NATIONAL NEWS

Man convicted in decadeslong identity theft that led to his victim being jailed

Apr 5, 2024, 3:37 PM | Updated: 5:28 pm

William Woods was homeless and living in Los Angeles when he learned that someone was racking up debt using his name.

But when he reported his concerns to the branch manager of a bank, he wound up spending nearly two years locked up, accused of identity theft himself. As he continued to insist he was Woods in a desperate effort to clear his name, he was even sent to a state mental hospital and drugged, court records show.

Finally this week, a former high-level Iowa hospital IT worker who had assumed Woods’ identity for decades pleaded guilty to two federal charges.

That man, 58-year-old Matthew David Keirans, who lived in Hartland, Wisconsin, faces up to 32 years in prison for making false statements to a National Credit Union Administration insured institution and aggravated identify theft.

A sentencing date has not been set in the federal case, but Keirans spent 20 days in jail last year on related state charges in Iowa.

Meanwhile, a hearing is set for next week in California to vacate Woods’ conviction, said Venusse Dunn, a spokesperson in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Court records show the two men first met when they both worked at a hot dog cart in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the late 1980s.

There is no record of Keirans using his own name or social security number after 1988, and he started to publicly assume the name William Woods in 1990, court documents show.

Federal prosecutors have provided no information about what precipitated the name change, said Tony Morfitt, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney in northern Iowa. But the records indicate he had a rocky childhood, running away from home at 16, traveling across the country, stealing a car in San Francisco and getting arrested in Oregon, but never appearing in court.

Over the years, he married and had a child, all as Woods. He used a genealogy website to research Woods’ family history and used that information to fraudulently obtained a copy of Woods’ Kentucky birth certificate, federal prosecutors said.

He used Woods’ ID to get his job at the University of Iowa Hospital and to obtain a series of loans through credit unions in the state totaling more than $200,000, prosecutors said.

Upon learning about the debt in 2019, Woods walked into the California bank. He said he didn’t want to pay and sought to close the accounts that Keirans had opened in his name.

He provided his social security card, as well as his California ID. But the accounts had a lot of money in them, so the branch manager asked the real Woods a series of security questions. Unable to answer them, the bank called police, court records say.

Keirans, who was listed as Woods on the account, told police he didn’t give anyone in California permission to access his bank accounts. He then faxed police a series of fraudulently acquired identification documents, court records show.

Police arrested Woods and charged him with identity theft and false impersonation. They insisted that Woods was actually called Matthew Kierans, misspelling his tormentor’s name. Court documents do not explain how police linked Woods or the bank accounts to that name.

Police in Los Angeles confirmed to The Associated Press that Woods was arrested but declined to comment further.

Because Woods repeatedly disputed the identity authorities foisted upon him, a California judge found him not mentally competent to stand trial and sent him to a state mental hospital, where he received psychotropic medication.

The real Keirans called police and prosecutors periodically as the case progressed. Told at one point that the case was on hold until Woods regained mental competence, court records show that Keirans responded: “This is assuming he does.”

Woods spent 428 days in county jail and 147 days in the mental hospital before he was released after agreeing to a no-contest plea. He was ordered to pay $400 in fines and to stop using the name William Woods.

But instead of stopping, Woods continued to push to regain his identity. One issue was that California was attempting to recoup expenses from his time at the mental hospital, court records show.

Keirans complained in one email to prosecutors in Los Angeles that Woods had filed 30 disputes on his credit report and he just spent two hours “clearing all that up.” He continued: “I need some advice on what steps to take at this point.”

Undeterred, Woods reached out to the University of Iowa Hospital, where Keirans was earning more than $100,000 a year. Security there referred Woods’ complaint to University of Iowa Police.

Keirans initially insisted in an interview that the victim was “crazy” and “needed help and should be locked up,” federal prosecutors said.

But a detective tracked down the biological father listed on Woods’ birth certificate and tested the father’s DNA against Woods’ DNA. The test proved Woods was the man’s son.

When police confronted Keirens about the DNA evidence, he said: “My life is over” and “Everything is gone.”

Woods has not responded to the AP’s efforts to seek comment via a court liaison who works with victims, and the public defender’s office in Los Angeles didn’t respond to emails.

AP also called people believed to be relatives of Woods, but no one called back. One person texted back a single word: “Stop.”

The news stunned Keirans’ family and friends. Letters written to the court on his behalf described him as a good father, kind and trustworthy.

“I believe Matt’s motivation was simple: to create the family and home he did not have in his youth,” wrote his wife of 30 years, Nancy Zimmer, who described him working to help her as she earned a doctorate in theology.

Their adult son identified himself as “the son of Matthew Keirans, formerly known as William Woods — in either case, known to me as Dad.”

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Man convicted in decadeslong identity theft that led to his victim being jailed