7NEWS: Social Security ID Traced To Dry Cleaners

7NEWS tracks the trail of an identity thief and it leads to an employer who knows his employee is using the wrong Social Security number. The Social Security number belongs to Mike Hamiliton, the victim of identity theft.

"If this can happen to me at the age of 61, this can happen to any American," said Hamilton, a resident of Wheat Ridge, Colo.

Hamilton suffers from a rare blood disease. He is legally disabled and doctors say he can't work.

"The more I got into it. The angrier I got," he said.

The anger started when he received a letter.

"I was notified by the Jefferson County Housing Authority that I had worked for the year 2005 (but) I have not worked since 1989," Hamilton said.

The document showed Hamilton had earned nearly $30,000 in 2004 and 2005. It's documented proof that could have ended his housing and Social Security benefits.

"The thought of losing your home, your way of life and an income you depend on. You can't imagine that stress," Hamilton said.

The documents sent by Jefferson County Housing show that Hamilton's Social Security number was used by an employee at two Fort Collins area dry cleaners.

Tony Kovaleski: "Hi Marta--- Tony Kovaleski with Channel 7. Can I talk with you outside real quick?"

7NEWS confirmed that a woman named Mara was the person using Hamilton's Social Security number, but her employer stepped in and prevented her from explaining where she got it.

"Do you believe that Social Security number is hers?" 7NEWS Investigator Tony Kovaleski asked Jim Palumbo, the owner of the dry cleaners owner.

"She has a card so I have to believe that," said Palumbo

But here's where the business owner has become part of problem.

Tony Kovaleski: "You know that Social Security number is fake." Jim Palumbo - dry cleaners owner: "No, I don’t know that.”

But, apparently he did. One month before we visited his business he signed a document showing the Social Security number used by his employee belongs to Mike Hamilton.

Tony Kovaleski: "If this dry cleaner continues to employee this person is he breaking the law?" Jeff Copp - Immigration And Customs Enforcement: "Yes, he is."

Copp is the special agent in charge of immigration and customs enforcement in Colorado.

Jeff Copp: "He has an employee that he is knowingly employing that does not have the proper documentation. Tony Kovaleski: "Do you call that part of the problem?" Copp: "Yes, I do."

Before using Mike Hamilton's Social Security number at Palumbo Dry Cleaners, the employee used the same number to get hired by Jodi Ring.

Tony Kovaleski: "If we came to you and told you the social security card wasn't hers, what would you do? Jodi Ring - former dry cleaner owner: "I would have let her go." Tony Kovaleski: "You'd fire her?" Jodi Ring: "Yes." Tony Kovaleski: "Immediately?" Ring: "Yes."

We returned a second time to Palumbo Dry Cleaners. The employee was again working behind the counter.

Tony Kovaleski: Mrs. Dean is still working here, isn't she? It's been two months since the county notified you. " (Palumbo puts hands over camera) Tony Kovaleski: "Excuse me. Excuse me.. Please take your hand off the camera." Jim Palumbo: "Oh shut the f*** up." Tony Kovaleski: "Mrs. Dean has been working here for two months … What's your issue sir?" Jim Palumbo: "Out of here. Got it?"

So a full two months after receiving notification from a government agency, this business owner continues to allow his employee to use Mike Hamilton's Social Security number.

Mike Hamilton: "I understand a person trying to better themselves. I don't appreciate somebody trying to better themselves at my expense, and that's what it boils down too."

At the dry cleaners, Kovaleski confronted Palumbo again.

Tony Kovaleski: "I know that two months ago Jefferson County informed you that that Social Security card was not accurate, OK? A month ago, we were here (and) we told you and we told you--" Jim Palumbo: "We are dealing with it." Tony Kovaleski: "Explain that to me." Jim Palumbo: "No, I am not going to do that." Tony Kovaleski: "Do you want to explain it to a federal agent?" Jim Palumbo: "Fine, but not to you. "

Hours before airing the story, we again spoke to Palumbo. He told us the employee has a new social security number, picked up recently, and she informed him that the number came from the Social Security Administration.

Palumbo told 7N EWS, he did not call the Social Security Administration to verify the validity of her new card. Like you, immigration and customs enforcement officers are watching tonight’s story.

As for Mike Hamilton, his benefits are secure for the time being.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says an employer can face criminal charges for knowingly keeping an undocumented worker on the payroll.

He's probably not alone. Tonight, he learns the federal government says he's breaking the law.

Tony Kovaleski: "The county notified you two months ago that she doesn't have a social security card." (Palumo bolts toward camera) Tony Kovaleski: "You don't touch him sir. You keep your hands off that camera. You keep your hands off that camera." Jim Palumbo: "Oh shut up, will you please?"

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