ID Theft Puts Innocent Man In San Quentin

Feb. 20 - KGO - No one believed a Bay Area man when he said he was innocent, that his crimes were being committed by a man who stole his identity. No one listened to him and he ended up in San Quentin.

In April of last year, Jorge Arteaga was sent to San Quentin for crimes he never committed. Arteaga pleaded innocent in court. No one believed him.

Jorge Arteaga, I.D. Theft Victim: "I was like, crying in front of them, trying to say that, 'why you gonna send me to prison?'"

Arteaga says he was the victim of identity theft and that the real criminal used his name, driver's license and birth date. He asked his face not be shown because he fears the thief may retaliate.

We can tell you, Arteaga is 32, married with three kids, has his own home and a business installing car windows.

His personal hell started four years ago when the state garnished his bank account for failing to pay speeding tickets. Arteaga was able to convince the judge he was not the same person. On the tickets -- the wrong address, the wrong car and someone else's signature.

Later in 2003, Arteaga was arrested twice on drug warrants. Both times he convinced authorities he wasn't the criminal.

But last March he was jailed on another of his imposter's warrants -- driving on a suspended license. Records also showed he was a parole violator with two auto theft convictions. Again, crimes Arteaga claimed he knew nothing about.

At the parole hearing, the commissioner even looked at the imposter's mug shot. Arteaga thought that would clear him.

Jorge Arteaga: "Sir, if you take me to jail, you wrong 'cause that person not me. You can tell right now and they still have the picture in front of them."

But the fingerprints on the rap sheet were Arteaga's and he was sent to San Quentin.

He says the first night, someone attacked his cellmate.

Jorge Arteaga: "He just grabbed his head and started stabbing, killing him."

Robert Miranda, Arteaga's Attorney: "No one wanted to listen to him and he ends up in San Quentin Prison. That's what it's about. It's a gross injustice."

Arteaga hired attorney Robert Miranda who wrote the warden a convincing letter, which led to his client's release.

ABC7 asked the Department of Corrections how things could go so wrong. Their answer -- "a minor clerical error," not identity theft.

Bill Sessa, Calif. Dept. of Corrections: "Well, we have two former inmates, both on parole with the same name and we ended up accidentally switching their fingerprints in the files. According to our records, he's a car thief and we do have his fingerprints and we do have a criminal history."

Robert Miranda: "My response to that is, no, it's not a minor clerical error. My client has never been convicted of a felony in the State of California. So I don't know where CDC gets its information, but obviously they're wrong."

The courts now agree with Arteaga. Last month, a judge exonerated him by finding he was factually innocent of the crimes committed by the imposter.

Corrections officials still aren't convinced, but they do admit one thing.

Bill Sessa: "It's an amazing coincidence, if in fact his story is true."

As for Arteaga...

Jorge Arteaga: "I feel sad, of course angry, mad, but most thing make me feel sad because of system in the United States not supposed to be like that."

But Arteaga will never be completely cleared. The Justice Department computers can't erase the rap sheets. If he's ever stopped for a speeding ticket, he'll still have to answer to all of his imposter's crimes. Arteaga will be arrested and jailed until authorities can clear his name, either at the police station or later in court.

And unless the law changes, that's a prospect Arteaga faces for the rest of his life.

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For more information:
Call Brenda Martinson 760-476-0685, or E-mail:

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