Dead alias lasts decades
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.