WATERLOO | When an alleged prison escapee from North Carolina tried to get an Iowa driver's license under a bogus name, a state transportation computer knew something was amiss.
Police said a biometric facial recognition program noticed facial features from the man’s March license photo matched features in a photo issued to a license with a different name less than a year earlier.
“When we take images at the driver's license station, those images are templated based on where the eyes are, and the computer software does numerous measurements of the face. Every night those new templates are run against all the other templates from the driver licenses and IDs we have on file,” said Paul Steier, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Investigations and Identity Protection.
Authorities with the DOT and Waterloo police went to the Sumner Street address listed on the license Monday to verify the man’s identity and allegedly found documents connected to Ronald Dwaine Carnes, who escaped from a Charlotte, N.C., area prison in 1973 while serving time for armed robbery.
As of Thursday, officials said they were still awaiting fingerprints from North Carolina to compare with the man currently booked on fraud and gun charges at the Black Hawk County Jail under Carnes’ name.
If the prints match, it won’t be the first time the DOT’s biometric database has caught someone.
The Automated Biometric Identification System was put in place in 2007 to thwart identity theft and document fraud. Using photos, the system plots the locations of eyes, noses, lips, jaw lines, cheekbones and measures the distances between these features, Steier said. People obtaining new licenses are asked to remove glasses and keep a neutral expression when they have photos take to keep from throwing off the mapping program.
These measurements are stored in a database that compares new license and ID photos to others already in the system.
The system flags about 100 potential hits a day out of the 2,000 to 3,000 incoming photos, according to the Department of Transportation. Those hits are passed off to DOT investigators for an eyes-on comparison of the actual photos. If they appear suspicious, they investigate further.
In the last two years, the DOT has initiated 251 cases based on the biometric program, Steier said.
He said the motives for assuming a false identity are numerous. Some are trying to hide from criminal charges or are in the country illegally. In one case, a man had been in the federal witness protection program and had decided to scrap his government-issued alias and return to his real name. The DOT system caught the switch, Steier said.
Others are teens getting a bogus ID for access to bars.
“We don’t see it like we used to,” Steier said. “I think a lot of folks are realizing on college campuses that you can get in some really serious trouble going and committing identity theft, which is what they are doing,”
Not long after the DOT adopted the Automated Biometric Identification System, it caught a commercial driver who had been maintaining two separate identities for about 15 years.
According to court records, Dennis Harrold, a Fort Dodge resident, had a former military friend named Henry Smith who lived in Chicago. When Smith died in 1984, Harrold helped clean out his Chicago apartment and came across Smith’s Social Security card. He jotted down the number thinking it would come in handy some day, records state.
Harrold used the number to obtain a replacement birth certificate for Smith in 1994, and that formed the basis for other records, according to court documents. The Smith birth certificate led to a Smith Illinois driver’s license, which led to a replacement Smith Social Security card. Then came an Iowa commercial driver’s license for Smith in 1995.
In fact, Harrold renewed the Smith commercial license five times since 1995.
In 2002, Harrold began applying for public benefits using Smith’s name. By the time his driver’s license photo tripped the biometric database in 2008, he had amassed $55,476 in Social Security disability benefits, plus $2,521 in subsidized housing benefits through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, $18,000 in food stamps and $1,855 in Medicaid coverage, according to court records.
Harrold was found guilty of federal fraud charges and sentenced to 30 months in prison.