SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. - Identity theft is one of the most common crimes in the country. Likely you or someone you know has been a target of this kind of theft. It's typically difficult to investigate, let alone charge someone, but in the case of a stolen card from 2019, deputies had video. But the suspect, turned apparent victim, said it far from shows the entire picture.
“Washing a car cost me $5,000,” Scott Smith said. “This was the most humiliating thing in my life.”
The bizarre story began in March of 2019.
“I was selling a vehicle and washing it a lot,” he said.
An ordinary, routine errand for Scott Smith that would land him in a courtroom as an accused thief months later.
“Nobody wanted to hear the facts,” he said.
Smith first reached out to our ‘Help Me Hayley’ in April. KHQ began looking into his story, reviewing court documents, emails from a record’s request, and most importantly the video at the center of the case.
"It shows me washing my car,” he said.
The surveillance clip of Smith purchasing a car wash and then cleaning his vehicle is all deputies had in this identity theft case. But also all they apparently needed.
“The more you learn about it, the angrier you get,” he said.
The affidavit of facts used to charge Smith states it all started when a victim's card was stolen from her car around midnight of March 24th, 2019. The victim stated it was used multiple times starting that day until April 16th at 'several locations in Idaho and Washington.' The majority of purchases were for 'fuel...with no surveillance available to identify a suspect.'
But cameras were rolling at a Brown Bear location on Pines where docs state, 'the suspect purchased $2.00 worth of car wash time on the stolen credit card.' The foundation of the case against Scott smith was over $2.
“I didn't have anything to do with it,” he said.
Docs state the investigator reviewed the report, the bank statement and the video obtained from the car wash. From it, he was able to nab a license plate. From there, he learned Scott Smith was the registered owner, and was able to identify him through a comparison to his driver’s license picture.
Now, this is something everyone agrees with. The individual in the video is Smith, but the card you can see him using in it, was his own. He points to the amount syncing up with the time spent cleaning too, far longer than what $2 would have gotten him. Something he could have easily proven with his own bank statement, if only given the chance.
Instead, Scott Smith learned of the case, via a mailed summons, once charges were already filed some seven months after his trip to the car wash.
“I went home in October and had a letter from the prosecutor…and I’m like what this? Two felony counts,” he said. “That’s the first time I found out about it. At no point was I asked questions, or able to defend myself (during the investigative process.)”
Smith received the summons in October of 2019, his first appearance set for November 6th. That same day, records confirm his attorney emailed prosecutors, letting them know he could prove Smith used his own card with bank statements he was able to show them. Records show Smith’s attorney followed up via email multiple times, again stating he had proof his client used his own card. The final email stating this was sent in January.
“There was nothing to link me to it whatsoever,” he said.
Despite that, Smith was booked into jail. Something that is standard for this kind of case, according to prosecutors.
“So many people could have stopped this from happening,” he said.
His time in custody was very quick, out that same day, but the trauma from all this, that may be forever.
“I've never felt more alone than when I had to go through this,” Smith said.
The case dragged on until almost the one-year mark of the actual crime. Smith’s attorneys were preparing for trial, but finally, prosecutors dropped the case. Smith fears the likelihood of ever finding out who did it is slim at best.
“Unfortunately, it makes her ever getting justice unlikely,” he said.
And she may not be the only one who needs it.
"I think about this daily, but I try not to because I have so many emotions,” he said. “I’m angry.”
So why bring it all back up now? Smith said he just wants his story told, wants it out there, in hopes it leads to change. He said the whole thing caused him to miss work for court hearings, and sleep as he was constantly worrying. He said he just doesn’t want anyone else to go through the same.
“This could happen to you,” he said.
So how did this happen? The most likely explanation we’ve found is that there was a discrepancy in either the victim’s bank statement time or the time stamp reflected on the surveillance video.
Smith said he had considered different options to recoup the amount he spent to clear his name and fight the charges.
Prosecutors told KHQ Monday that while the charges were dropped without prejudice, meaning they could refile them, no evidence linking Smith to this crime has surfaced. The statute of limitations for the crime is three years, which will be March of 2022.
KHQ also reached out to SCSO who say it’s the standard for them to attempt to contact suspects during the investigative process whenever possible. They were unable to tell us if attempts were made in this case before passing it along to the prosecutor’s office.