Bob Hartle's Identity Crisis

A con man stole his good name and good credit; the law wouldn't help him get it back

He'd left a box inside the front door with his .357 magnum and his bogus work papers. When Hartle and the police searched the trailer, they found boxes of forged papers: resumes in Hartle's name, faked tax returns, blank automobile titles, notary stamps, credit applications. In effect, he'd left all the evidence Hartle would eventually need to figure out Gilbert's scheme.

If he could get someone to look at it.
Gilbert had purchased a motorcycle in Hartle's name and left it on the back porch of the double-wide. Hartle called up the dealer and told him to come get it, which he did.

Gilbert had been a regular at the dealership, says Jeff Chapman, manager of Kelly's Kawasaki.

"He'd come in here and sit down and have lunch with us when he was getting his bike serviced," Chapman says. "You would never have expected in a million years that this guy wasn't who he said he was. He was good at his job."

Then, since Hartle had already figured out that he would be told he was not the victim, he had Chapman contact the Mesa police to see if Gilbert could be prosecuted for fraudulently obtaining credit to buy the bike. Ultimately, Kelly's was able to resell the machine for more than was owed on it, so the dealership did not suffer any dollar loss that might have made it a victim, either.

Hartle's an old-fashioned, black-and-white kind of guy, raised to believe that if something is wrong, the authorities will fix it. And so he claims that he launched into the same argument with a Mesa police detective that he'd already had with a Phoenix detective. The detective, who has since retired and did not return New Times' calls, said that Gilbert had only committed a misdemeanor, which the county attorney would not pursue.

"It was like a carbon copy [of his conversation in Phoenix]," Hartle says. "These guys must all meet and say this is what we're not going to do.

"I said, 'Look, you do your job, and I'll worry about the county attorney. I reported a crime to you. It's your job to investigate it. It's your job to write a report in a manner that the county attorney will prosecute. That's it. Your job isn't to speak for the county attorney. Your job isn't to talk me out of nothin'.'"

Hartle eventually found an agency willing to arrest Scott Gilbert: the New Hampshire State Police.

Shortly after going on the lam, Gilbert had made the rounds in New Hampshire, trying to borrow $5,000 on the accounts he had opened in Arizona. Hartle had already closed the accounts, and the lenders called him to report Gilbert's whereabouts. Then Hartle notified the New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Department, so in July 1994, when Gilbert tried to get a New Hampshire driver's license in Hartle's name, he was arrested, and, after conferring with Hartle, a New Hampshire judge released Gilbert on bail and ordered him not to leave the state.

The New Hampshire authorities discovered that Gilbert was wanted on a Florida fugitive warrant; the state of Florida, however, did not want to spend any money to get him back. Arizona authorities still were not interested. As late as November 1994, the Mesa Police Department was telling the Iowa newspapers that the county attorney was not interested in pressing charges.

Hartle stayed busy, however. He called the U.S. Post Office and had its officials ferret out Gilbert's bogus post office boxes and close them. He called General Motors in Dearborn, Michigan, and asked why it was extending credit to criminals, and GM responded by repossessing the truck Gilbert was driving in Hartle's name.

"Them guys are so gung ho, they get excited about all this," Hartle says of the authorities in New Hampshire. "They went out to the house with the dealer and the local police and repossessed the truck. And [Gilbert] come out screamin' and yellin' that he was making the payments on it and that he was Robert B. Hartle, and he was going to sue them. And they was just laughin'."

Gilbert was beginning to get shook. He called Hartle in Iowa.
"What do you want from me to get you off my back?" he asked.
Hartle responded, "It's real simple. You just come to Arizona, get arrested, go to prison, and I'll send you cigarettes."

Gilbert refused. "There's not a law enforcement agency in the United States that will do anything to me. I'm going to use your name until I decide not to," he told Hartle.

Hartle closed the conversation. "I'm not going to live my life playing catch-up with you," he said. "I know where you're at now. So I've got two choices: Either I can convince law enforcement people to do their job, or I can come and find you and take care of it myself. It's as simple as that."

By August 1994, Hartle was spending so much time and energy and money trying to fight Gilbert long-distance that he finally decided to quit his job and sell his house and move to Phoenix to be closer to the battle. His mother was ill and alone, and she asked if Hartle and Joann would move in with her.

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