A former Kansas City area used car dealer behind one of the largest identify theft cases ever prosecuted in a Missouri court was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison.
Terry Lee Morrow Jr. used his customers’ names, birth dates and Social Security numbers, along with fake addresses and other details he made up, to obtain more than $1.1 million in fraudulent car loans involving dozens of victims, authorities said.
Morrow’s take amounted to more than $478,000, Jackson County prosecutors said. Some of his victims still are working through problems that his actions in 2011 and 2012 caused.
“He destroyed lives and did it for his own personal gain,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told Circuit Court Judge Charles H. McKenzie during a four-hour sentencing hearing in Independence.
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Morrow, 27, pleaded guilty in April to two counts of identity theft and nine counts each of forgery and deceptive business practices.
Baker’s office prosecuted the case with attorneys from the Missouri attorney general’s office, who recounted Thursday how Morrow had lived large during the scam, sometimes running up hotel and nightclub bills that ran into four figures.
One victim who bought a car from Morrow testified how representatives of a car finance company came to his apartment and badgered him and his wife for five hours, looking for a car that the victim insisted he had never bought. The experience contributed to his wife’s health issues, including depression, he said.
A second victim testified that though she never bought a car from Morrow, she did hand over her driver’s license for a test drive. Soon she was on the hook for a fraudulent $29,000 loan. The single mother said she lost her job because credit issues made it impossible for her to buy a car.
A third witness said that while Morrow didn’t kill anyone, he and the other victims are still trying to rebuild their lives after Morrow stole their identities.
“When we are born, we are given one identity and one identity only,” he said, “and to have it stolen to be used for selfish acts is just as bad as murder in my eyes. … In an age of technology, our identities and creditworthiness are all we have.”
During the hearing, Brian Bear, an assistant Missouri attorney general, made a large stack with a pile of Morrow’s fraulent loan applications.
“When you can measure forgery physically with a yardstick,” he said, the defendant’s guilt is clear.
“Mr. Morrow is a profoundly culpable person,” he said.
Nick Dudley, a lawyer representing Morrow, insisted that his client was contrite and remorseful.
“He told me, ‘Don’t minimize what I have done,’” said Dudley, who reminded McKenzie that Morrow was a first-time offender with no history of violent behavior.
Toward the end of the hearing, Morrow turned to face his victims seated in the gallery.
“I apologize to each and every victim in this case,” he said. “I realize the damage that I have done to other people.”
He also apologized to his father, who taught him the car business, saying: “I took what my dad gave me and tarnished it.”
Morrow operated his car lots as Edge Auto Sales in Independence and Blue Springs. Between October 2011 and April 2012, he allegedly set up the fake loans and sold them to four automotive finance companies, which then tried to collect but had trouble finding the customers.
The Missouri attorney general’s office negotiated with the finance companies to remove the loans from the victims’ credit reports.
Missouri investigators discovered the scam after a woman saw a bogus loan on her credit report and told the attorney general’s office.
Before Missouri officials began investigating, Morrow had left Missouri for Illinois, where he created another dealership, Silver Star Motors.
Through Silver Star, Morrow reused identities of some of his Jackson County victims and created new ones in Illinois. An Illinois man checking his credit report discovered a phony car loan and alerted authorities, who arrested Morrow as he attempted to flee.
When he announced the charges against Morrow last year, Attorney General Chris Koster said the case highlighted the value of consumers checking their credit reports.
The attorney general’s office asks consumers who suspect identity theft to report it to its consumer complaint unit at 800-392-8222.