Pa. Microsoft ID theft suspect now charged by Army

Published April 4, 2012 3:45PM (EDT)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A Pittsburgh man charged by the FBI with illegally obtaining a credit card using the identity of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen will first face desertion charges filed at the Louisiana Army base where he's now stationed.

Major Lewis Kliem told The Associated Press on Wednesday that 28-year-old Brandon Lee Price is charged with illegally leaving his unit at Fort Polk in early July 2010. He wasn't found by the Army until he was charged by the FBI in Pittsburgh last month, Kliem said.

Price isn't in custody. He has returned to Fort Polk and is serving with his unit, the 10th Mountain Division, while the desertion charge is processed, said Kliem, the senior prosecutor who handles criminal prosecutions at the Louisiana base.

The idea is for Price to show that he can be a productive soldier, Kliem said. "That's the only way you're able to help yourself at this point."

Price's commanders must decide whether to proceed with a general court martial, under which Price could face an 18-month jail sentence if convicted, or a special court martial — a faster tracked process that carries a maximum 12-month sentence, Kliem said. If convicted, Price could also face either a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge, which is slightly less serious, Kliem said.

The Army has a 120-day speedy trial rule and that is just one reason the military expects to process the desertion charge against Price before he returns to Pittsburgh to face prosecution on the bank fraud charge, Kliem said. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh confirmed that the desertion prosecution will take precedence but otherwise declined to comment.

The AP couldn't immediately obtain a copy of that document, and Kliem said he's not sure it's public record at this point. Kliem could say little about the desertion charge other than the Army contends Price left his unit "on or about July 2, 2010" — or not quite six months after he enlisted on Jan. 19, 2010.

Once a soldier is absent without leave for 30 days, he can be officially dropped from the Army's rolls and entered into the National Crime Information Center computer as a suspected deserter.

"So that if he's picked up for another crime, it should pop up on any criminal history check that he's wanted," Kliem said.

That's what happened when Price was arrested on March 2 in Pittsburgh.

According to the FBI complaint filed last month, Price called Citibank in January pretending to be Allen and changed the address on one of Allen's accounts from Seattle to Pittsburgh. He called back three days later to say he had lost his debit card and asked for a new one to be sent to him, the complaint said.

The card sent to the Pittsburgh address — which is where investigators believe Price lived with his parents — was used to attempt a $15,000 Western Union transaction and make a $658.81 payment on the Armed Forces Bank loan account, according to the complaint. Store security videos also captured images of Price trying to buy items at a video game store and a dollar store.

The fraud was detected by the bank, which alerted law enforcement officials, and none of Allen's other accounts were accessed. Only the loan payment apparently was approved, according to court records and a spokesman for Allen. Citibank isn't commenting on the case, citing customer confidentiality.

Price's public defender on the FBI bank fraud charge hasn't responded to requests for comment. A message was left Wednesday at Price's Pittsburgh home number listed in court papers.

Price is entitled to a free military defense attorney on the desertion charge, though the AP couldn't immediately confirm whether one had been appointed. Kliem said that might take a day or so because the desertion charge was filed only Tuesday.

By Salon Staff

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