A 60-year-old Astoria man, Paul Bauers, has been accused of an elaborate identity theft crime, which officials say lasted at least three years.
The Queens District Attorney’s Office has accused Bauers of impersonating three doctors and the previous tenant of his Astoria apartment building in an intricate scheme involving a fake medical company and $225,000 in stolen money.
Bauers allegedly set up Tech Medical Sales at his apartment, a company that purported to sell expensive medical equipment like Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. He is accused of applying for loans using other people’s identities as well as accepting down payments from buyers and failing to ship the merchandise.
“It was very creative,” said Postal inspector Al Weissmann. Postal Inspectors, the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service, get involved when the mail is used in the process of breaking the law, in this case applying for a loan under a false name.
In June 2002, according to the D.A.’s Office, Bauers used the personal and business information of an Elmhurst general practitioner to obtain a loan from American Express Business Financing, to purportedly buy $32,000 worth of ultrasound equipment. The loan was granted and American Express sent a check in that amount to Tech Medical Sales, which Bauers cashed and used himself.
In December 2003, Bauers was even bolder with his theft and authorities accuse him of securing personal and business information of a Forest Hills cardiologist. He submitted an application to HPSC, a Boston financing company, for $91,600 in order to buy a bone density unit, a stress test unit and an examination table.
Police added that Bauers also set up a post office box for the doctor’s company, Empire Medical, in Forest Hills.
Finally, in March 2004, authorities charge that Bauers obtained the personal information of a University of Massachusetts Medical School neurologist and fraudulently applied for $97,000 in financing to buy an MRI machine. Again HPSC approved the loan and mailed a check to Bauers’ Astoria address.
“This is certainly different,” Weissmann said. “To set up a fictitious company. It’s very ingenious…It takes a lot of chutzpa.” It was also an efficient way to steal money since Bauers could get large amounts mailed to him in one shot, instead of accumulating credit card bills over a period of time.
But it also appears that Bauers was conducting some sort of actual medical supply business. The company had a legitimate-looking web site, which as of last Wednesday was still up at www.tmsny.com/. It appears that Bauers engaged in at least one legitimate transaction. He bought a video printer for an ultrasound machine from Electronic Service for Medicaal Offices in Sunrise, Florida.
Steve Saftler, president of the company, said Bauers wrote a bad check for $414 for the unit in 2001. “My girl chased him for six months,” before eventually getting the payment. He never did business with Bauers again.
Mark Piening, president of Medical Equipment Consultant Inc. in Minster, Ohio, wasn’t so lucky. He said he sent Bauers a down payment of $2,000 for a bone density machine and then never heard from him again. Piening is now in the process of suing him.
Neither Bauers nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
Bauers is currently at Riker’s Island. He has been charged with a 51-count indictment including multiple counts of grand larceny, forgery and identity theft. He faces up to 15 years if convicted.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, in testimony before a State Assembly panel on identity theft in April, said that as the number of identity theft cases increases, he hopes lawmakers will stiffen penalties and allocate more resources to catching and prosecuting the criminals.
“We have done much but we need to do more,” he said. “Our laws have not kept up with the rapidly changing nature of identity theft and our state does not currently offer sufficient protection to consumers and businesses victimized by identity theft.”
He is advocating for identity theft involving the theft of credit card numbers to be a felony, with the punishment increasing in accordance with the amount of money stolen.
Weissmann is confident that Bauers will be convicted. “As an agency we have one of the highest conviction rates,” he said. There are 2,000 U.S. postal inspectors, with 200 working in New York State.