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Man who changed legal name of his identity theft victim spared prison time

MIAMI - FEBRUARY 02: A judges gavel rests on top of a desk in the courtroom of the newly opened Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum February 3, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The museum is located in the only known structure in the nation that was designed, devoted to and operated as a separate station house and municipal court for African-Americans. In September 1944, the first black patrolmen were sworn in as emergency policemen to enforce the law in what was then called the "Central Negro District." The precinct building opened in May 1950 to provide a station house for the black policemen and a courtroom for black judges in which to adjudicate black defendants. The building operated from 1950 until its closing in 1963.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

MIAMI - FEBRUARY 02: A judges gavel rests on top of a desk in the courtroom of the newly opened Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum February 3, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The museum is located in the only known structure in the nation that was designed, devoted to and operated as a separate station house and municipal court for African-Americans. In September 1944, the first black patrolmen were sworn in as emergency policemen to enforce the law in what was then called the "Central Negro District." The precinct building opened in May 1950 to provide a station house for the black policemen and a courtroom for black judges in which to adjudicate black defendants. The building operated from 1950 until its closing in 1963. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)  (2009 Getty Images)

An immigrant living illegally for decades in the United States was spared a federal prison sentence Wednesday in an identity theft scheme in which he changed the legal name of his identity theft victim to his own.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren sentenced 82-year-old Ramon Perez-Rivera to time served, which amounted to the one night in jail he spent when arrested. The lenient punishment was part of a plea deal, and the judge cited the defendant's advanced age and other factors in imposing it.

Perez-Rivera pleaded guilty in August to possession of unlawfully obtained documents, illegal re-entry, and unlawful disclosure of a Social Security number.

Prosecutors say he persuaded a California court to change the name of his identity theft victim. Armed with that court order, he also changed the victim's California birth record to his own name. He then used that identity to obtain food stamps, Medicaid, a U.S. passport and a driver's license.

"This is clearly a remarkable case," the judge said. "I have never had a case quite like this."

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His defense attorney, David Freund, argued his client is uneducated and received "very bad advice" from a California notary about changing the victim's name. That notary has since been convicted of identity theft, he said, adding that notaries often prey upon uneducated immigrants by offering them hope.

"I thought I was legal," Perez-Rivera told the court. "I thought I was under the judge's protection."

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