Dead alias lasts decades

Whitsunday Times - - NEWS COURT -

IF IT sounds like the plot of a Hol­ly­wood film, it’s be­cause that’s ex­actly what it is.

A movie partly in­spired one Can­non­vale man to live the past 27 years in Aus­tralia un­der the alias of a dead per­son.

It all came crash­ing down, how­ever, when an­other per­son also took the same alias and the name ended up with a war­rant for ar­rest.

Ho­ra­tio Le­an­der Villa, 68, was ar­rested at Syd­ney Air­port on June 12, 2016 af­ter try­ing to board a plane when his alias name was flagged and he was de­tained. They soon dis­cov­ered he was not who he had ap­peared to be.

Proser­pine Mag­is­trates Court heard on Mon­day how Villa had come to Aus­tralia in 1989 and within a year had ob­tained an Aus­tralian birth cer­tifi­cate and Queens­land driver’s li­cence un­der the name David Soe­gaard.

Po­lice pros­e­cu­tor Bern­hard Berger said a joint po­lice op­er­a­tion had dis­cov­ered a scheme in 2015 in­volv­ing a syn­di­cate deal­ing in the trade of Aus­tralian pass­ports and iden­tity doc­u­ments that used de­fi­cien­cies in the cor­re­la­tion of birth and death cer­tifi­cates that could cre­ate fake iden­ti­ties.

The iden­tity Villa as­sumed was that of a male born in 1942 who died a year later and which Villa would later use from 1989 un­til his ar­rest in 2016.

Villa orig­i­nally ar­rived in Aus­tralia on Oc­to­ber 10, 1989 when he en­tered le­git­i­mately as a United States cit­i­zen.

A mere 20 days later, how­ever, he was able to ob­tain a Queens­land birth cer­tifi­cate.

Mr Berger said this be­gan the “full-scale takeover of the name”.

Af­ter get­ting the birth cer­tifi­cate, Villa sub­se­quently ob­tained a driver’s li­cence, Medi­care card, tax file num­ber, nu­mer­ous per­sonal bank ac­counts, credit cards and per­sonal loans. Later he would even start his own busi­ness and ob­tain three con­sec­u­tive pass­ports.

Af­ter serv­ing a to­tal of seven months in prison and de­ten­tion for charges in New South Wales in the past year, he was given a tem­po­rary visa and is cur­rently ap­ply­ing for a per­ma­nent one.

Upon fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a search war­rant was ex­e­cuted on May 8 at a Can­non­vale ad­dress and Villa made full ad­mis­sions to po­lice. He later breached his bail con­di­tions af­ter giv­ing po­lice a wrong doc­u­ment.

Plead­ing guilty to fraud and breach­ing his bail, de­fence lawyer Michael Bowe said there had never been any sin­is­ter in­ten­tions from Villa and all he wanted was to live in Aus­tralia.

Mr Bowe said Villa was born in New York and trou­ble be­gan when he got in­volved with a bar and even­tu­ally fell in with the wrong crowd which led to him be­ing placed on five years pro­ba­tion in the United States. He de­cided to flee the coun­try af­ter his jaw was bro­ken.

“Af­ter see­ing a movie called High­lander (which in­volved as­sum­ing a fake iden­tity) ... he went and did it,” Mr Bowe said.

“There was no fi­nan­cial gain (in­volved). We are all lucky to be born here but he had that as­pi­ra­tion.”

Villa would even­tu­ally run a bar where he had sev­eral em­ploy­ees and ref­er­ences in the com­mu­nity at­tested to his good char­ac­ter and com­mu­nity work.

“He’s thrown him­self 100% into be­ing a proper and well-re­spected cit­i­zen in this coun­try,” Mr Bowe said. “This crime was com­mit­ted 30 years ago. Has this man been re­ha­bil­i­tated? He has.”

In sen­tenc­ing, Mag­is­trate Ron Muir­head said it was a charge that usu­ally car­ried a lengthy term of im­pris­on­ment but Villa had al­ready served time for re­lated crimes.

“The of­fences oc­curred 30 odd years ago. You’ve op­er­ated busi­nesses, em­ployed a num­ber of peo­ple and had no hint of trou­ble at all. You’ve had a very good life... and are a well-re­spected per­son,“Mr Muir­head said.

Villa was placed on a 12month good be­hav­iour bond for the fraud of­fences with a $5000 recog­ni­sance. Con­vic­tions were recorded.

For breach­ing bail he was also placed on an­other $500 bond with no con­vic­tion recorded.

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