FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks resident Marianne Guffey found herself arrested on a theft charge last week as an unexpected consequence of having her wallet stolen — and apparently her identity along with it.
Prosecutors now say Guffey, 48, is a victim of identity theft, not a thief. Before she could get the charges dropped, though, she took an unwanted ride to Fairbanks Correctional Center, bailed herself out and hired a lawyer.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline A. Welch-Ketterer, a 51-year-old Anchorage woman, is accused of shoplifting more than $1,000 in merchandise from Nordstrom and getting herself arrested under Guffey’s name.
Welch-Ketterer remains at large.
Guffey’s problems began almost two years ago, on Christmas Eve 2010, when her wallet was stolen while shopping at Sears in Fairbanks, she said.
Six months later, and unbeknownst to Guffey, a woman was charged in Anchorage with shoplifting from Nordstrom. She either had Guffey’s ID or had Guffey’s information memorized. She apparently looked enough like Guffey to convince Nordstrom staff and police, said Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Regan Williams.
Guffey’s spotless criminal record even helped Welch-Ketterer when the magistrate set bail.
“The court looks at somebody’s criminal history, and the court (said) ‘My gosh, Ms. Guffey, you don’t have any criminal history. For someone of that age, that’s very peculiar,’” he said.
The court let her out on an unsecured bond — in other words, on her word.
“Well, of course, the actual shoplifter isn’t going to come back. And poor Ms. Guffey, the real Ms. Guffey, has no clue this is going on,” Williams said.
Eighteen months passed.
On Friday morning in Fairbanks, Guffey said, she was pulled over at the Danby Street exit of the Johansen Expressway while driving to work. The police officer said he was going to give her a warning for failing to signal. When he ran her license he saw a felony warrant. He asked her if she knew why she had a warrant, she said.
“I said I forgot to call in for jury duty last night. That’s the only thing I could think of that would involve court and me,” she said. “He laughed that off and said, ‘No that’s not it. It’s something more serious.’”
Guffey said she was taken to Fairbanks Correctional Center but bailed herself out before she was put in a cell. She called the district attorney in Anchorage, who agreed to dismiss the charge Tuesday at her first court hearing. She paid $2,000 to retain an attorney, though she will get most of that back because the case was dismissed so quickly, she said.
If the real thief is caught, she said, she plans to press charges. In 2010, the theft was especially troublesome because, more important than her wallet, she lost a phone with her only photos of the last year of her husband’s life.
“That hurt then and there,” she said Tuesday morning after the charges against her were dropped. “I kind of thought the whole ordeal was over. Then I find out that it’s not.”
After losing the wallet, she thought she took the appropriate actions, including canceling her credit cards and calling the credit agencies. She said she now knows it would have been good to call the Department of Motor Vehicles so it could put a note on her license to have law enforcement ask for two kinds of IDs.
Anchorage Police Department Detective Jackie Conn said people frequently misidentify themselves to police. It’s rare for people to be arrested under the wrong name, she said.
Conn has been on the force for more than 15 years and attends a monthly meeting of retail loss prevention employees in Anchorage to spot repeat thieves. This week, Conn reviewed the surveillance tape of the Nordstrom case at the request of the district attorney.
She said she quickly recognized Welch-Ketterer, who has 13 previous theft convictions in the Anchorage area.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter, @FDNMcrime.