Crime

Tri-City swindler admits to using dead baby’s identity to apply for a passport

Judith Calhoun, a longtime friend and business associate of Michael Spitzauer, was sentenced in Richland’s federal court to one month in jail for helping the Austria native file fake documents in an attempt to get a United States passport.
Judith Calhoun, a longtime friend and business associate of Michael Spitzauer, was sentenced in Richland’s federal court to one month in jail for helping the Austria native file fake documents in an attempt to get a United States passport. Tri-City Herald

A serial swindler who stole millions of dollars from investors in his Pasco company pleaded guilty Thursday to new crimes of aggravated identity theft and making a false statement.

Michael Peter Spitzauer is facing 2 to 2 1/2 years in federal prison after admitting to using the birth certificate of a dead baby to apply for a U.S. passport.

And a federal judge could add another six months to a year because the new crimes constitute a probation violation on an earlier prison sentence related to his company Green Power of Pasco.

At the time, he admitted to defrauding investors, spending their money to pay back previous investors and on a $1 million Kennewick mansion, furniture, donations and professional sports tickets.

Less than two months after being released from prison on that case, he applied in August 2017 for a passport in Benton County using the fake information.

He was serving a year’s probation and was prohibited from committing another crime or leaving Eastern Washington without permission.

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Michael Spitzauer

Spitzauer also was required to pay nearly $13 million to investors in his company, Green Power, which he told investors in the U.S. and worldwide that he founded to convert municipal waste to biofuel.

At one time, he also announced plans to build an $82 million plant in Fife inside the Puyallup tribal reservation to convert waste to diesel. That project was never built.

Spitzauer admitted in a plea agreement Thursday that he applied for a U.S. passport last summer using a birth certificate from El Paso County, Texas, for Michael S. McCune who was born in 1967.

A records check showed the birth certificate belonged to a baby who died within 24 hours.

Spitzauer told Judge Sal Mendoza Jr. that he did not know whether he was born in the United States or Austria but that he was raised in Austria as a native of the country. He came to the United States in the 1990s, according to court documents.

He had a juvenile conviction for fraud and forgery in Austria in 1989, a fraud conviction there in 1992 and a false statement conviction in the United States in 1997 before the 2015 conviction related to Green Power in Pasco, according to court documents.

He said while he was in prison for the Green Power case, he was contacted by a man named James L. McCune, who believed Spitzauer was his long-lost Texas son, said court documents.

However, Spitzauer admitted Thursday that he made a false statement to the U.S. government to get a passport and attached a birth certificate that was not his.

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Green Power CEO Michael Spitzauer wants to withdraw his guilty plea in federal court for passport fraud. He was building a biomass plant at the Port of Pasco when he defrauded investors, spending their money to pay previous investors and on a $1 million Kennewick mansion, furniture, donations and professional sports tickets. File Tri-City Herald

The guilty plea could result in Spitzauer being deported from the United States, the judge said.

Also on Thursday, his longtime friend Judith Calhoun of Issaquah pleaded guilty to possessing the an identification document to defraud the U.S. — the McCune birth certificate.

Prosecutors and the defense are recommending one year’s probation.

She admitted to helping Spitzauer get the Texas birth certificate and knowing that James McCune came up with a false narrative to explain differences in the birth certificate and Spitzauer’s family history.

According to earlier claims in Spitzauer’s case, his Austrian mother had come to Michigan for a brief spring break visit in 1966 and met James McCune.

When she realized she was pregnant, she traveled to Texas in search of McCune. She gave birth to a son and took the baby back to Austria, where she married Rudolph Spitzauer, according to the story told in court documents.

Calhoun said she was pleading guilty Thursday because she did not trust that she could get a fair verdict from an Eastern Washington jury.

Mendoza said a bench trial, in which a judge rather than a jury decides the facts, could be held, but she said she would rather plead guilty.

She admitted to knowing the birth certificate was false by the time Spitzauer used it to apply for a passport.

She has not been held in jail, but the court found in August that she had violated the terms of her pretrial release by having contact with Spitzauer.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Rodgers warned her then that if she had further violations, she could be held in jail until her case is resolved.

Spitzauer and Calhoun are scheduled for sentencing Dec. 6.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533
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