Medford man faces prison for longtime identity theft

A Medford man was sentenced Monday to one year and one day in prison for stealing the identity of a North Carolina man more than 40 years ago.

Gerald Lester Tracy, 65, also must pay back more than $28,000 in fraudulently obtained Social Security benefits, U.S. District Court Judge Owen Panner ruled.

Panner sentenced Tracy for making a false statement in past court appearances and misuse of a Social Security number. His sentences will be served concurrently. A charge of aggravated identity theft was dismissed.

Tracy acquired Thomas William Edgeworth's birth certificate and assumed the North Carolina man's identity sometime in 1967. Tracy stole Edgeworth's identity because he wanted to start life anew without the baggage of his two felony robbery convictions, said federal prosecutor Judith Harper of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Over the past 42 years, Tracy led a life of deceit that entangled Edgeworth and at least two other men, Harper said.

"We will probably never know the extent of his crimes," Harper said.

Tracy's defense attorney, Robert Stone, said Tracy is in ill health and has been hospitalized three times since he was arrested and lodged in the Jackson County Jail more than five months ago. Urging Panner to credit Tracy with time served and allow for home detention, Stone said his client has lived a good life for many decades.

The victim, the real Thomas Edgeworth, flew in from North Carolina to testify at Tracy's sentencing. Edgeworth said he served in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years and is currently employed with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. He has been battling fallout from Tracy's actions since 1998, Edgeworth said.

Edgeworth discovered there was another Social Security number attached to his name when he reviewed his Social Security earnings statement. He said he attempted to resolve the matter with his local office for years but was told he needed to do nothing and that the apparent mistake would be resolved within the agency. However, it was not resolved until the matter was forwarded to an agent in Oregon, he said.

At one point Edgeworth was denied a weapons permit because police said he had failed to disclose a misdemeanor conviction in Alaska, but he had not been in Alaska at the time of the incident.

Tracy's poor health is unfortunate, but it didn't change the facts of the case, Edgeworth said.

"It is obvious that Mr. Tracy is a habitual criminal," said Edgeworth. "And he's been living a lie. Mr Tracy has spent 40 years of his life trying to take my life."

Tracy's estranged wife, Lisa Edgeworth, testified on his behalf at the sentencing hearing. She had not seen her husband since his arrest and expressed shock at Tracy's condition as he shuffled into court Monday morning in shackles and prison garb.

Married for more than 30 years, the pair are now legally separated, but remain close, she said.

"We stand up for each other," she said.

Lisa Edgeworth said Tracy had been a good husband and father who had "built a whole new life," making up for his past criminal acts by acting heroically, she said. In the past 40 years, she told the court, he has pulled people out of burning planes, saved toddlers and adults from potential cougar attacks and peaceably talked down an armed, inebriated and aggravated man.

The identity theft was "a victimless crime," she said.

Tracy asked for mercy from the judge and apologized to Edgeworth after hearing the stress and aggravation his actions had caused.

"I offer my most profound apologies," said Tracy. "I had no intent to cause him trouble."

Panner also sentenced Tracy to five years post-prison supervision. He must pay back $28,689 in fraudulently obtained Social Security benefits.

"I'm sorry about your health," said Panner. "But I do not find that to be a reason to reduce the sentence."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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