This article originally appeared in the Jan. 19, 2018 issue of The Western News. View clip online. Award: 2nd place investigative news story, Div. 2: Weekly newspapers, Montana Newspaper Association 2019 Better Newspaper Contest.
Libby City Council member Angel Ford is publicly defending a 2011 conviction of felony identity theft in Oregon as an unfortunate result of a family favor gone awry.
Ford has posted several explanations to Facebook, including this one on Oct. 19, 2017:
“My son was in the army and wanted a ticket home. He had me add him to my credit card to purchase the ticket. 2 yrs later after he was out he lied and said I didn’t have his permission so he went after me for ID theft. It was for $300 in Oregon anything over $250 is a felony.”
A Western News investigation has found that Ford’s explanation doesn’t match the official narrative: that Ford used her son’s personal information to open a separate credit card account in his name; that she indicated on the application he was 18 years old when in fact he was 17 and therefore too young to open the account; and that she used that credit card to conduct personal transactions — none of which included a plane ticket.
In addition, none of the felony counts were tied to a dollar amount.
Further, the son, Tyler Schwitzke, in recent phone and email interviews with The Western News and in police reports, denied asking his mother to add him to her credit card account or to buy him a plane ticket.
Ford, in an interview Thursday with The Western News, refuted her son’s denials, and wondered why anyone would be concerned with this part of her past.
“I don’t believe it’s relevant to what I’m doing now,” she said. “I honestly don’t feel it affects who I am today.”
Ford also said she might resign so the City Council could save face after publication of this story, but said it would be due mostly to health issues — a scenario she said she already had raised in recent weeks with the mayor.
Court records show that on Aug. 3, 2011, a 12-person jury in Washington County, Oregon found Ford — then Angel Lee Kavanaugh — guilty of five felony counts of identity theft and the two misdemeanor counts of theft in the second degree and fraudulent use of a credit card.
Ford had been accused of the seven counts on April 4, 2011, when a grand jury issued a secret indictment. She pleaded not guilty to all counts two weeks later.
According to a document outlining the grand jury indictment, the five instances of identity theft occurred between Nov. 1, 2008 and Dec. 12, 2008. For each count, the grand jury alleged that Ford “did unlawfully … use the personal identification of another person.”
The two misdemeanors occurred between Dec. 4, 2008 and Dec. 12, 2008, the document states. For the theft count, the grand jury alleged Ford stole property valued at $100 or more. For the count of fraudulent use of a credit card, the grand jury alleged Ford used a credit card issued in her son’s name without his authorization.
The document offers no information supporting the grand jury’s allegations — likely because the indictment was kept secret — yet two August 2009 Beaverton (Oregon) Police Department reports appear to have served as the basis for the state’s case against Ford.
In an incident report dated Aug. 11, 2009, Officer Amanda Pickar describes a phone interview she conducted with Schwitzke, then 18, who was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The U.S. Army serviceman had contacted Beaverton police — his mother lived there at the time — after a check of his credit report, following “multiple” denials of credit, revealed “horrible” credit and credit entries from when he was a minor.
“Schwitzke said he never applied for a credit card when he was a minor, but suspected his mother of using his personal information to open up an account,” Pickar wrote.
The last time he spoke with his mother, Schwitzke told Pickar, was June 2009.
In a follow-up report prepared Nov. 4, 2009, Pickar outlines her investigation before recounting an interview she held that day with Ford. Pickar also states in this report that Schwitzke wanted to press identity theft charges against his mother, and maintained that he hadn’t opened the account, received the card or made a payment on it.
Pickar reported that a credit card had been opened online in November 2008, using Ford’s phone number, email address and home mailing address, which at the time was in nearby Hillsboro, Oregon. Pickar also reported confirming that Ford had associated her Bank of America checking account with the credit card account she applied for in Schwitzke’s name.
Pickar notes that Schwitzke would have been only 17 at the time of the application, and that the credit card account was activated Dec. 2, 2008, from Ford’s phone number.
Pickar then describes several transactions made on the account between Nov. 22 and Dec. 18, 2008, including a purchase at a gas station in nearby Tigard, Oregon, and payments made to a car loan, a cellphone bill and a background-check website.
Pickar did not list a transaction showing the purchase of a plane ticket.
In her interview with Pickar at the police station, Ford “acknowledged she tried to put Tyler on her Capital One credit card in Nov. 2008, after he called her from boot camp and wanted a plane ticket home for leave,” but said the credit card company wouldn’t let her because “her credit was messed up” following “a bad divorce.”
Ford also acknowledged applying online for the credit card using her son’s birth date, Social Security number and name, in addition to her own contact information, and acknowledged that a card in Schwitzke’s name came to her home in Beaverton, where she had moved in March 2009.
When Pickar asked Ford why she indicated on the application that Schwitzke was 18 years old instead of 17, Ford said “she may have clicked on the wrong year accidentally on the drop down menu for year of birth.”
As for the transactions Pickar had uncovered, Ford told the police officer that “it was possible she ‘could have’ made a payment to Cricket for her boyfriend’s cellphone using the credit card with Tyler’s name”; that “it was possible she used that card to make a car payment”; that “she probably used the same card to have background checks run on people for her private investigation business”; and that “she may have grabbed the card with Tyler’s name on it accidentally and used it to pay for gas and other things” at the Tigard gas station.
At the end of the police interview, Pickar arrested Ford on suspicion of identity theft and fraudulent use of a credit card and placed her in jail, the report states.
In her interview with The Western News on Thursday, Ford did not deny the account outlined in the police report, though she said her memory of the details was hazy due to the passage of time and medical issues she said she has been dealing with. She also maintained that Schwitzke had asked her over the phone to be added to her credit card and for her to buy him a ticket home. She said that at the time she produced an affidavit from a witness to that conversation, but said she did not know if she still had a copy of it.
“This was just a dispute between my son and myself,” she said.
When asked in a recent email exchange with The Western News if he had ever asked his mother to add him to her credit card, open a credit card in his name or buy him a plane ticket home, Schwitzke, who now lives in Washington state, responded, “the answer is no.”
“Not for a plane ticket, not for anything,” he wrote.
At her sentencing on Aug. 5, 2011, Ford was placed on 18 months probation for each count, to be served concurrently. She was also directed to take parenting classes, submit to a mental health evaluation and not to contact her son, among other items. Though she was found eligible to serve time for two of the counts — 13 months and 30 days, respectively — there is no indication she did.
Ford was also ordered to pay $2,725.52, to cover court costs and fees, credit reports and credit monitoring for Schwitzke, and the transactions made to the fraudulently opened credit card.
Court records show that in 2012 Ford appealed her conviction and in 2016 asked for her arrest and conviction to be set aside. She was unsuccessful both times.
Mayor Brent Teske on Thursday said he’d hold off on commenting to see what Ford’s next steps would be.