A man in New York, US, tried to fake his own death to avoid a jail sentence.
Robert Berger, 25, of Huntington, New York, was caught out by a glaring spelling error.
“Typos and formatting errors gave up what we allege is a forged death certificate that this defendant used to avoid accountability for other crimes,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a media release. “Submitting fake documents to prosecutors is always a bad idea, and while he’d have been caught regardless, failure to use spell check made this alleged fraud especially glaring.”
Berger faces up to four years in prison if convicted of offering a false instrument for filing. In addition he is awaiting sentencing and a jail sentence after pleading guilty to charges of possession of a stolen Lexus motor vehicle and attempted grand larceny of a truck.
“It will never cease to amaze me the lengths some people will go to to avoid being held accountable on criminal charges,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas told AP News.
Arraigned by video on Tuesday because of the coronavirus pandemic, Berger pleaded not guilty to a single count of offering a false instrument for filing. A judge set bail at US$1 but ordered Berger back to jail because of his outstanding cases. His next court date is scheduled for 29 July.
A message seeking comment was left with a public defender who took over Berger’s case after the lawyer who submitted the suspicious death certificate claimed he had been used as a pawn and had nothing to do with the alleged shenanigans.
Scheduled to be sentenced to a year in jail last October on the theft-related charges, Berger fled New York state, while taking steps to convince his then-lawyer, prosecutors and the judge that he had killed himself — including allegedly using his fiance to pass along a bogus death certificate, prosecutors said.
At first glance, Berger’s purported death certificate looked like an official document issued by the New Jersey Department of Health, Vital Statistics and Registry, but there was a major problem: Registry was spelled “Regsitry,” prosecutors said. There were also inconsistencies in the font type and size that raised suspicions.
The real New Jersey Department of Health, Vital Statistics and Registry confirmed that Berger’s death certificate was a fake, prosecutors said.
Berger was alive, but not entirely well. Supposedly dead, he was arrested in suburban Philadelphia on charges including allegations he provided a false identity to law enforcement and stole from a Catholic college. He was sentenced in January to up to a year in jail, according to Pennsylvania court records.
Berger’s case was reminiscent of one six years ago in which a former Coast Guard petty officer-turned-shoe salesman posed as a former military lawyer, soliciting clients and appearing in court. That man, Kenneth Goldstein, was outed as a fraud when he started rambling in an un-lawyerlike fashion in a Long Island courtroom.
“You’re gonna get caught,” Singas said. “We say it all the time. Crime doesn’t pay. We’ll catch up with you eventually. In this case, it’s never a good idea to submit phony documents to the district attorney. We were able to make sure that he wasn’t able to get away with it.”