Game may be up for 'The Great Imposter'
Detroit — William Douglas Street Jr.'s fantastically fraudulent career saw the Detroit native rise from low-level con artist to silver-screen anti-hero while racking up mug shot after mug shot after mug shot.
During a nearly half-century criminal career, Street has 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.
Street, 64, known as the "Chameleon" and "The Great Imposter," might have pulled off his last con.
The Plymouth Township resident was charged with mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in federal court last month and is facing more than 20 years in prison for allegedly stealing a Defense Department contractor's persona to pick up women and land a job.
The latest alleged scheme fit a pattern for a self-confessed con artist whose scams typically involve uniforms, fantastic pedigrees and advanced degrees and leave behind violated lives.
"Street: God, man, whew," retired Tigers outfielder Willie Horton, one of his victims, told The News in an interview this week. "He's got some ability."
A conviction, perhaps, would end a colorful criminal career spanning Illinois, California, Florida and Michigan that involved increasingly difficult targets: a dry cleaner, a jeweler, hospital patients, professional athletes and, most recently, a U.S. Department of Defense contractor who specializes in securing the government's secrets.
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.
He's got 11 prison sentences on his rap sheet, at least one jail break and three aliases, including one for a woman — a fact that amused a federal judge.
"Sorry," U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Stafford said quickly after she chuckled during Street's recent court appearance. Then, she ordered him locked up pending trial.
Rap sheet dates to 1969
These days, the Chameleon is still changing colors, but those colors come from jailhouse jumpsuits following a string of arrests. Blue for Oakland County Jail. Orange for Washtenaw County, and gray for his Plymouth Township mugshot.
The most recent alleged con, however, has landed him in federal court and left Street staring at the stiffest possible sentence he's faced in a landmark career.
"He has constantly escalated (his crimes)," said Wendell Harris Jr., who wrote, directed and starred in "Chameleon Street," a 1989 film about Street's life.
"It's not about adrenaline. It's a spiritual quest," Harris said.
The Central High School graduate's rap sheet dates to at least 1969.
In 1971, Street, the son of a Detroit bus driver and homemaker, posed as Jerry LeVias, a wide-receiver with the Houston Oilers. He convinced the Detroit Tigers to offer the fake Jerry LeVias a spring-training tryout.
The Tigers trumpeted the tryout in a press release and sent Street a $165 plane ticket. Before the tryout, he walked into Tigers great Gates Brown's bar on the city's west side with a tale of woe.
Posing as the Houston Oiler, Street said he lost his luggage. Brown gave him $300.
Street made it to the tryout, but his talent didn't. He lacked speed and fundamentals.
Street confessed to the con.
"We were taken by a pro," former Tigers outfielder and farm club official Hoot Evers said at the time.
'I found out how easy it was'
The ruse left an impression on Street.
"That was the first time I found out how easy it was to get people to believe whatever you said," Street told The Detroit News in a 1985 interview, "as long as you said it right."
Weeks after the tryout, Street delivered a letter to Horton's home in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood.
Horton's wife answered the door and read the letter. Street demanded $20,000, otherwise he threatened to kill her and the couple's children.
She recognized Street from press coverage of the failed tryout and because she sat in first-class with him on the flight to Tigers spring training. After Street delivered the threat, she called the cops.
"That was some troubled times," Willie Horton, 72, told The News on Monday. "We had to get security for my kids to go to school. What he put us through, I never wanted to see him again."
Street received 20 years' probation for the Horton incident.
Later, Street posed as a Time magazine reporter and a University of Michigan defensive back at a 1972 All-Star football game.
In between, he bounced in and out of prison, mostly short stints, apparently none longer than 10 years.
In 1975, he jumped parole and moved to Chicago. After finding an old lab coat, he posed as a doctor at Illinois Masonic Hospital.
Street told The News in 1985 that he assisted in the emergency room and was ordered to scrub up to perform an emergency appendectomy. The real doctor eventually showed up, saving Street from having to operate.
Hospital staff uncovered his charade after about three months when his Social Security number matched a list of parole violators.
Street returned to prison but escaped in November 1979 and talked his way onto the legal staff of the Detroit Human Rights Department. An ex-wife tipped off the police after a few months.
After serving more prison time, Street became an unofficial student at the University of Michigan Law School in 1983.
He showed up dressed in a naval officer's uniform and managed to pull off the ruse for two semesters.
He was sent back to prison after failing a background check performed by a law firm that had offered him a job, after cashing a $600 check stolen from a classmate, and after trying to register at Yale School of Medicine with a fake ID.
Street was introspective about his life and crimes during the 1985 interview with The News.
"Some people think maybe it's the money, but hell, I've gotten less than $2,000 out of this in the last 15 years," he said. "The nightmare part of it is there is no me, no Doug Street in the picture. I'm the sum of my parts, but all my parts are somebody else. Where's me, man?"
'Just an opportunist'
Flash forward to June 2013.
That's when Street allegedly bought a $7,000 Rolex watch from an Ann Arbor jewelry store, according to court records.
The check bounced and contained a phony home address and phone number.
Ann Arbor Police issued a warrant for his arrest and distributed wanted posters throughout the community, FBI Special Agent Joshua Koenigstein said.
Three months later, in September 2013, Street allegedly wrote a bogus $200 check to a Metro Detroit dry cleaner.
Then, he disappeared for almost two years.
On Feb. 21, investigators finally tracked him to a Plymouth Township home, where his lawyer said Street lives with a wife and helps care for a step-daughter with special needs. They spotted Street leaving in a Ford Fusion and pulled him over.
What investigators learned during the arrest and found inside the car triggered Street's most serious legal problem.
During the traffic stop, Street allegedly gave police a U.S. Military Academy at West Point alumni card, according to court records. The card belonged to a man named "William Benn Stratton."
Street was immediately arrested.
Inside the Fusion, investigators found a white lab coat embroidered with the University of Michigan logo, the words Frankel Cardiovascular Center and the name William Benn Stratton M.D.
"He was not working there," Plymouth Twp. Police Lieutenant Det. Robert Antal said. "He was at U of M, saw the lab coat laying around and he picked it up. He's just an opportunist. If he sees something, he takes it and takes on that role."
Officers also found alumni cards from West Point, Duke University and a Harvard ID.
On his finger, officers found a West Point class ring bearing Stratton's name and the year 1983.
At Street's home, investigators allegedly found copies of diplomas from West Point and Duke and academic transcripts belonging to William Benn Stratton.
"Oh my God, you can't make this stuff up," the real William Benn Stratton told The News during a phone interview Wednesday. "I am completely dumbfounded and speechless."
Street's defense lawyer Joseph Arnone called the case "an interesting one, that's for sure."
"There's a long history here, a lot of allegations have been made and we're in the process of investigating it and moving forward," Arnone said.
Arnone said Street has been working in recent years as a human resources manager at a local company — legitimately.
He posed as West Point grad
Stratton, 54, is unlike Street in many ways.
The Virginia man is 10 years younger and white. He's a former Green Beret, graduated from West Point in 1983 and, later, Duke University.
He is vice president of operations for defense contractor ClearShark, a Maryland-based firm that provides information technology services to the Defense Department.
Street's motives, however, didn't appear to be related to Stratton's government work, according to court records.
The alleged identity theft started in December 2013 after the con artist read an article about Stratton running in a marathon. The article mentioned Stratton graduated from West Point.
Street told the FBI that West Point seemed like "a good place to be from," according to court records.
He admitted obtaining diplomas, transcripts and a duplicate class ring in Stratton's name, according to the FBI.
Street traded 70 emails with the class ring sales rep over a nine-month period before finalizing his order, Stratton told The News.
Investigators traced the email account to Street, according to court records.
"The gall of this guy," Stratton said. "It's hard for me to have sympathy for him. He brought it on himself. I am very concerned about what he may have done under my persona."
Street told the FBI he only used Stratton's name to find a job.
Not true, the FBI said. Street attended multiple alumni events, posing as his alleged victim.
"In one incident, he actually spoke at an alumni event, posing as (Stratton)," Koenigstein, the FBI special agent, testified during a recent court hearing.
"He also used it to pick up women," the FBI agent said.
That bit made Stratton laugh.
"I'm recently divorced," he said. "I hope my class ring and name worked better for him than me."