Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009 | William John Marley of Massachusetts is 56 years old and works at a landscaping company in the rural town of Barre, 22 miles northwest of Worcester.

William John Marley of Chula Vista is 67 years old and used to work in construction. He has credit cards and a California driver’s license. He has a wife with a second home in Ensenada and two adult children in the area.

He also has a half-brother, local law enforcement officials say: William John Marley of Massachusetts. And, they say, he has another name. Richard Burbank.

Burbank is the subject of a criminal prosecution that accuses him of living as an imposter for the past 30 years. Local prosecutors say he took his half-brother’s identity and used it to create a new life. He faces three felony charges that carry a maximum five years and four months in prison.

Last year, Marley — the Massachusetts Marley — began receiving notifications from credit card companies and North County Ford about overdue loan payments. He contacted police and reported that someone in the San Diego area had stolen his identity. Marley had not seen or heard from Burbank in decades.

Detective Dan Roos of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department took Marley’s complaint because it involved a debt owed to North County Ford, located in Vista. Roos said his investigation led him to Burbank, who was unemployed and living in a Chula Vista apartment. He called Marley and told him Burbank was the case’s primary suspect.

“He had thought that [Burbank] had actually passed away,” Roos said. “He was shocked when he found out that he was alive.”

Roos and Anna Winn, a deputy district attorney, said they didn’t know why Burbank assumed Marley’s identity, but that it didn’t appear he used it for financial gain. Burbank, now in custody at the Vista Detention Facility and waiting for his next court appearance Friday, declined an interview request.

Roos said Burbank lived in Massachusetts with a wife and three children and worked as an accountant until 1978. Then he left. Burbank abandoned his family and they never heard from him again, Roos said. They assumed he passed away.

“It’s not an everyday thing where someone leaves everything behind,” Roos said. “That’s one of the saddest things about it. There’s a family out east who grew up without a father.”

After contacting Burbank, Roos talked with two of his adult children — one from his abandoned Massachusetts family and one from his new Chula Vista family. Roos said both children were upset to learn of their father’s actions. One daughter from Massachusetts was a teenager when Burbank left. Roos said she was upset, but “happy to find out that he’s actually alive.”

Marley declined to comment, except to say he wanted to move on. “I just got my business back in order, and it’s kind of been a nightmare and I want to leave it alone,” Marley said in a phone message.

Marley never used his half-brother’s name in his message. Nor did he express sympathy about Burbank’s circumstances.

“I don’t want to be rude or anything, but I don’t want to get involved in any of this stuff,” Marley said. “I’m glad they got the suspect.”

The prosecution is unique among today’s identity theft cases because the alleged crime occurred before the electronic storage of personal information became common. Most modern identity theft crimes involve an unknown individual taking personal information from a stranger and using it to access bank accounts or make purchases. The thieves grab what they can and move on.

“In the last decade, with the volume of data, the rise of remote transactions, personal information has become a bigger target of criminal schemers,” said Joanne McNabb, chief of the California Office of Privacy Protection. “It wasn’t as usual to have a few numbers and data points to go out and do things.”

In Burbank’s case, law enforcement officials said the man created an entirely new lifestyle around Marley’s identity. They said they don’t know how he got Marley’s personal information, but prosecutors accuse him of using it for a California driver’s license, credit cards and loans. He was able to stay off of Marley’s radar for 30 years by making regular payments on his purchases and not affecting his half-brother’s credit, Roos said.

“Based on the economy, he lost his job out here and couldn’t make payments, and that’s what got the ball rolling,” Roos said.

By December 2008, Roos and debt collectors closed in on Burbank. Roos estimated that Burbank owed between $50,000 and $100,000 for his outstanding credit and auto loan. He said Burbank agreed to turn himself in to face prosecution but then fled to Mexico.

The U.S. Marshals Service coordinated with Mexican law enforcement authorities, who found Burbank at his second wife’s home in Ensenada. Burbank was deported by Mexican authorities, taken into custody 10 days ago at the border by U.S. Marshals and booked into the county jail on $150,000 bail.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle. And set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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