SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Larry Smith has known for years that he had a serious problem.
The 66-year-old Florida retiree couldn't get a credit card, once spent eight days in jail over a parole violation and regularly receives bills for thousands of dollars from places he has never been.
On Wednesday, after years of Smith trying to convince authorities that his identity had been stolen, the Placer County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department announced it had arrested an "ID theft pioneer," a homeless man who allegedly assumed Smith's name in 1984 and proceeded to marry, apply for Social Security, buy and wreck a car and rack up unpaid bills across the country.
"This will take me years to unravel," sheriff's Detective Jim Hudson said Wednesday. "I will delay my retirement to fix this if I have to."
Authorities say the man they arrested on charges of welfare fraud, grand theft and identity theft has been well known in the Auburn area, near Sacramento, for years as Larry Smith, but that he actually is 56-year-old Joseph Kidd.
Kidd, who declined an interview request from the Placer County jail, is believed to have started using Smith's name in 1984. Law enforcement did not interact with him until 1993, when he was fingerprinted and entered into police computers as Lawrence Edward Smith.
The result has been the wholesale wreckage of the Smith family's finances.
"We couldn't buy our way to a free lunch," Sue Smith, the victim's wife of more than 40 years, said Wednesday from their Lehigh Acres, Fla., home.
Larry Smith -- the real one -- said he learned of the scam in 2002, when his income tax refund never showed up. He finally learned it had been diverted to Auburn to pay a welfare fraud fine.
"I kept telling them, 'That's not me. That's not me,' " Smith said.
A retired heating and air-conditioning technician who has no criminal record, Smith still had no clue how much his life would unravel.
Bills would arrive for cell phone service from Hot Springs, Ark., where he has never been, or ambulance rides in Sacramento.
In 2006, he was pulled over in Orlando on a traffic violation, and things really got serious. Officers determined he was wanted on a felony parole violation for welfare fraud out of California. For eight days, he sat in a Florida jail while his wife made call after call trying to prove that police had the wrong man.
"He lives ... in fear of being arrested on a daily basis," said Hudson, who first learned of the case from the Sacramento Police Department on Tuesday morning.
By then, the Smiths on their own had found and spoken to the suspect's estranged wife, Bettye Sue Jackson, who helped them track him down in Auburn. They shared their findings with police.
"His wife told me that he's a computer whiz, that he can go into computers and get IDs," Sue Smith said. "He's got a California driver's license with Larry's name and his picture."
Hudson began reviewing welfare records, called Smith in Florida and began to piece the case together.
"He's like Superman to me," Smith said. "He's like Eliot Ness. He called me and wanted to know what was going on, and he told me, 'I'm going to go out and get this S.O.B. right now.' "
Jackson, who married Kidd thinking his name was Larry Smith, said she met him in the Auburn area through friends and that they were married in October 2007.
"I married him as Lawrence Edward Smith," she said from her Hot Springs, Ark., home. "I went out there on a Greyhound bus and we lived in a tent.
"It never dawned on me that he would be someone else. If I'd have known he was someone else I never would have doggone married him."
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