A Fairfax County man, who fled to Pennsylvania after his ex-wife obtained a $1.3 million judgment against him for brutal harassment and having her falsely arrested 10 times, was sentenced Monday to 16 months in federal prison for stealing the Social Security number of a man with a similar name in Mississippi.
Ronnie Lee Durham, 51, lives on Janelle Street in the Franconia area with his adult son Nathan. During his marriage to the former Terri Durham, he not only swore out false abuse complaints against her but filed false tax claims against her, sent vicious letters to her employers which caused her to be fired, and circulated a phony Washington Post article (with my byline!) to the local bar claiming her divorce lawyer had been arrested. The tenth arrest of his wife caused her to be held without bond for 17 days, though not one case was prosecuted. The trauma of the marriage was so bad his wife was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is receiving Social Security disability payments.
The Durhams divorced in 2009, and Terri married Andrew Harley. She then filed a defamation and malicious prosecution suit against Ronnie Durham. In 2010, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Lorraine Nordlund heard the details of Ronnie Durham’s actions and ordered him to pay $485,000 for malicious prosecution and $850,000 for defamation. But Ronnie Durham, who had quietly changed his name legally (in Maryland) to Ronnie Lee Johnson in 2007, was gone, along with his son. Terri Durham Harley has not seen him for years, though they are in contact now.
It was that son who went to the police in Bucks County, Pa., and in 2012 handed over two passports, a driver’s license, a state identification and a passport application for his father, under both Ronnie Johnson and Ronnie Durham. The Lower Southampton Township police investigated and Detective Eric Landamia found that while Durham Johnson was working at a computer company in Langhorne, Pa., he’d found the name and social security number of a Ronnie Paul Johnson, living in Mississippi, and started using it. Durham Johnson opened up a bank account, a debit card and held two jobs using the Mississippi man’s information, enabling him to avoid being tracked down to answer for his Fairfax County judgment. The Mississippi Ronnie Johnson informed Landamia he had not given the Pennsylvania Ronnie Johnson permission to use his social security number.
The former Fairfax man was arrested, and eventually wound up in federal court in Philadelphia, charged with five counts of social security fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. Federal prosecutors agreed to drop the identity theft charges in exchange for guilty pleas to the fraud charges, and Durham Johnson pleaded guilty in February. A sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors last week said that Durham Johnson had a criminal history of assault, identity theft and insurance fraud convictions, which even his ex-wife didn’t know about.
Durham Johnson faced a possible sentence of 12 to 18 months, and his lawyer, Michael Engle of Philadelphia, said he was pleased that the aggravated identity theft charges had been dismissed because those carried two-year mandatory minimum sentences each. He said that expert reports found that Durham Johnson had mental health issues, combined with his propensity to “obsess about the issue of Social Security theft-related issues, with the concept of identity theft, that these types of identities are not secure and not safe.” He said his client “was doing all this to satisfy what he was attempting to prove, that people can easily obtain a Social Security number and get fake IDs. This was what he indicated was the driving force behind all this.” Though Engle sought a sentence of probation and home confinement, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell imposed a 16-month term and a $3,000 fine, and gave Durham Johnson a week to surrender.
Engle acknowledged that Durham Johnson still faced the $1.3 million Fairfax judgment. “That’s still hanging out there,” Engle said. “Whether there’ll be any meaningful way to collect on that, I have no idea.” He said there were no serious financial repercussions suffered by the Mississippi Ronnie Johnson but that he did have to untangle himself from the IRS.
Terri Harley said she was pleased with the 16-month sentence, but disappointed that the judge gave her ex-husband a week to surrender. She doesn’t think he’ll show up. “He’s a former correctional officer” at Lorton, Harley said. “He said he would never go to jail.”
But Harley had only sought a 34-day prison sentence for Durham Johnson, two days for every one of the 17 that she spent in the Fairfax jail without bond after her then-husband’s 10th round of false abuse accusations. She is considering filing a complaint against the magistrates who blindly accepted Durham Johnson’s accusations and tossed her in jail ten times, and who told her they would not accept charges filed by her.
Harley also learned more about her son Nathan, now 24 and also suffering from PTSD, according to his mother. “I had no idea how much Nathan helped the prosecutors in Bucks County and in federal court, and I’m just incredibly proud of it.” She said that though her son had been traumatized by living with Durham Johnson, and “he’s got a long road ahead of him, I’m confident he’s going to come out of it fine.”
Here’s our original, detailed look at this case from 2012: The terrible case of Ronnie Lee Durham, his son, his ex-wife and her lawyer (and me)
And here’s the follow-up after the guilty plea earlier this year: Ronnie Lee Durham Johnson, Fairfax byline thief, pleads guilty to federal crimes in Philadelphia