Friday, April 5, 2013

Randi's Involvement With Identity Theft And His Lies About His "Carlos" Scam Part 1

If GLBT folks had equal rights in the United States it is quite possible that James Randi's long time, live-in companion might not have committed the crime of identity theft.   Randi would have been able to marry him and been able to regularize his living in the United States as many straight couples have been able to do.  But that's not what happened.

Randi's companion, Jose Alvarez, was arrested for identity fraud at Randi's home on September 8, 2011.  His real name was David or Deyvi Pena who had come to the United States on a student visa which he overstayed.  He is documented in a story that appeared in the Toronto Star in August 1986 and people who knew him at the time to have been associated with James Randi, under the name of David Pena.


A reporter profiling Randi for the Toronto Star caught up with the magician at LaGuardia Airport in New York in August 1986:

"A few feet behind him, David Pena, a young man of about 20, struggles with three large suitcases," the reporter wrote.

One of Pena's landlords in Broward County was Jim Sitton, a motel owner who let him stay in a room in exchange for some artwork. Sitton identified a photograph of the young Alvarez in his "Carlos" role as the man he knew as Pena.

"He was a young artist. He was going to the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. I think he went by different names, though," Sitton said. "At some point, I became aware that he used two names. The name he used is David Pena."

Sitton said Pena later told him he was working with Randi.

"He seemed like a really good person. I have very good memories of him. He was very serious about his artwork," Sitton said. "I wish him the best. I can't imagine how he got into this kind of serious trouble."

All of the available evidence shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that James Randi knew his companion's real name was David, or Deyvi, Pena in 1986.

The next year, after he won a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, James Randi staged one of his well known PR operations in Australia with the purported purpose of exposing how credulous the media is when presenting people with claimed supernatural abilities,  his "Carlos Hoax".   He presented a young man called Jose Luis Alvarez as a medium named "Carlos", shopped him around to various TV and radio programs and presented him on stage while all the time running him like Peter Popoff was run by his wife in one of the rare instances when the Randi legend comes close to matching his PR use of it.

Only, as you might have guessed, Jose Luis Alvarez was really David Pena.

I will deal with the misrepresentation of the "Carlos Hoax" later.  For now, in order to travel to Australia David Pena needed a passport.   Since he was in the United States illegally he couldn't obtain one under his own name.   In order to get a passport Pena stole the identity of Jose Luis Alvarez, who was living in New York, working as a teachers aid.

As Steve Volk and other's who reported the facts point out,  the real Jose Luis Alvarez suffered considerable trouble because someone had stolen his identity.  He had problems with the IRS over income he hadn't earned in Florida.  He had his bank account frozen and, when he wanted to go outside of the country to attend his sister's wedding, his passport was refused.


As the Sun-Sentinel reports: “Alvarez, a teacher's aide from the Bronx, said he has suspected for several years that someone had stolen his identity — … that he's been dunned by the IRS for taxes he didn't owe on income in Florida, that his bank account has periodically been frozen and that he had difficulty renewing his driver's license. He's had to repeatedly prove he is who he says he is, brandishing his New York driver's license and a birth certificate, as well as his employment record.”

Recently, when the real Alvarez tried to obtain a passport to travel to his sister’s wedding in Jamaica, his application was pegged as potentially fraudulent—because, after all, someone else had already been traveling the world with a passport bearing all the same information. Sadly, the real Jose Luis Alvarez was not able to work the matter out in time to attend his sister’s wedding at all.

So far we know that James Randi knew that the man he was marketing as "Carlos" was traveling under the name of Jose Luis Alvarez on a fraudulent passport in 1987.  We also know that year before that he was traveling in the United States with the same man under his real name, David Pena.  It is a reasonable conclusion that since Pena was closely associated with Randi and an employee of his, that Randi knew the reason for the identity theft,  that Pena was in the United States illegally.  Steve Volk points out that some of the remarks Randi made about a man he was living with and traveling with, who he knew was using two different names and who he was presenting under a third, made some rather sly and deceptive comments about "Carlos" that were relevant to the real owner of the identity he was traveling under:

And intriguingly, the Sun Sentinel found, when Alvarez first performed as “Carlos” Randi billed him as 19 years old—the same age as the New York man whose identity was allegedly stolen by Randi’s partner. Further, in this video, recorded in 2009, Randi says, around the 2:40 second mark, that one worry they had before they put Pena/Alvarez on stage as “Carlos” is that his “Bronx” accent might creep through.

Randi was no novice when it comes to assuming identities and deceiving people.  There is every reason to believe Randi was an accomplice to the identity theft, which, in itself, is a serious crime that could carry a prison term.  Peter Franceschina's piece in the  October 18, 2012 Sun-Sentinel said:


Now, time may be running out for Alvarez to reveal his identity – prosecutors and Alvarez's attorney recently told a federal judge that he would plead guilty in the identity theft case. Alvarez is scheduled to have a bond hearing Friday, but two previous such hearings were postponed. His trial is scheduled for early November, and his attorneys, Ben Kuehne and Susan Dmitrovsky, declined to comment.

The lawyers have told Randi, 83, not to comment on the case. "I've been advised silence is the way to go," he said.

When asked about the Sun Sentinel's determination that Alvarez was previously , known as Pena, Randi would only say, "Well, if that's who you think he is."

Randi won a $272,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 1986, and one of the first things he did with the money was hire an assistant – Pena.


In the end, Pena got off fairly easy.  He was sentenced by a magistrate to six months of house arrest, followed by three years of probation.   I don't have any problem with that, though,  as Greg Taylor pointed out, Randi's plea to the court was less than honest:

As per usual, I think Randi's being a bit loose with the truth here in saying "no one was hurt" - for instance, the victim of the identity theft reportedly missed his sister's wedding due to passport problems arising directly from Pena's actions. However, from all reports Pena is quite a lovely person, and two years in prison may have been a bit of a harsh punishment in my eyes.

I don't know what the real Jose Luis Alvarez has done or will do but if it were me, I'd sue for high damages going after his employer who was clearly in on the identity theft.  If he has or if he will, I hope he doesn't agree to sign a gag order as part of a settlement.  James Randi and the "Skepticism" industry would pay big money to keep this as quiet as possible.

As I noted yesterday, an even more interesting thing to see is the reaction of James Randi's fan base and his allies in "Skepticism"/atheism, people whose stock and trade is in loudly made claims of their rigorous honesty and above board integrity.   If any of them had information on a scientific researcher into parapsychology, that they had done any of the things Randi did in this caper, they would trumpet it as absolutely destroying, not only that researcher's credibility but the entire field of parapsychological research. They have used falsified, undocumented and clearly false accusations against people such as as Irving Langmuir's clearly false smears against J. B. Rhine to that end.  But when James Randi, the trademark of the "Skeptical" movement, has repeatedly, over a number of decades, proven to be a liar and fraud, they cover up and lie on his behalf.  They've even made a recent movie trumpeting his status as a serial liar as if it were some virtue when that is done in the name of "Skepticism".   It's been well past time, for decades, that someone says this emperor really doesn't have any clothes and that James Randi's courtiers deserve to be discredited for their part in maintaining his fraud on the world.

3 comments:

  1. you are post a very nice blog. I got my infirmation through your blog. please keep it up.I like it
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    ReplyDelete
  2. You should watch the movie. Randi is on the record about this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What movie? The one praising Randi as an "honest liar"? Well, I know he's a dishonest liar over decades of documented instances, why would I believe him just because he's "on record".

      Look at the post dealing with him accusing Will Storr of falsely accusing him of being a Nazi etc. only, when he found out Storr had him on tape as saying what he quoted him saying in favor of "Social Darwinism" he changed his tune rather abruptly.

      http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2013/04/james-randi-social-darwinist-deceiver.html

      These things I mentioned in these posts are a drop in the bucket of James Randi's career as a liar and his fan club and fellow pseudo-skeptics covering up for him.

      Delete