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Md. men used dead man's identity to collect money, credit card debt

Jerome Malecki used to do odd jobs and mow the lawn for the retiree who lived next door to his Harford County, Md., home. But when the neighbor died in 2004, Malecki stole tens of thousands of dollars from the dead man.

On Friday, a federal judge in Baltimore sentenced Malecki to a year and a day in prison for fraud, federal officials said. After that, he has to spend six months in home confinement. He also was ordered to pay $140,729 in restitution.

Malecki, 56, admitted to a years-long scam to steal about $95,000 in Social Security and pension payments sent to his neighbor, Fred Kessler. During that time, he kept the lawn tidy and carried in the mail so nothing seemed amiss in Kessler's home. Using Kessler's accounts, he even paid the mortgage, taxes and utilities to make it appear that Kessler was alive.

Federal authorities said Kessler, 70, a retired Baltimore County employee, died away from home on July 10, 2004. He had no known family or heirs, and his death was never reported to the county or the Social Security Administration.

Before his death, Kessler had given Malecki a key to his home, according to court documents. Soon after he died, Malecki and co-conspirator David Anthony Johnson, 47, of Baltimore began using that key to come and go. Malecki read the mail, paid bills and set the lights on timers so the house would appear lived-in.

Harford sheriff's spokeswoman Monica A. Worrell said Kessler went into cardiac arrest at a recreation center and died. Sheriff's investigators tried repeatedly to locate Kessler's family but were unsuccessful. Worrell said his body was to be taken to the Maryland State Anatomy Board, which uses remains for research and education.

Meanwhile, Malecki and Johnson renewed Kessler's old credit cards and set up new ones in his name. By the time the scheme was uncovered in November 2007, authorities said, the pair had racked up about $47,000 in credit card debt.

Johnson pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to aggravated identity theft, federal authorities said. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in February.

-- Maria Glod

By Maria Glod  |  January 19, 2010; 8:44 AM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse , Maria Glod , Maryland  
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"Meanwhile, Kessler and Johnson renewed Kessler's old credit cards and set up new ones in his name." Don't you mean Melecki??? This is terrible writing and reporting WaPo.

Posted by: Downtown2 | January 19, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Its a sad day!!! I feel this story so much because my id was just stolen from me. It had my social security number on it...I feel so vunerable right now...Its alot of work to be done when someone steals your identity...I dont have any remorse for the theives they should get more tacky stealing from the dead...

Posted by: msidntko | January 19, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Well, at least they continued to mow his lawn. That's got to be worth something. Maybe I should report MY lawn guy to the police and see what kind of restitution I can get . . .

Posted by: Crimewatch2000 | January 19, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

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