"Mature businessman sitting on bed in prison cell", via Darrin Klimek, ThinkStock.
"Mature businessman sitting on bed in prison cell", via Darrin Klimek, ThinkStock.
“Mature businessman sitting on bed in prison cell”, via Darrin Klimek, ThinkStock.

Accused identity thief Timothy Barnett is making history in a way he never planned. The Los Angeles con man is the first alleged white-collar criminal ever charged under California’s three-strikes law. He faces 23 felonies. If convicted of any of them, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

There are those pundits who say that’s draconian because three-strikes usually is used to punish violent criminals like murderers or bank robbers.

But I say, “Amen!”

If convicted, Barnett’s life sentence will hopefully send an unmistakable message to all identity thieves and white-collar criminals: The free ride is over. People are angry. Prosecutors are taking the gloves off. Whether you rob people with a gun or a piece of paper, you are destroying lives. To quote my old hero Baretta, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

In this case, Barnett is accused of stealing the identities of five people to steal their homes. He targeted senior citizens in a low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood in South Los Angeles. People who diligently paid their mortgages for decades but who found themselves facing debt problems.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Barnett showed up on his victims’ doorsteps all duded up in his Sunday best. Professing to be a Christian, he prayed alongside his victims for God’s help in rescuing them from debt.

“He was telling me that he was a member of the church and that he was a man of God and I was a man of God,” Eddie F. Baker, Jr., 72, said of Barnett in a preliminary hearing. “So we kind of had a relationship. I trusted him.”

Barnett used that trust to steal their houses, prosecutors say, and to buy himself three Mercedes-Benzes and a $3.1-million home. He has pleaded not guilty. Through his attorney, Barnett says he offered legitimate foreclosure rescue services and that the prosecutor’s witnesses simply failed to hold up their end of the bargain.

But Barnett’s prior criminal history belies that explanation. He was convicted of two felonies in 1997 on two counts of residential burglary for a similar scheme, in which he offered to rescue people from foreclosure and then stole their homes. He served nearly five years in state prison.

If the charges are true, Barnett is, indeed, a dangerous human being. He uses his charm and his Christian faith to snooker vulnerable, trusting seniors into signing away the homes they’ve worked their entire lives to own. That’s worthy of a place in hell.

Clearly, five years in prison wasn’t enough to dissuade Barnett from running the exact same scam. If ever an identity thief seemed to beg for life in prison, Timothy Barnett is that guy. I say we should give it to him.

Originally posted at Credit.com