By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
"I don't give up very easily," says Stephen W. Smith. "No matter what, I keep making things happen."
Smith's claim is no idle boast. He is currently a resident of the Jefferson County jail, where he is awaiting trial on a potpourri of charges, including first-degree forgery, criminal impersonation, issuing a false financial statement and unlawful possession of a controlled substance. In addition, the State of California wants him for violating parole.
But Smith, jailed in Colorado since last July, has not wasted his time in stir. He has wangled special phone privileges that allowed him to write and co-produce a song he says he wants used in an antiviolence campaign. He's cajoled Denver TV stations into publicizing the recording of the track by a group of youngsters who had no idea the tune's composer had such an impressive rap sheet. And now he claims that he allowed himself to be arrested in the first place to convince Colorado authorities and businesses to install an antifraud computer software system he designed--and which he insists will prevent the very crimes he's accused of committing.
"I'm just trying to do something good for the community," he says.
If that is true, Smith, who uses a wheelchair and says he suffers from multiple sclerosis, has made some major changes in his life since his latest arrest. Between 1969 and 1987 there are 24 entries under Smith's name in the National Crime Information Computer/Colorado Crime Information Computer database, including several felony convictions. Since that time--and not including either the Jefferson County charges or three separate counts pending in Arapahoe County--Smith has been accused of seventeen more violations ranging from indecent exposure (four times) to second-degree burglary; he was convicted of the latter and sentenced to two years at California's Chino prison beginning in 1991. The 37-year-old Smith does not pretend that he's been a perfect citizen, but he says, "The convictions were fairly minor, and they were something that led me to understand the other side of the coin."
A relentless self-promoter, Smith contends that he has the experience--and a revolutionary piece of computer software (he calls it "UTC Protecto POS-ID")--to save government agencies and companies from white-collar crime. He declines to go into detail about the system, which he says was written for him by a software expert in California, beyond noting that it involves databases dubbed ACAs (authorized consumer agents) and universal transaction codes that consumers would use for all financial and personal data. "Department stores are losing tremendous amounts of money on credit card fraud," says Smith, who's accused of defrauding department stores, "and nobody knows how to stop it. Nobody but me."
The way Smith tells it, he spent two months working the phones but getting nowhere before deciding to take a bold step to bring his innovation to the public. "I wanted to be arrested," he says, "so that I would get into the major media and this issue of financial credit and data personal privacy would come to the surface." He adds that he chose Colorado to make his stand in because its agencies struck him as especially susceptible to fraud--an assertion, like most of Smith's other claims, that authorities dismiss out of hand.
Jefferson County sheriffs did oblige Smith by nabbing him at the Southwest Plaza Joslins store for trying to set up a credit account by using a Colorado driver's license sporting his own photo and the name David E. Dilley, a Lincoln, Nebraska, resident whose personal information is in a regional edition of Who's Who in America (a great source, Smith says, for criminals who need fake IDs). Subsequent checking revealed that Smith had used the Dilley moniker to buy items on credit from a number of other Southwest Plaza stores, including Sears and Weisfeld Jewelers, where authorities say Smith made off with a diamond ring valued at over $4,000.
Once in jail in Jefferson County, Smith, who says he has since returned all the items he purchased with false credentials, won the right to defend himself and began issuing a flurry of handwritten motions. Among the requests granted were permanent housing in the jail infirmary and access to a telephone on which he could call three authorized numbers without charge. If that was intended to prevent abuse of telephone privileges, it failed: One of the approved numbers rang an office where Smith had a receptionist in his employ make conference calls to any other line he chose.
In short order Smith contacted Jim Kinch, a local computer designer and consultant, and pitched him on a variation of his POS-ID notion that could be adapted to government use. Kinch, whose name Smith plucked from the Yellow Pages, agreed to design the system for a 10 percent share in a corporation Smith said he was setting up. "It's a revolutionary idea," Kinch says. "It consolidates all the different information from different government and state computers."
As Kinch worked on the new system, Smith got busy on other fronts. He claims to be a singer-songwriter/guitarist who several years ago put out an album entitled Drugs Are Out. "I only write songs about important issues," he says. Inspired by reports of violence and gang activity in the Denver area, he composed a series of uplifting tunes: "United We Live," "Lay Down the Gun," "The Children's National Anthem" and "Stop the Hurting, Stop the Pain." He then phoned Tony Thompson, the owner of Apex Productions, a local music firm, and convinced him to collaborate on the project, which Smith hoped would result in several public-service announcements. "I worked at a volunteer rate," Thompson says. "But it seemed like a good idea to me."