Published Tuesday, July 26, 2011 | 7:54 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | 2:17 p.m.
Clifton Goodenough finally knows who robbed him of his Social Security number more than 30 years ago: it was the Chicago commodities broker who, in 1979, told his family he was on his way to a meeting — only to disappear for three decades and turn up in Las Vegas. And that’s where, of all people, he was cornered by Clifton Goodenough himself.
Had it not been for Goodenough’s dogged efforts to sort out his financial problems and take back his good name, 72-year-old Arthur Gerald Jones might still be on the lam.
Instead, Jones is looking at up to 20 years in prison, and Goodenough, a registered nurse in the Phoenix Veteran Affairs Health Care System, no longer has to explain to the IRS why he was making a lot less money than his multiple W2s were indicating.
Goodenough, 50, who was born and raised in Illinois, says the mystery started when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in February of 1979 and was stationed in Missouri. That’s when be believes Jones got a hold of his Social Security number.
And he may be right. According to a Nevada DMV arrest report, Jones said he paid a business friend $800 for a fake identity that included an Illinois drivers license, a birth certificate and a Social Security card using the name Joesph Richard Sandelli. He said he lost his job after a trading mistake that cost him his seat on the Chicago Board of Trade, so he slipped out of town in 1979, leaving behind a wife and three children. He was declared legally dead May of that year.
Goodenough, who moved to Arizona in 1994, realized in 1995 that something was wrong with his taxes: he was told he owed taxes on income he never knew he earned.
“Things would show up on my Social Security, $18,000 to $20,000 on income and the taxes weren’t paid,” recalls Goodenough. “They were earnings associated with casinos.”
Meanwhile, Jones had moved to Las Vegas in 1988 and obtained a drivers license with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles under the alias Sandelli. Jones worked as a sports book writer at the Rampart Casino in Summerlin, and before that at the Desert Inn.
Goodenough pushed the IRS and the Social Security Administration to investigate, and hired a CPA to file his taxes for him for the last decade.
He was given a new temporary Social Security number. Later he learned that someone had attempted to open an account through Bank of America using his Social Security number but was denied.
At one point, the Nevada Department of Employment notified him that it had received a claim under his Social Security number and promised to investigate. But he heard nothing. Goodenough said the stress of owing extra taxes was a burden on his work and health. Taking time off and explaining the situation to his boss became exasperating.
What was even more frustrating was that for the past 15 years his employer was the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“They knew I couldn’t be at two places at once. I was on duty, there’s no way I could have done this,” said Goodenough.
Sick of trying to explain his ordeal to investigators and with no leads, Goodenough gave up. But along the way, he learned from the IRS that his Social Security number was also being used by one Joesph Sandelli. In October 2009 his wife found a phone number for a person with that name living in Las Vegas. Goodenough called Jones.
“I thought he’d be as angry as me about the confusion, but he was just deflecting. He would say, ‘Well there must be some kind of mix up but I’ll change my Social Security number,’” said Goodenough. “I told him I was born at Lake Forest Hospital and he said, ‘Oh, so was I.’ It was always me giving him the answer and him agreeing, like a good con man. It didn’t really dawn on me until he offered to change his Social.”
He wondered why a man in his 70s would offer to change his Social Security number when he was so close to retiring, especially if he had nothing to do with the mix up. Back in Chicago the family Jones left behind was receiving benefits from his 25 years of work under his true identity. In total, the family received approximately $47,000.
But Goodenough did not directly confront Jones about the stolen Social Security number. “I was afraid that if I mentioned I was suspicious of him or threatened to contact law enforcement, he might have bolted,” Goodenough said.
Instead, in March, Goodenough gathered all the documents pertaining to the fraud since 1979 and sent them, along with a letter, to the office of Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“Within a couple days I received a letter back,” said Goodenough. The senator’s office immediately requested all of Goodenough’s Social Security and tax information.
Within four months, investigators from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration had closed in on Jones, who has been charged with four felony counts of burglary, obtaining and using another person’s personal information, possession of a person’s identifying information and fraud.
His attorney, Stephen Stein, said there was a plea offer on the table at his initial court appearance, but that he hasn’t spoken to his client since he was released on bail.
Goodenough is preparing to take time off and appear at Jones’ Aug. 23 hearing in Las Vegas Justice Court but is afraid the man who has been running from his past for 32 years won’t show up.
Although he is angered by the fact that Jones was set free on bail after playing dead for so long, he said most of all he just wants his life back.
“The load is going to take a while to lift off my shoulders. Who can tell when it’s finally going to come off?”