DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. -
Anyone who comes to this country unlawfully needs one thing if they want steady work: a Social Security number to put on their job application.
But since you have to be here lawfully to get a real Social Security number, those who aren't wind up stealing from those who are.
David Omlor knows that all too well.
"This is the other guy's life affecting my life," he remarked while sorting through a stack of police reports, Labor Department records and Social Security summaries.
With a name like David Omlor, you'd think you'd have it all to yourself. Not even close.
"There are a few illegitimate Dave Omlors out there," this Dave Omlor complained.
More than a few.
Last year, the Villa Rica tax accountant was laid off from a job he had held for 18 years. So he headed to the Georgia Department of Labor to file for unemployment benefits. Instead, he got only a surprise.
"I was told, well, you're still working. And I said, I am? And they said, yes, you're working at this construction company."
C.W. Matthews, one of the largest construction firms in Georgia. Not exactly David's area of expertise.
"I'm wondering how I'm going to put food on the table," Omlor remembered. "And the Department of Labor's telling me I'm working."
Luckily, the Villa Rica police department took his complaint seriously, and with the help of the Cobb County Sheriff's Department arrested the man they say was pretending to be David. His real name: Juan Estrada-Hernandez, a native of Mexico who had been working at C. W. Matthews for the last 10 years. The company says he actually started in 2003 with another construction firm C.W. Matthews bought in 2006. A spokesman said they had no idea he was using a fake name.
"So you're pretty sure he stole your identity?" I asked the real Dave Omlor.
"Do you think he's the only one?"
"I don't think he's the only one."
That's because when David asked Social Security to see where else his number may have been used, he got back a long list of employers -- 21 in all -- including restaurants... staffing agencies... and other construction companies.
Somehow David Omlor and his Social Security number had become the hardest-working combo in Georgia.
"It's a real burden," he stressed. "It's a huge burden. Now I have to contact 20 different companies where my identity has been used to gain employment. And there is no resource for me to go to. I have to do that myself."
David was audited in 2005 and 2007 because of the other David Omlors' income that he didn't claim. He filed police reports then and didn't have to pay additional taxes or penalties. Still, he says it was a huge pain, but at least he thought it was over.
He was wrong.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. By law most companies use a screening system called e-Verify, which requires newly-hired employees provide official documents like a Social Security Number. A vast majority of people here illegally are not allowed to apply for a number, so authorities say they either make one up... or steal a real one, buying a fake card on the black market.
But clearly the Internal Revenue Service should have noticed how often one number was used in so many places at the same time. All those pretend David Omlors had taxes taken out of their checks. So why didn't that branch of government do something?
Easy answer says Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck. The IRS can't.
"They're not allowed to talk to ICE," he explained. "It's illegal for them to talk to ICE. They can't cooperate. They can't say, hey! We've got eight people paying taxes on the same Social Security number. Here's their addresses. They're literally, legally not allowed to do that."
So why not fix the problem? Kuck believes he knows. Free money.
"IRS doesn't want that door open. Why? They're making billions of dollars of money in taxes, especially Social Security taxes that will never have to be paid out to the people who put the money in."
According to the Social Security Administration, an estimated $11 billion in tax dollars are collected each year from people who are not legally allowed to be here, much less ever collect Social Security benefits.
Like the only man accused so far of pretending to be David Omlor. Because he was able to work, Estrada-Hernandez was able to build a life in Georgia. He's lived quietly in a simple Hapeville duplex apartment, he and his wife raising three American-born children. The 34-year-old father had been in jail without bond since his January arrest. The entire family came to court when he asked the judge to reconsider and let him out of jail pending trial.
"It tugged at your heart a little bit," admitted Omlor, who was also in court to see what happened. "But he's not the victim. The victim is me."
But after authorities finally tracked him down, Douglas County Superior Court judge David Emerson had to decide whether to grant Estrada-Hernandez bond and risk him not coming back for his trial.
"He is originally from Mexico however he has lived in the U.S. almost half his life," explained his attorney Alejandro Garcia to the judge. "The last thing he wants to do is go back."
We will find out for sure when he goes to trial. Judge Emerson agreed to a $15,000 bond. Estrada-Hernandez walked out of jail the same day.
"It was hard enough finding this guy when he was working here," complained the real Dave Omlor. "It's ridiculous to give him bond. If he's an illegal, what identity does he have? He's got my identity. If he shows back up I'll be surprised. I'll really be surprised."
No court date has been set. Meanwhile, Dave Omlor of Villa Rica has found another job, he and his Social Security number once again hard at work.