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Spokane's Hotel Davenport Hires New Financial Controller;
He Cashes Check, Vanishes
By Meghann M. Cuniff, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 21, 2008 --Identity theft isn't just for Dumpster-diving drug addicts. It's also for nerdy-looking accountant types with impeccable references.

A man hired as the Davenport Hotel's financial controller cashed a $4,600 check he received after providing a forged moving receipt -- and then disappeared after being asked to investigate a suspicious check.

William J. Johnson, 52, could face charges of forgery, first-degree identity theft and first-degree theft under a recommendation sent to the Spokane County prosecutor's office Thursday by Spokane police Detective Bart Stevens.

He had landed the job at the city's landmark hotel using a stolen identity, Stevens said.

Stevens suspects Johnson left the state and has applied for other jobs -- the Davenport has received calls from potential employers seeking a reference.

"Of course, they're probably not giving him a good one," Stevens said.

Hotel owner Walt Worthy said Johnson provided great references and a work history that included a job as a controller at a Hilton hotel. The identity he used, Robert J. Johnson -- he asked his co-workers to call him Bill -- passed all background checks, according to the hotel.

"We did everything we could have and can't think of anything we would have done differently," Worthy said in written statement.

Stevens said he learned Johnson's real identity after searching a storage unit he had rented at ABC Mini Storage on Highway 2, where Stevens found documents for Johnson's car.

The storage facility's owner had a copy of Johnson's Louisiana driver's license that matched a photo supplied by the Davenport.

The man hired to head the hotel's finances "looked like a nerd," said hotel spokesman Tom McArthur. "That's what you'd expect, and that's what he looked like."

Johnson didn't have a home to search -- he was staying at the hotel until he found a place, McArthur said.

Johnson was hired around the beginning of August and was last heard from Sept. 11 after hotel co-owner Karen Worthy called on his cell phone and said they needed to investigate a suspicious check when he got into work that day.

"We just wanted his assistance to look into it," McArthur said. "He never showed up."

Stevens said he suspects Johnson was linked to the suspicious check, which he said was for less than $5,000.

He warned it may be difficult to catch Johnson. If the prosecutor's office files charges, a warrant will be issued that would show up on national searches if he were contacted by police, assuming he gave his true identity.

While identity theft has become common, white-collar identity theft is rare, police say.

"Ninety-five percent of the time it's the low-level forged check to get their next fix," Stevens said.

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To see more of The Spokesman-Review, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.spokesmanreview.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

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