Identity Theft Victim... Mistaken for Deadly Cop Killer; Part II

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The Wrong Suspect-Part 2

A Investigation:
By Jim Defede

In the early afternoon of September 13, 2007, Kevin Wehner was in the front yard of his house in Jacksonville, changing the spark plugs on his car, when his mother-in-law called from New York. "She said, 'Right now I'm looking at your face and your name all over the television,'" Wehner recalled. "`It's on almost every station and they are saying you just killed a cop and you shot three more.'"

Two hours earlier, and more than 350 miles away in Miami, Shawn LaBeet, a violent felon with a penchant for assault weapons, had gunned down four Miami-Dade cops. It was one of the state's worst shooting rampages against police officers in more than two decades. For more than four hours, police believed the gunman was Wehner, a man with no criminal history.

"Imagine I didn't hear about this manhunt happening," said the 30-year-old Wehner, "and I'd been on the road, maybe even with my children, they would have come and just possibly shot me. When they apprehend someone like this, they come in with guns blazing; they don't really ask questions, they shoot first."

The Miami Dade Police Department's assertion that the killer was Wehner - an assertion that prompted a nationwide manhunt and allowed LaBeet to initially escape the area - seemed, at the time, perfectly reasonable. In 2003, LaBeet had stolen Wehner's identity, obtained a Florida driver's license, and had been openly living in South Florida as Kevin Foston Wehner. Furthermore, LaBeet's girlfriend told police in the moments immediately after the shooting that her boyfriend's name was Kevin Wehner.

"That hampered our investigation," Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said at the time. The decision by LaBeet's girlfriend, Renee D'Angelo, to withhold LaBeet's true identity has been deemed so serious by police and prosecutors that they have criminally charged the girlfriend as an accessory after the fact to murder. She is facing up to 20 years in prison.
A three-month CBS4 News investigation, however, reveals that long before that fateful September morning, a combination of both poor police work and lack of communication among local, state and federal agencies allowed Shawn LaBeet to remain free.

Among CBS4's findings:

* July 2004, more than three years before the shooting, the State of Florida was contacted by the real Kevin Wehner, who was living in New York at the time. He warned that based upon problems with his credit report, someone had apparently obtained a fraudulent Florida driver's license under his name and was living in South Florida. The state Department of Motor Vehicles took the complaint but did little about it. They did not red flag the Wehner driver's license with FDLE or any of the state databases used by law enforcement.

* Between December 2005 and April 2006, LaBeet, using the fraudulent Florida driver's license, bought a cache of firearms from a pawn shop in Tamarac and a gun shop in Key Largo. Included in these purchases was a Norinco MAK90 assault rifle, the gun used by LaBeet in his shootout with police.

* Thomas Kiffney, the owner of the Key Largo gun shop and a sergeant in the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, told CBS4 News that after the man who identified himself as Wehner made his last gun purchase, he asked about special ordering bullet proof vests and gas masks. Kiffney said he became so concerned by this conversation that on April 7, 2006, he called the Miami field office of the ATF and said they should investigate. "I just wanted to tell [ATF] that there was something suspicious about this guy," Kiffney said. "They seemed interested and I sent them all of the paperwork on the gun purchases. But that was the end of it, we never heard back from them."

* During October 2006, the real Kevin Wehner, who had moved to Jacksonville a few months earlier, called the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department to report that he had received renewal notices for two cars he knew nothing about in Miami-Dade County. A Jacksonville deputy investigated the case and determined that someone had indeed stolen Wehner's identity and had obtained a Florida driver's license. A report from that investigation lists a physical description of the suspect, an address for the suspect in Miami-Dade County, and a description of the suspect's two cars, as well as their license plate numbers. None of this information, however, was shared with other law enforcement agencies or even with the state DMV. "An attempt to contact the customer service line with the Department of Motor Vehicles was unsuccessful," the Jacksonville deputy concluded in his report. He then added: "Patrol efforts suspended."

* On August 17, 2007, one month before the shooting, Kevin Wehner went to the DMV office in Jacksonville to apply for a Florida driver's license. He was denied a license because there already was a Kevin Wehner in the system. Wehner filled out a fraud investigation report, complaining -- for the third time in three years -- that his identity had been stolen and someone was operating under his name in South Florida. The DMV took a picture of Wehner "as part of the fraud investigation," according to Major Ernie Duarte of the Florida Highway Patrol. On the day of the shooting, it was this very picture that Miami-Dade Police released to the media as the man wanted for murdering a police officer.

LaBeet, who had an outstanding warrant for his arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, was stopped by police on traffic violations on at least five separate occasions between 2003 and 2005. Each time he provided officers his false Kevin Wehner driver's license. Since neither the license nor the license plates were flagged in the system, LaBeet was merely issued a citation and allowed to leave.

"This is what the 9/11 Report complained about," noted Wayne Black,
a private security specialist who works with the Department of Homeland Security. "Agencies have got to talk to each other. Somebody has to do something. It's actually depressing the amount of red flags in this chain of events going back to 2003." READ MORE...

Click here to watch: Wrong Suspect Part II Video

If you missed CBS4's Part 1: Wrong Suspect
See my initial blog: Identity theft Victim Mistaken for Deadly Cop Killer -and follow links.

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