Elwin case prompts state Legislature to pass identify theft protection
by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND
Thieves will have a harder time stealing identities to exploit innocent people under a bill that the state Legislature unanimously passed on Tuesday at the Capitol Building in Honolulu.
The fraud case involving murdered Kaua‘i resident John Elwin prompted the legislation.
State Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-15th District, introduced House Bill 2920 after Kapa‘a resident Luis Soltren, a decades-long friend of Elwin, showed him the problem and a solution.
“I felt it was a simple fix, something that wouldn’t cost the state a lot of money and something to prevent the criminals from doing this again,” Soltren said yesterday. “It’s common sense legislation that’s been long overdue. So we got together and started pushing it through.”
The bill prevents notarized documents from being altered by substituting material that was not part of the document to which the notarial seal originally was applied.
The new law, set to become effective Jan. 1, 2009, will require a reason for the transaction to be placed near the seal that the notary stamps on the document.
“If that had been on the document Hank Jacinto doctored, it would’ve been a lot harder,” Tokioka said.
Henry Calucag, also known as Hank Jacinto as well as a dozen other aliases, is serving a 30-year prison term after being convicted in June of stealing the identity and $245,000 from Elwin.
The case was featured on America’s Most Wanted. Host John Walsh submitted testimony on the bill in March.
He says Elwin was lured to the Philippines in May 2006 by his long-time business associate and friend, Calucag, but never returned.
“His bullet-riddled body, which evidenced an execution-style slaying, was left on the side of the road in a shallow grave like a piece of garbage,” Walsh says. “There have been many cases over the years where homicide was the precursor to obtain property through fraudulent means. Based on my personal observations and experience, the pervasive truth is that given a means and motive, con men like Calucag will invariably seek or create the perfect opportunity to fulfill the commission of a crime.”
In the case of Elwin’s estate, Walsh says Calucag’s fraudulent transaction was made exponentially easier because a legitimately notarized document for the legal transfer of an automobile was too easily substituted in order to complete the illegal transfer of Elwin’s real property on Kaua‘i.
The bill, which was backed by the state attorney general, is likely another piece in a series to protect residents from fraud.
“Identity theft and the resulting harm that it can cause is an important issue and it’s going to get more and more so in the future as technology grows and information becomes more readily available,” state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i, said. “As legislators, we really have to be on top of things. We’ll probably be looking at identity theft issues on an annual basis as thieves get more sophisticated.”
State Rep. Roland Sagum, D-16th District, said Westside people and Kaua‘i residents in general are very trusting.
“Can you imagine our elderly?” he said, referring to their increased vulnerability to manipulation. “The people are best served with legislation like this. It’s something that should’ve been done sooner.”
Soltren said the legislation would never have been possible without the hard work of residents including Elwin’s friends and girlfriend, Kirsten Flood; Honolulu prosecutor Christopher Van Marter; Mayor Bryan Baptiste; and local legislators and law enforcement personnel.
“If not for them pushing, these crimes would still be happening and John would still be rotting in the Philippines in an unmarked grave,” he said. “We’re really lucky that the state of Hawai‘i is changing its whole image — that it’s no longer the state to come to do your crime.”
In his testimony, Walsh says House Bill 2920 will deter people like Calucag, who remains a murder suspect in the Elwin case, from fraudulent substitution of notarized documents in order to complete the illegal transfer of property.
“By passing this legislation, both the means and the opportunity will be removed from the crime equation, and effectively prevent or reduce the commission of crimes against people and their property,” he says.
The bill also clarifies the powers and duties of the attorney general with respect to notaries public; identifies conduct that would subject a notary to fines; and identifies criminal conduct with regard to notarization, notarized documents and related matters.
“This is a good bill and we’re hopeful it prevents tragedies, as occurred in this situation, in the future,” Hooser said.
For more information, visit www.capitol.hawaii.gov
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com