A man from Tennessee who served time for impersonating Hollywood stars and Wall Street executives is going back to prison — this time for stealing from dead people, federal prosecutors say.
James Jackson, 58, was sentenced to 17 years in prison after a federal jury convicted him of fraud, identity theft and mail theft last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee announced Thursday in a news release.
The scheme involved at least six victims across the U.S. — including Kim Howe, who was killed in a crash involving Caitlyn Jenner in 2015, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Hall said the case was centered on “death, lying and stealing” during opening statements of Jackson’s September 2019 trial, court documents show.
A storied past
Jackson was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2002 by a federal district judge in Manhattan, The New York Times reported.
Then 41, the Tennessee native was accused of impersonating some of corporate America’s top brass — including the CEOs of Coco-Cola Enterprises and Hilton Hotels — to buy jewels and watches using their credit card numbers, according to the Times.
‘’It tears me up that I used abilities that I shouldn’t have used,’‘ Jackson told the judge at his sentencing, the Times reported. ‘‘I was totally wrong.’‘
Two years later, MSNBC reporter Bob Sullivan released a book titled “Your Evil Twin” in which Jackson confesses to impersonating Hollywood stars to steal their account numbers and credit card statements, NBC reported.
Excerpts from the book that NBC published online detail how Jackson finagled his way into Steven Spielberg’s bank accounts, keeping track of everything the famed director purchased for an entire year in the 1990s.
“This guy had real good taste,” Jackson reportedly told Sullivan in the book. “He spent wads of money on brand-name clothes and expensive jewelry, wined and dined at the top-of-the-line hotels.”
The only star who was “off-limits” to Jackson was Oprah Winfrey, whose father cut Jackson’s hair at his barber shop in Nashville.
But the real kicker, Sullivan wrote, is that he was doing it all from jail.
Jackson was serving time for a string of similar schemes involving insurance fraud and theft of airline travel in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. When authorities realized he’d continued the ruse from behind bars, Jackson was relocated to a prison without phone privileges, Sullivan said in the book.
From May 2014 to February 2015, prosecutors said Jackson scoured the internet for obituaries and impersonated the deceased to “take over the victims’ financial accounts (stock, credit card, and bank accounts).”
As part of the scheme, he then convinced banks to mail new debit or credit cards to vacant addresses in the Memphis area where he lived, according to the news release.
One of his victims was Howe, a wealthy 69-year-old widow in California who died in a 2015 car crash involving former Olympic athlete and reality TV star Jenner.
Prosecutors said Jackson’s computer showed he researched Howe’s death as well as her obituary, which “mentioned that she was predeceased by her husband Robert Howe and and that Mr. and Mrs. Howe had money,” according to court filings.
Jackson ultimately liquidated $350,000 of the Howes’ money, prosecutors said in their opening statements.
Law enforcement caught up to Jackson in 2015 when he called the post office in Tennessee inquiring about the location of a package addressed to a dead man, Thursday’s news release states. Postal inspectors and the Tennessee Highway Patrol knew the man had passed away and the address was vacant — so they set up a sting.
Prosecutors said law enforcement watched the empty house for 12 hours after the package was delivered. A man — later identified as Jackson — eventually walked from another house across the street to pick it up.
“(Law enforcement officers) run up to the house, Mr. Jackson’s residence, they bang on the door. No answer,” the U.S. attorney said during opening statements. “Nobody comes to the door. No answer. They continue banging — no answer, no answer, no answer. This goes on for quite a while.”
It wasn’t until smoke started billowing from the house that officers barged in, according to the news release.
An array of “small fires” had been set “in what appeared to be an attempt to destroy evidence,” prosecutors said. Jackson, meanwhile, was “pretending to be asleep” in another room.
A subsequent search of his and his mother’s houses net a guide titled “How to Find Anyone and Anything” as well as a box of business cards in which Jackson identified himself as the “Father of Identity Theft,” according to the release.
Prosecutors said Jackson was ultimately arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August 2018 “while attempting to purchase a $43,000 Corvette using the name and personal information of a recently deceased individual.”
A federal jury convicted him on all 13 counts listed in the indictment in September 2019, court filings show.