For most of his adult life, Gerald McComber has been either committing fraud or serving prison time for it – and sometimes both.
His record includes 14 felony fraud convictions. A probation officer wrote in a report that since 1989, the longtime Orange County resident “has repeatedly committed serious financial crimes unabated except for periods of his incarceration.”
But last year, McComber picked perhaps his most audacious target yet: He forged a federal judge’s signature.
On Monday, a different judge sentenced him to 10 months in federal prison.
McComber, 58, pleaded guilty in January to forgery. Gray-haired and balding with a mustache, he appeared in court wearing a white inmate jumpsuit and walking slowly with a cane.
“Your honor, I’m just disappointed in myself,” he said, speaking softly from a lectern.
McComber said he had lost his job and simply wanted another one. His lawyer has said he forged the signature to try to clear a tax lien that was a blemish on his credit report.
“It was a stressed position. I made a poor error, and I’m sorry for it,” McComber said.
Since the judge McComber impersonated sits in Orange County, the case was heard in Los Angeles to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
When a check of his credit report showed an outstanding tax lien, company official Mark Anderson called McComber to ask about it. McComber said it had been taken care of and he would send proof.
Shortly, a faxed letter arrived on Anderson’s desk, purportedly written months before to McComber, then living in Rancho Santa Margarita.
“As of the date referenced above, the Tax Lien #0508725R has been released from your name, and the amounts in question have been satisfied completely,” the letter began. “There are no outstanding fees or penalties due, and your record has been cleared of any restrictions or liens.”
Below a signature, it said: “Alice Marie Stotler, US District Judge.”
Suspicious, another company official sent the letter to the Santa Ana office of Alicemarie H. Stotler, a real judge who’s been on the federal bench since 1984.
McComber knew of Stotler, since she once sentenced him to prison for filing a falsetax refund claim. But he still didn’t spell her name right.
Like any other citizen, the judge reported the crime. When FBI agents confronted McComber, “he was cooperative and made a full confession,” his lawyer wrote.
He could have faced up to five years, but his lawyer and the prosecutor agreed to the 10-month sentence.
“You are a 58-year-old man who made what can only be characterized as a huge mistake to sign the name of a United States District Court judge,” Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell told McComber. “But it was to be gainfully employed, which is in your favor.”
But the fraud was futile. Even if the faked letter from the judge had fooled everyone, McComber never would have gotten the job. According to a court filing, a company official told the FBI he quickly discovered McComber’s long criminal record, which he hadn’t disclosed when he applied.
Because he turned himself in in September, McComber should be released from prison in July. He’ll be on supervised release for one year.
A probation report found “prior terms of supervision have proven ineffective in every instance from deterring (defendant) from engaging in criminal conduct.”
McComber even managed to commit crime while he was in prison. In 1997, he admitted filing a false tax refund claim while serving a five-year federal prison term for securities fraud. Stotler gave him another 33 months and ordered him to pay back $82,705.
His lawyer told the Los Angeles Times in 1997 that McComber only committed the crime to provide for his ex-wife and young daughter.
The earliest fraud on record dates to 1985, when McComber forged his wife’s signature on a deed to finance a real estate venture, a scam that ended with her losing her home in Anaheim Hills, according to a lawsuit she later filed and won.
Nearly 30 years after that forgery, as deputy U.S. marshals prepared to take McComber from the courtroom, O’Connell told him, “Good luck to you, Mr. McComber. Stay out of trouble now.”
He replied, “Yes, your honor. Thank you.”
By ERIC HARTLEY / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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