.

Then he received notice he owed the Internal Revenue Service more than $10,000. He currently has tax liens against his property and continues to work with the IRS to clear up the situation.

 

"To overcome all the financial destruction (Austin) has done will be hard," Purdy said.

Purdy said his wife was studying nursing at Troy University Montgomery but had to quit because they no longer could afford it.

His son and daughter used to attend private school, but that is no longer possible. His daughter has had to forgo trips with the school choir, and his son has missed trips with his sports teams.

Purdy and his wife, who both have high blood pressure, also currently have no medical insurance, he said.

"We even have to pinch on how we take our medication, and you are not supposed to do that," he said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and IRS agents who worked on his case are helping Purdy clear his reputation, but it continues to be a long struggle.

Purdy said it upset him when Austin claimed during her sentencing hearing that she did what she did because she was struggling to support her family.

"The same situation she was trying to dig herself out of, she has put me in," he said.

Purdy said he does not blame the military for suspending his clearance. There naturally would be concerns that a person with a large amount of debt could be seen as possibly susceptible to offers such as bribes, he said.

Troy Regional Medical Center CEO Teresa Grimes testified at the sentencing hearing, saying Austin had access to all of the Troy hospital's patients because her job was to provide patients and other authorized people with records.

Grimes also said the hospital has been operating at a loss for years and she worried it could be hit with a hefty fine because of the identity theft, hurting its ability to continue operating. Troy Regional is the city's only hospital.

A U.S. Secret Service Agent said the case involved numerous people, and identities also had been stolen from Montgomery high schools and other hospitals in both Montgomery and Atlanta.

The scheme was carried out with the help of "collusive employees, security guards and U.S. postal delivery personnel," Secret Service Resident Agent in Charge Clayton Slay said. He added Montgomery is in the top 10 of U.S. cities with the highest incidence of stolen identities being used in tax fraud.

Purdy said he is sure Austin probably did not even realize at the time the damage she would do by stealing those identities, or how many people would suffer.

"I'm just 1 of the folks who came forward. There are probably some who are worse off than me," Purdy said.

Things have started to look up for Purdy, with some recent calls from prospective employers.

Some prospective employers, however, seem reluctant to hire him not because of the credit problems but because of his background, he said. Some seem to believe because he has military experience and an advanced degree, he will accept only a high-paying job.

Purdy, who continues to work as many hours as he can at Krystal, said that is certainly not the case.

"I'm willing to step down - way down - just to work," he said.

 

Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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