Pa. thief who fled sentencing gets 93-month term

April 2, 2009 8:51:47 PM PDT
This time, there was no smoke break allowed for Charles McLaurin. McLaurin was sentenced Thursday to nearly eight years in prison for ID theft, a month after he slipped away during a break at his initial sentencing hearing.

McLaurin and others stole $101,000 in the scheme, in which they used personal information from school employees and others to open credit card accounts and pay for casino outings, groceries, TV bills and various other purchases.

"I went outside to smoke a cigarette," McLaurin told U.S. District Judge Bruce W. Kauffman, explaining his March 5 disappearance, moments before the judge was to pronounce sentence. "I got scared and I got nervous."

McLaurin, 30, of Philadelphia will have to defend that action another day; new charges stemming from the escape are pending. Prosecutors say he was up to old tricks - applying for credit cards - when he was captured in Philadelphia a few weeks later.

McLaurin's victims include retired Camden, N.J., school superintendent Richard Hamilton and his wife, who have spent seven years trying to clear up their credit after 24 fraudulent accounts were opened in his name, with $60,000 in total charges.

"It's awful. Nobody should have to go through this," Hamilton's wife, Donna Carmichael-Hamilton, said.

"It's a whole lifestyle," she said of the charges on one 2002 bill, which included a $1,000 charge at an Atlantic City casino and $100 at a supermarket.

McLaurin's sister told the judge they had been in the foster-care system since they were young, landing in "multiple homes, multiple neighborhoods, multiple schools." She eventually lucked out, landing with a good family, but her brother fared less well, she said.

"I don't believe that he had the same privilege," said Waunita Miles, 31, of Lindenwold, N.J. "I believe he was extremely desperate once he had his kids and had no way to provide for them."

McLaurin's mother, Gwenda Brown, also is charged in the case and remains a fugitive.

McLaurin faces up to five additional years if convicted of failure to appear.

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