Woman Who Bought House Using Stranger's Name Gets 5 Years for ID Theft

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 10, 2007

The woman who took a stranger's driver's license and used it to buy a $419,000 townhouse in Fairfax County last year was sentenced to five years in prison yesterday.

The scheme unraveled for Elizabeth Cabrera-Rivera, 40, not when she obtained two mortgages for the house in the stranger's name, or when she deeded the house to herself. It was when she refinanced her second mortgage, and the bank sent an overpayment check to the stranger, that Cabrera-Rivera was caught. She was arrested at the BB&T bank in Arlington County that figured out her scheme.

The victim of the identity theft, Jose Lara of Winchester, told an Arlington Circuit Court judge yesterday that the fraud had devastated him financially. When he went to refinance the house he lives in with his wife and three children, he was turned down. When he sought a business loan for his trucking company, he was refused and had to sell the company at a $70,000 loss. His one line of credit was reduced from $9,500 to $1,000, Lara said.

Arlington Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Evie Eastman asked Lara what credit issuers say when he tells them he has been a crime victim. "They say that it's something they just can't believe," Lara said. "I've had to shut down everything completely. I just have my job [with a printing company]. That's all I have right now."

Cabrera-Rivera "never intended to cause Mr. Lara these problems," said her lawyer, Alberto Salvado. "Her whole plan was to actually have a house in her name. It was not intended to use Mr. Lara and leave him with the bill to pay for everything."

Cabrera-Rivera and Lara went to the same chiropractor, and in February 2006 she either found or stole Lara's wallet. That is when Cabrera-Rivera, whose "whole intent in this was to have a piece of the American dream," Salvado said, decided to buy a house.

Salvado said Cabrera-Rivera, who is married and has a 5-year-old son, made the mortgage payments. But Eastman said Cabrera-Rivera's effort to refinance came so soon after the initial mortgages that she may never have paid anything.

"His life is in ruins right now," Eastman said of Lara. "It is going to be an uphill battle for Mr. Lara to clear his name."

Eastman said Cabrera-Rivera and her husband were laborers who did not earn enough money to buy a $419,000 townhouse, but a mortgage broker got them the loan in Lara's name. Eastman said Cabrera-Rivera also opened a joint bank account in her and Lara's name, causing Lara further credit problems.

Authorities tried to target the mortgage broker by having Cabrera-Rivera call him to get him to admit that he knew what was going on, Eastman said, but he did not do so. Salvado said the broker guided Cabrera-Rivera through the transactions, in which she obtained a first mortgage for $335,200 and a second mortgage for $83,800 in September 2006. In early November that year, court records show, "Lara" deeded the home to Cabrera-Rivera as a gift.

Also in early November, Cabrera-Rivera and her brother appeared at a BB&T bank branch in Arlington and applied for a $90,000 loan to refinance the second mortgage. She received the loan but overpaid on the closing costs, and the refund check went to Lara -- who never knew he owned a house in Springfield.

BB&T contacted Arlington police, then asked Cabrera-Rivera to come in for some more paperwork. By this time, Eastman said, Cabrera-Rivera's brother was gone, so she used her husband to pose as Lara. Both were arrested. Eastman said they had left their son, then 4, home alone while they made the trip to the bank.

Cabrera-Rivera's husband, Lorenzo D. Castro, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor identity theft charges in September and is awaiting sentencing. Her brother, Juan Carlos Cabrera-Rivera, has fled to Bolivia, Salvado said.

Cabrera-Rivera pleaded guilty in July to misdemeanor identity theft and felony charges of conspiracy, credit card theft and attempting to obtain a loan under false pretenses. "I apologize to Mr. Lara and to all of you," she said yesterday, sobbing.

Arlington Circuit Court Judge Benjamin N.A. Kendrick sentenced Cabrera-Rivera to one year on the identity theft charge and five years each on the three felony charges, to be served concurrently. He did not comment on the case.

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