Deal looms in ‘total identity theft’ case

An illegal immigrant accused of completely assuming the persona of a Houston elementary school teacher has reached a plea deal in a case that put a face to the growing problem of “total identity theft” in the United States, a prosecutor said.

A docket notation Friday shows a change-of-plea hearing for Benita Cardona-Gonzalez has been scheduled for Jan. 7 in federal court in Wichita. The notice comes the same day that prosecutors amended charges against her to a single count of possessing fraudulent identification documents.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson confirmed Saturday that the woman’s defense attorney had advised him and the court that Cardona-Gonzalez had accepted the plea offer and is ready to plead guilty.

The Mexican national is accused of completely assuming the persona of teacher Candida L. Gutierrez, who went public with her plight in a story by The Associated Press that circulated around the world. Gutierrez first learned her identity had been hijacked when she was turned down for a mortgage more than a decade ago.

All the while, Cardona-Gonzalez claimed it was Gutierrez who had stolen her identity. The women’s unusual tug-of-war personified the problem of “total identity theft” in which con artists go beyond financial fraud to assume many other aspects of another person’s life.

In this case, the thief not only opened fraudulent credit and bank accounts but also used the stolen identity to obtain a job, a driver’s license, a mortgage and even medical care for the birth of two children.

Gutierrez did not immediately return a phone message left on her cellphone.

Anderson declined to comment further on the case.