TAMPA, Fla. – Who was pretending to be Kelvin Johnson, for more than three decades? Even serving 25 years in a New York prison for murder under what prosecutors say was a stolen identity?
The mystery of the bizarre identity case that spanned the Eastern seaboard is a step closer to being solved. Federal prosecutors in Tampa quietly revealed that they have determined the name of the man they said had been pretending for more than a generation to be Johnson.
His real name.
Lorenzo Anthoni Alfred, 63, of Brooklyn – who prosecutors said came to the U.S. illegally from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1980s to escape drug charges – appeared here in a federal courtroom, wearing an earring and dark blue patterned button-up shirt. For nearly two years, as a highly unusual criminal case wound through courts in New York then Florida, Alfred has been known publicly only as “John Doe.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Tuite in Tampa this week ordered Alfred taken back into federal custody ahead of facing criminal charges of aggravated identity theft and making a false statement in an application for a passport. He faces up to 3 ½ years in prison if convicted.
“Given the defendant’s identity theft for decades and his lack of any legal status in the United States, it is entirely possible that the defendant will assume a new fraudulent identity,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer L. Peresie told the judge.
Tuite concluded that Alfred was a flight risk, noting that Alfred was accused of using Johnson’s identity over more than three decades and obtained a birth certificate, Social Security card, credit card, debit card and an official prescription drug identification card. He said Alfred has a history of mental health problems and served 25 years in prison in New York after his conviction – as Kelvin Johnson – for second-degree murder and robbery.
“His true identity has not yet been definitively established,” the judge wrote. “That he possesses a demonstrated ability to assume a new identity, that he apparently deployed this talent to avoid apprehension on drug charges in another country and that he suffers from a history of mental health issues evidences the risk to public safety that could potentially attend his release.”
The situation over Alfred’s true identity was so complicated that when he was ordered to appear in federal court in Tampa, he couldn’t buy a plane ticket from New York because he had no valid identification in the name of anyone other than Kelvin Johnson, the longtime victim in the case. Alfred ended up arriving in Florida on a commercial bus.
His defense lawyer, Grady Charles Irvin Jr. of Plant City, objected to the judge about efforts to put Alfred back behind bars pending the outcome of the case. Irvin said his client has been wearing a GPS transmitter since he was initially arrested in New York in October 2021, and that a court-designated mental health doctor had already concluded that Alfred has trust issues.
“He will feel as though I lured him here to get arrested,” Irvin wrote in a court motion. He said he worried “what will become of his name and reputation inside of the jails: ‘You can’t trust Grady
Irvin – he works for the government.’”
Irvin also said the government can’t prove that his client is Lorenzo Antoni Alfred.
“Belief is not enough,” Irvin said in court. “Show me the proof.”
The judge said Alfred continues to lie to court officials. Alfred said he was in the Army from 1980 to 1983 and received an honorable discharge, then later told a court official he was never in the service, the judge said. Alfred said he couldn’t remember whether he had any siblings, then told another court official he has two sisters, the judge said.
Prosecutors said his family in Trinidad and Tobago helped Alfred assume Johnson’s identity to avoid drug charges there in the 1980s.
The puzzle that has been Alfred’s life – and any possible explanation why Johnson’s identity may have been selected – is only starting to emerge through the court records in the case: He briefly dated a woman in the Tampa area – and collected food benefits there under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – before moving back to Brooklyn. He began his prison term in 1989 and was released in 2014. He was also convicted of minor larceny in New York in 2019 as Johnson.
His current legal woes trace to 2019, when federal investigators said Alfred applied for a U.S. passport under Kelvin Johnson’s name, using his Johnson’s date of birth and Social Security number. But agents found the names and other details associated with two sets of fingerprints – setting off red flags.
A grand jury in Tampa indicted the man it knew only as John Doe in the case in June 2021. A State Department investigator – involved because of the alleged passport fraud – arrested the man four months later as he arrived at a Social Security Administration office to collect benefits he had applied to receive in Johnson’s name.
Prosecutors said the real Kelvin Johnson, as well as Johnson’s nephew, are prepared to testify that Alfred is an imposter.
Alfred’s trial is scheduled to begin April 3.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com. You can donate to support our students here.