account of the mortgage broker Brett Howard's credit spree/identity theft crimes in today's CJ. Here's an excerpt from Wolfson's story which like all of Wolfson's stories is worth checking out:
"Handsome, charming and effervescent, Brett Howard had it all going for him as a mortgage broker for Louisville's HomeQuest Mortgage Network.In one month alone last year, he made $20,000 at the company in Middletown, according to one of its former partners. Howard drove a BMW and lived in a designer-decorated Old Louisville home with a 'casual chic environment,' the Voice-Tribune of St. Matthews wrote in September in a story about his housewarming party.
But Howard wanted more — and he allegedly took it, according to police and court records.
Using credit card numbers he allegedly stole from 19 clients, Howard, 21, embarked on a luxury goods spending spree last year, according to an indictment against him in U.S. District Court in Louisville.
According to court papers and Louisville Metro Police Detective Steve Glauber, Howard bought a $2,900 suit at British Custom Tailors, an Apple computer and Godiva chocolates. He bought $700 worth of clothes from Von Maur, $900 worth of shoes from Zappos.com and ran up a $2,100 bill at one of the fashionable W hotels.
Howard flew himself and a significant other to New York, bought tickets for a Broadway show and shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue. He even allegedly used one of the purloined card numbers to make a $250 donation to the Louisville AIDS Walk, according to Glauber and court records.
'He was a piece of work,' Glauber said in an interview. But the bill is coming due.
Indicted on 19 counts of aggravated identify theft and 19 counts of fraud, Howard is set to enter a guilty plea Nov. 15 in U.S. District Court, where he faces a mandatory minimum penalty of two years in prison. Howard's friends and acquaintances describe him as engaging but self-centered.
'He always had a very, very inflated sense of self,' said Justin Chelf, an Internet entrepreneur who attended Howard's party in September. 'He wanted it all, and he wanted it fast.'
Glauber said Howard acknowledged that he was living beyond his means when he was arrested last November — wearing one of the custom suits allegedly purchased with a stolen credit card number. 'He looked like a million bucks,' Glauber said.
HomeQuest, an on-line mortgage company, says on its website that it maintains 'appropriate security measures' to keep information it collects from clients private and that it hires 'only the most qualified mortgage consultants that are dedicated to our mission of putting each client's best interests above their own.'
CEO Jerry Van Slavens and former managing partner Paul Knopf said Howard was following standard procedures when he asked loan applicants for their credit card numbers to pay for third-party appraisals of their homes that are required under federal mortgage law. But from September through November of last year, according to the indictment, Howard allegedly used those numbers to buy 'luxury extravagant type items,' Glauber said, running up total charges of $16,444.
Some of the victims were Howard's own friends, who had come to him for mortgages or to refinance their homes, said Chelf, who ran for the Louisville Metro Council on Tuesday in District 19.
A taste for sushi
The scheme was detected when a Laurel County schoolteacher, Karen Jones, who was one of Howard's clients, noticed a charge on her credit card for sushi, along with the custom-tailored clothing.
'I don't eat that,' Jones said in an interview.
Howard, by contrast, says on his Facebook page that sushi is the one food he could eat 'every day for two weeks and not get sick of.'
Jones said she had visited Louisville when the credit card charges were incurred but that her budget — her husband is a state park ranger — limits her shopping to 'J.C. Penney and maybe the Gap on a good day.' Another HomeQuest client noticed that Broadway show tickets had been charged to his card, according to Knopf, who said he normally wouldn't have suspected Howard of wrongdoing 'in a million years' because he seemed 'very innocent.' But Knopf said the complaint about the tickets aroused his suspicion because he knew Howard had requested time off to go to New York in a few weeks.
Knopf also said he called the theater ticket broker, who said Howard had listed his college e-mail address when the tickets were purchased.
Howard, who grew up in New Albany, told the Voice-Tribune that he was a recent transplant from Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a student at the University of Louisville.
On his Facebook page, he said he has five televisions in his house on South Brook Street. Responding to the theoretical question, 'Would you allow one of your little fingers to be cut off for $200,000?' he says, 'Honestly, I think I would.'"
This is a classic case of the concept of Bread of Shame. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Howard's life develops. Certainly it does not sound like there is a strong moral code at work. It also sounds like there is a profound emotional disorder that is sometimes labeled narcissism. Wolfson notes in another part of his story about this character that while at school Howard penned an essay on "trust" by which Howard seems to have meant the loyalty of others. He does not appear to understand the concept of "trust."
On the other hand, he is a young man, and I have seen amazing transformations in my life and the lives of others. Miracles do occur.