NATIONAL CITY, Calif. — Authorities asked the public Thursday for help in identifying a fugitive suspected of posing as a South Bay man for months, racking up thousands of dollars worth of illicit purchases before blowing the scheme by trying to get a friend and her two young children to shoplift for him.
The suspect allegedly obtained a driver’s license under the name of 26-year-old Benjamin McClarnon of Chula Vista and used the victim’s personal information to fraudulently buy such expensive items as diamond jewelry and a pickup truck, according to police.
The accused identity thief allegedly opened fraudulent credit lines, established a sham bank account, worked at a Cox Cable office in San Diego and also was employed at a Chula Vista auto-wheel rental shop, all while passing himself off as the unwitting victim.
The suspect vanished in late August, after he allegedly got his girlfriend and her 6- and 10-year-old children to try to steal clothing for him at a JCPenney store in National City, said Tom Di Zinno, a police investigator in that South Bay community.
When the woman and youngsters were caught in the act of shoplifting, the suspect sneaked out of the business and drove off, leaving them behind to fend for themselves, according to Di Zinno.
The seven-month spate of alleged identity-theft offenses came to light at that point. The suspect’s girlfriend told police his assumed name, and detectives tracked down the real McClarnon, questioned him and soon realized he was the primary victim in the case, not the perpetrator, Di Zinno said.
The whereabouts of the suspect since then have been unknown. Detectives remain uncertain if his former girlfriend — who was arrested on suspicion of burglary and child-endangerment in connection with the alleged shoplift attempt — knows his true identity and where he might be living, Di Zinno said.
The investigator declined to release the woman’s name, saying he did not want to facilitate the public identification of her children, who are considered victims in the case.
The alleged thief, a former Arizona resident who may have fled back to that state, is a 6- foot, roughly 275-pound Latino who appears to be in his late 30s to mid-40s, according to police. He generally wears his brown hair close-cropped and has been known to sport a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee.
San Diego County Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the suspect’s arrest. The nonprofit agency can be contacted at (888) 580-8477 or online at sdcrimestoppers.com. Tipsters may remain anonymous.