Bob Hartle's Identity Crisis

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

A new nightmare began for Hartle. His mother wasn't eating, and she was only sporadically taking her medication other than pain pills. Hartle had found bottles and bottles of pills in her medicine chest, and he took them all to his mother's doctor and asked which she should and which she shouldn't be taking. The doctor told him to flush them all down the toilet. Then, when Hartle started rationing his mother's medicines, she fought back.

While Hartle was at a new job, she called Adult Protective Services and claimed that Hartle was abusing her. Diabetes can be a mood-altering disease.

"We ended up getting a lawyer, us boys," remembers Bob's brother Bill, "because it got to be such a financial mess and the way she was being."

The lawyer suggested that the three brothers back away lest their finances get any more tangled with hers, especially given the uproar she had been causing.

Tragically, in the midst of straightening out the mess--and trying to get her marriage annulled--Patricia Hartle was killed in a car accident. While riding with a neighbor, the pickup truck they were in was broadsided by a car at an intersection.

The three sons were so estranged from her by that time that they heard the news from a sister who was living in Alaska.

The only reason Bob Hartle's case was ever taken up by the authorities came from an angry letter mistakenly sent by an assistant U.S. attorney who didn't want to be bothered by Hartle's troubles.

Hartle had contacted senators and congressmen both in Iowa and Arizona. Only Iowa Senator Tom Harkin took interest and persistently lobbied the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix by mail.

Dan Drake, in the U.S. Attorney's Office, was charged with responding to Harkin's inquiries.

"It's fair to say that we had the same reluctance at the outset that any federal agency would in a situation like this, because of the time and the energy required, the diversion of resources from other cases and things of that sort," Drake says now. "There are lots and lots of things that go wrong with the world, and some of them can be addressed by federal authorities, and some can be addressed by locals."

In November 1994, after several rounds of letters from Harkin's office that were improperly addressed to an earlier U.S. attorney, and because the letters didn't seem to acknowledge the responses that he'd already sent, Drake dashed off a nasty letter in a fit of pique.

He addressed it to Harkin's predecessor, started off by saying, "It appears we have gotten on your monthly dunning list, which is unfortunate," and then petulantly informed the senator that Janet Napolitano had been U.S. attorney for nearly a year.

"It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek," Drake says, "and was not meant to go out. Unfortunately, it did."

New Times did not see Harkin's response, but judging from Napolitano's apology letter, it was spicy.

"I also have asked Mr. Drake to personally see to it that this matter is given high attention," she wrote.

The U.S. Attorney's Office got on the case, and Drake, in fact, threw himself into the task.

Drake acknowledged that Gilbert's fraudulent bank loans and use of credit cards fell under federal jurisdiction, and he enlisted the help of the FBI. And he had a hunch about Gilbert's guns that came true when he had them traced by federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents. Gilbert was a convicted felon, prohibited from owning firearms, and, as Drake's hunch panned out, he had bought them under an alias, Carl Lee Lunden, while he was a fugitive.

On February 8, 1995, Gilbert was indicted in federal court on charges of making false statements in the acquisition of a firearm; of being a fugitive in possession of a firearm; of false statements in connection with a loan application; and false use of a social security number. He was extradited to Arizona two days later, and the following July pleaded guilty to two of the charges, and was sentenced to 17 months in prison. Both offenses had been committed under the name Carl Lee Lunden.

Hartle was not a victim in either crime.
Meanwhile, Bob Hartle had found willing ears in the Arizona state government. He appealed to then-speaker of the House Mark Killian, who referred him to Representative Tom Smith of Phoenix.

"Bob was somebody off the street and they said, 'Yeah, yeah, we'll take care of it,'" Smith remembers. "They didn't count on his tenacity. They were shifting it around, and I don't think they were very serious about it."

Smith contacted Jerry Landau, the Maricopa County Attorney's liaison to the Legislature, who in turn lighted a fire under the Mesa Police Department. Gilbert was indicted for two counts of perjury and three counts of tampering with a public record, all felonies. And in October 1995, Gilbert pleaded guilty to one perjury charge and was sentenced to four years in prison to be served after his federal sentence had been served.

Although Gilbert had used Hartle's name while applying for the illegal marriage and driver's licenses, the crimes had actually been committed against the state agencies that issued those documents. Gilbert went so far as to apologize in court to the Hartles at both of his convictions and later at a parole hearing. But technically, Bob Hartle was still not his victim.

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