U.S. News

Famed Detroit-area imposter pleads guilty to identity fraud

DETROIT (Reuters) - A Detroit-area con artist, whose criminal career spans decades and spawned an award-winning film, pleaded guilty on Thursday in federal court to identity theft and mail fraud.

William Street Jr., 64, admitted to impersonating a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Duke University, obtaining his transcripts and diplomas and applying for jobs using a resume created under the man’s name.

Street, who prosecutors said has a substantial criminal history dating to 1971, could be sentenced to 28 months to 34 months in prison under the agreement with prosecutors. He will be sentenced on Jan. 28.

Street’s story inspired the 1989 film “Chameleon Street,” which won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990.

In 1971, Street tricked the Detroit Tigers into giving him a spring-training tryout, posing as then-Houston Oilers wide receiver Jerry LeVias. He did not make the team.

Weeks later, Street dropped off a letter threatening to kill Tigers outfielder Willie Horton’s wife and children if he was not paid money, according to the Detroit News. Horton’s wife recognized Street, who had sat near her on a flight to spring training, and he was charged with extortion, the News said.

Street was arrested in February in suburban Detroit after he gave an officer a West Point alumni card with a 54-year-old Virginia man’s name on it during a traffic stop. Street also was wearing a West Point class ring.

However, the officer who pulled Street over knew the ID card did not match his name, according to court documents. A white lab coat embroidered with the man’s name and a University of Michigan logo, as well as identification cards from Harvard and Duke University also were found in Street’s vehicle.

And at Street’s Plymouth, Michigan house, investigators found transcripts, diplomas and other items in the man’s name.

According to the plea agreement filed in federal court, Street decided to impersonate the man after reading an article about him running a marathon that said he went to West Point.

In early 2014 using the man’s name and Social Security number, Street asked Duke and West Point to mail transcripts and diplomas to his Plymouth house, according to the agreement.

The man he impersonated had not made any requests for diplomas or transcripts in 2014 and has never been to Michigan, according to court documents.

Reporting by Ryan Felton; Editing by David Bailey and Bill Trott