"He didn't know I was a real person." Illegal immigrant apologizes to man for stealing ID

Image 1 of 4

Talk about illegal immigration often seems to come down to only two choices.

Throw them out or let them stay. Build a wall or let it be.

But a Villa Rica man told the FOX 5 I-Team he discovered the question is far more complicated. And he's a victim of illegal immigration.

According to the government, more than two million are working in this country illegally. They're doing it by using someone else's name and Social Security number. A recent Internal Revenue Service Inspector General report said the federal government does a poor job warning ID theft victims someone is using their number. Instead, the IRS pockets an estimated $11 billion in taxes each year from people here illegally, but who will never be eligible for benefits like Social Security.

And that means people like Juan Carlos Estrada-Hernandez.

When the FOX 5 I-Team last saw him in March 2017, the Mexican native stood in a Douglas County courtroom hoping a judge would let him out of jail until trial.

At least one person here wasn't buying his story one bit.

"It's ridiculous to give him bond,” muttered David Omlor.

You can understand Omlor's reluctance. It took him a while to find Estrada-Hernandez. For years, the Villa Rica tax accountant had been confused by IRS letters and audits insisting he had the extra income he didn't claim. David repeatedly told them he didn't work anywhere else.

Last year, David lost his job and went to file for unemployment benefits, but the state turned him down. Why? According to their records, Omlor was still working – at one of the largest construction firms in the state of Georgia.

"I'm wondering how I'm going to put food on the table,” he told us last year. “And the Department of Labor's telling me I'm working."

Villa Rica police and Cobb County authorities eventually arrested Estrada-Hernandez. Only then did Omlor learn from Social Security where else his number had been used -- with 21 employers he also didn't know, including restaurants, staffing agencies, and other construction companies, in places where clearly more than just Estrada-Hernandez had been pretending to be him.

Suddenly Omlor found himself a prime example of a disturbing crime: ID theft from undocumented immigrants.

"He's committed a felony,” Omlor complained last year. “He's using someone else's identity. He should be deported."

Even if the culprits are eventually caught, it's not before sometimes becoming productive members of their community.

A popular police officer in Anchorage, Alaska lost his job after authorities realized he was actually here illegally using an American's name and Social Security number. Rafael Mora-Lopez would serve time in federal prison. It's unclear whether he was eventually deported to Mexico.

In the case of David Omlor's identity thief, Estrada-Hernandez's wife and three American-born children showed up for his bond hearing last year.

His lawyer pointed out Estrada-Hernandez had been a steady worker for 10 years and avoided any other legal trouble. The judge took a chance and granted him bond. The real David Omlor was not pleased.

"If he shows back up I'll be surprised,” he predicted then. “I'll really be surprised."

So when the time came this year for trial, David showed up early at the Douglas County courthouse.

And so did the 35-year-old man who for a decade... pretended to be him.

Juan Carlos Estrada-Hernandez pleaded guilty to forgery in the fourth degree. He was sentenced to 10 years probation, fined $1000 and ordered to pay Omlor $5000 for the trouble he caused him.

"It's been a long time coming,” Omlor said, satisfied.

Estrada-Hernandez told the court he bought David's Social Security number at a flea market for a few hundred dollars.

"He was under the understanding when he first starting using it that it was for someone who's deceased and didn't think it was going to hurt anybody,” explained his attorney Alejandro Garcia.

Judge David Emerson told Estrada-Hernandez it was very likely he could be deported now that he has pleaded guilty to a felony. He said he understood.

Before the hearing, Estrada-Hernandez asked Omlor for a favor. Even if they didn't share the same language, could they meet face to face so he could explain why they shared the same name? A private visit inside the courthouse followed with an interpreter helping the two men communicate.

For a bitter victim of ID theft, it would make a marked difference in how he sees the bigger picture.

"He was a nice guy and a real person,” David admitted. “And he didn't know I was a real person. He apologized a few times. He shook my hand. He offered... he was very apologetic. A nice guy."

Through his attorney, Estrada-Hernandez issued this statement to the FOX 5 I-Team.

“All I ever wanted to do was to support my family by working. I worked for years making an honest living and paying my taxes, but I made a mistake in how I went about it. I regret and apologize to Mr. Omlor for causing him any harm but it was never my intention. As a result of my lapse in judgment, I’ve put my family’s future in jeopardy and I only have myself to blame. I look forward to moving on and learning from this experience.”

His attorney wouldn't say how Estrada-Hernandez will earn a living now that he can't pretend to be a real citizen. What happens to his children if he's deported? What happens if he stays? No answers.

"He wants to stay in the United States and be a good citizen,” Omlor recounted. “And I commend him for that."

Questions that once seemed so simple to this ID theft victim now suddenly hazy... complicated. A puzzle with no easy solution.

"These immigrants have legal children in the United States,” he pointed out. “But they're not legal themselves. What do you do? I think something needs to be done with immigration. I'm not sure exactly what that is."