Monday, April 2, 2007
Help Me Howard: Not Me
Here is a nightmare: You are threatened with arrest by Texas for a crime committed in Texas even though you have never even been to Texas. Even worse, the police won't listen to you and now you have to worry about a knock at the door, which leaves you with only one thing to do: call Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- "How do you feel about it?"
When Marianne and her mother want to talk, they just walk into the yard.
Marianne Espinosa: "I bought a couple of them. They happened to be a male and a female."
Marianne is ready to graduate and can't wait to start teaching kids full time.
Marianne Espinosa: "I love it."
Patrick Fraser: "What's so good about it?"
Marianne Espinosa: "It makes my day. I'm having a bad day, I get to school, I see the kids and they're like, 'Ms. Espinosa!'"
Hearing happy kids squeal your name is nice; seeing your name on a letter from Texas Police is not.
Carmen Espinosa: "The letter said there was a warrant for her arrest and that I should contact them immediately."
The letter was addressed to a Maria Espinoza -- since her name is Marianne, she was not worried.
Carmen Espinosa: "And I showed it to her, and she said that's all silly."
The letter accused Maria Espinoza of driving without a license, running a Texas red light and failing in appear for a court hearing. Not possible, Marianne says.
Marianne Espinosa: "I've never been to that side of the country. The farthest I've been is to North Carolina, never been to Texas."
But then more letters followed, this one demanded that Marianne come to Texas and pay an $828 fine.
Marianne Espinosa: "I can't afford to pay the money -- I'm a college student, I'm an intern."
This one said, "There will be a warrant round-up and, on Saturday, you will be arrested in your home".
Police didn't show up, but then the Texas Constable's Office started leaving messages on their answering machine.
Voicemail: "She needs to contact us at (Number), or she will be arrested this week."
Carmen and Maria both called and told them they had the wrong Espinoza -- no one believed them.
Then Carmen went online and found a Maria Espinoza in the town where the tickets were issued.
Marianne Espinosa: "I found one that lives in Maynor, Texas."
Patrick Fraser: "So you could find them, and they could find them?"
Marianne Espinosa: "Yes, I could find them."
Carmen told the law enforcement people, but they didn't believe her, and the calls and letters kept coming.
Marianne Espinosa: "They were very rude, very uncooperative, and I do not appreciate that at all."
Now, as Marianne gets ready to graduate and look for a job, not only is she worried they will come arrest her, but that Texas authorities will slap her with a criminal record.
Marianne Espinosa: "And now Dade County is going to do a thorough investigation, and I don't need anything to pop up because I want to, you know, get a good job."
But since this is obviously a case of mistaken identity, does Marianne have anything to worry about? To find out, she called Help Me Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "Yes, she does. If she were to get stopped for a traffic violation in Florida, it could show up that she is wanted in Texas, and she could go to jail. This is outrageous; the state of Texas 'guessed' and hoped they had the right person -- this procedure is legal in Texas. But, if they pick up the wrong person, it opens them up to being sued."
When I spoke to the Travis County constable's office, where the warrant was issued I was told they went after Marianne because her birthday matched the suspect's birthday.
After we explained their mistake, they spoke to Marianne again. This time they believed her.
Patrick Fraser: "In fact, they later told me, 'We found the Maria Espinoza we were looking for, and Marianne in Miami no longer has anything to worry about.'"
But, Howard says, Texas needs to stop this.
Howard Finkelstein: "In Florida, if you are stopped and do not have a driver's license they take a thumbprint to avoid mistaken identities. It might be time for Texas to join the 21st century."
In fact, at one point, the letters and calls were so rude Carmen was convinced these weren't law enforcement officials, but crooks trying to cash in.
Marianne Espinosa: "At one point I thought they were not a real police department. At one point I thought they were actually people trying to get money from us."
Patrick Fraser: "Texas could legally threaten to arrest people because they are the law, ironically, if a collection agency did this, they would be breaking the law and could face large fines. It pays to have a gun and a badge."
Convinced something criminal is happening to you? Want to correctly ID the problem? Contact us; we can spot mistakes, because we have learned from ours.
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