(Original story at the Daily Record here.)
A couple of weeks ago, I posted an old story from 2010 where a prison guard was arrested for impersonating his boss on Facebook. Now, Dana Thornton from New Jersey is in hot soup for setting up a fake Facebook profile of her ex-boyfriend, a police detective, and is facing charges of identity theft.
Even if criminal charges of identity theft were thrown out by a court of law, Thornton still runs the risk of a civil suit from her ex-boyfriend, Michael Lasalandra, for defamation. The Parsippany Police Department may also have a case against Thornton for — you guessed it — the impersonation of a police officer.
Do NOT pretend to be anyone else on Facebook!
Morris County ID theft charge at issue in court
11:36 PM, Oct. 25, 2011
A Belleville woman is testing New Jersey’s law on identity theft by claiming it doesn’t apply to her alleged creation of a Facebook profile in the name of an ex-boyfriend who is a Parsippany police detective.
Dana Thornton, 41, was indicted last year in Morris County on one count of fourth-degree identity theft, which is punishable upon conviction by up to 18 months in prison. The indictment and court papers allege that Thornton, after her dating relationship with Parsippany Detective Michael Lasalandra ended, created a Facebook page using his name and birth date, and posted photographs of him and comments.
The alleged false comments, written as though Lasalandra was their author, disparage his lifestyle choices and career. Lasalandra declined comment on the case Tuesday.
Defense lawyer Richard M. Roberts has filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in state Superior Court, Morristown, contending that the charge is deficient by failing to provide any facts that Thornton committed a crime under the statute. Unlike New York state law, New Jersey’s statute on identity theft or impersonation is silent on whether it applies to Facebook and other social media and electronic devices, the defense motion said.
“Most importantly, in New Jersey no courts have ever ruled that creating a profile of anyone online, without the individual’s consent, constitutes false impersonation,” the motion said. At most, Roberts argues, Thornton violated an agreement with Facebook that says no one can provide any false personal information or create an account for anyone other than themself without permission.
“Under the New Jersey statute, there is no plain wording, commentary, memorandum or any evidence of legislative intent to show that impersonating someone on line or by electronic means is a crime,” the defense motion said.
Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Foy, who wrote a legal brief opposing dismissal, and Assistant Prosecutor Robert Schwartz, who will argue in court against dismissal, say the New Jersey law as written definitely applies. It doesn’t mention the Internet, but the law generally states that impersonating another or assuming a false identity and acting in such an assumed character to obtain a benefit or to injure or defraud another is a crime. In Thornton’s case, the state contends, her alleged victim’s character and reputation was injured by scurrilous comments posted on the fabricated Facebook page.
“Certainly it would damage his good name, standing or reputation if false comments and assertions” about Lasalandra were circulated, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office said in its court papers.
Superior Court Judge David Ironson was scheduled to hear the motion to dismiss this week but Roberts asked for a few days to supplement his filings. The case now is set to be heard Nov. 2 in Morristown.
According to Roberts, New York has specifically amended its impersonation statute to make it a crime to impersonate another by electronic means, including through use of a website. After Lasalandra complained to police, a grand jury subpoena was issued to obtain the Internet Protocol address from which the webpage in question was created; further subpoenas confirmed Thornton’s home computer was used, court records said.
Just because New York has amended its law doesn’t negate or dilute the applicability of New Jersey’s law on impersonation, the Prosecutor’s Office has asserted.