‘The Great Imposter’ pleads guilty, faces almost 3 years
Detroit — A famous identity thief whose fantastically fraudulent career inspired an award-winning movie could spend almost three years in federal prison after pleading guilty Thursday in federal court.
William Douglas Street Jr., 64, known as “Chameleon” and “The Great Imposter,” pleaded guilty to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in front of U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain. He will be sentenced Jan. 28.
The plea spares Street from standing trial on charges that could have sent him to prison for more than 20 years. The plea also came four months after the Plymouth Township resident was accused of stealing the identity of a Defense Department contractor to pick up women and land a job.
His arrest was the latest notch on a rap sheet spanning nearly 50 years. In that time, Street conned his way into surgical suites and a Detroit Tigers tryout before ripping off one legendary ballplayer and threatening to kill another’s wife and kids.
His defense lawyer, Joseph Arnone, paused briefly when asked if Street would commit another crime after finishing this sentence.
“No, I don’t think so,” Arnone told The Detroit News. “When you come this close to spending the rest of your life in prison, I think he realized that. He came real close.”
A gaunt-looking Street, flanked by deputy U.S. Marshals and wearing handcuffs and ankle chains, shuffled out of the judge’s courtroom Thursday, stopping to inspect a sketch artist’s handiwork.
Street’s life and crimes were featured in The Detroit News in June.
Street has racked up 25 convictions during a 46-year criminal career that inspired the movie “Chameleon Street,” which won the top award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990.
“When he meets someone, he susses out within three minutes exactly who they want him to be, who they are, what hopes and aspirationst hey might have, how they digest the black persona and he becomes whatever is most advantageous to him,” said Wendell Harris Jr., who wrote, directed and starred in “Chameleon Street.”
During his criminal career, Street tried to shake down ex-Detroit Tigers outfielder Willie Horton, while threatening to kill the slugger’s wife and children, posed as a Time magazine reporter, a University of Michigan defensive back, an Illinois surgeon, and a University of Michigan Law School student.
“His chutzpah has only increased with age,” Harris added.
Asked if he thought Street can stop committing crimes, Harris said: “Can genius ever stop? According to Michelangelo, ‘Genius is eternal patience.’ Doug has the fervent patience of a Michelangelo, and neither one could stop.”
Street has served 11 prison sentences, broken out of jail at least one time and has three aliases, including one for a woman.
On Thursday, Street said he read an article years ago about Defense Department contractor William Benn Stratton running in a marathon.
Stratton is a former Green Beret, a West Point and Duke University graduate.
He also is vice president of operations for defense contractor ClearShark, a Maryland-based firm that provides information technology services to the Defense Department.
After reading about Stratton, the ex-con stole his identity, obtaining replacement diplomas and college transcripts from West Point and Duke.
“I went online and conducted research into the individual’s background,” Street told the judge.
“Did you steal that person’s identity?” the judge asked.
Street said yes.
“What did you use it for?” the judge asked.
Street said he used Stratton’s identity to avoid being arrested for writing a bad check for a $7,000 Rolex watch from an Ann Arbor jeweler.
“Other than that, I didn’t use it,” Street said, before correcting himself. “Well, maybe not in person.”
Street posted a resume with Stratton’s credentials on CareerBuilder.com. And he posed as Stratton at the victim’s college alumni events.
At one event, Street even gave a speech, the FBI said.
“Those are the only ones I can recall,” Street said.
The resume didn’t yield lucrative offers, his lawyer said.
“The best job offer,” Arnone said, “was selling insurance.”
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