‘Great Imposter’ who inspired film gets prison time

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Metro Detroit con man who has spent the last four decades on a crime spree of identify theft, impersonation and deception is headed for a role he has played before: prison inmate.

William Douglas Street, 65, was sentenced to 36 months in prison on Monday for aggravated identity theft and mail fraud by U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain in Detroit.

Street, who pleaded guilty in September, had racked up 17 felony convictions before police investigating bad checks caught him in 2015 with a doctor’s coat bearing the name of William Stratton.

Stratton is a U.S. Defense Department contractor and a graduate of West Point, but he’s not a doctor.

Assistant U.S. Attorney April Russo argued for a tough sentence, telling the judge that Street had committed the deepest invasion of privacy one could on an individual as part of a sophisticated and lengthy plot.

Street obtained the victim’s Social Security number and date of birth and forged his signature on documents, Russo said, going as far to create a resume in the victim’s name and create an alumni card from Duke University to pick up women and land a job.

Street, formerly of Plymouth Township, also took college financial aid and conned a woman out of $50,000 in other cases, Russo said.

“His actions are predatory,” Russo said. “The character of the defendant is of the worst imaginable. He does not have remorse. ... It’s like a game for him.”

Defense attorney Joseph Arnone argued that Street was in poor physical health and should receive a shorter sentence, saying his client misses small things in life like putting his feet up on the couch and watching TV.

Street spoke before being sentenced, telling the judge he was given a job by Dave Bing’s steel company in 2000 after serving time in jail. He worked there for nine months and was able to stay employed elsewhere until 2011.

“Each day we choose who we will serve ... and I chose incorrectly,” Street said.

Street told the judge he was sorry for taking the victim’s identity and that he would be no more trouble going forward.

“You don’t have to worry about me. I am tired of this nonsense,” he said.

Drain told Street his criminal record and past do not bode well for him.

“You are a con man; you use schemes on people,” said Drain, asking him: “Why do you keep representing yourself as someone you are not? I don’t understand that ... why you continued to do that your whole life.

“I don’t see any real basis to believe you are going to change.”

Street was sentenced to serve his 36 months consecutively and after his state prison sentence is over. He was sentenced to 23 months in jail on July 13, 2015, for a crime related to a Rolex watch.

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 children.

Known as the “Chameleon” and “The Great Imposter,” Street has had a criminal career spanning Illinois, California, Florida and Michigan as well as myriad targets: a dry cleaner, a jeweler, hospital patients and professional athletes.

Street inspired the movie “Chameleon Street,” which won the top award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990.