A Long Island man tried to fake his death to avoid serving a prison sentence, but the false death certificate his lawyer filed had a notorious misspelling that betrayed the fraud, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Huntington, New York resident Robert Berger, 25, now faces up to four years in prison if convicted of the alleged plan. That is in addition to pending convictions for previous guilty pleas on charges of possession of a stolen Lexus vehicle and attempted theft of a truck, the punishment prosecutors said it sought to avoid.
“It will never cease to amaze me how far some people can go to avoid accountability for criminal charges,” Madeline Singas, Nassau County District Attorney, said in a telephone interview.
Berger was arraigned on Tuesday via video conference about the coronavirus pandemic and pleaded not guilty to a charge of offering a false document for a court record. A judge set a dollar bond, but ordered Berger to return to prison for his underlying cases. His next court hearing is scheduled for July 29.
A message was left seeking comment with a public defender who took Berger’s case after the lawyer who submitted the false death certificate claimed that he had been used as a pawn and had nothing to do with the alleged trick.
When he was scheduled to be sentenced to one year in prison in October last year on the robbery-related charges, Berger fled the state, while taking action to convince his then attorney, prosecutors, and the judge that he had committed suicide, including having used his fiancée to issue a false death certificate, prosecutors said.
At first glance, Berger’s alleged death certificate looked like an official document issued by the New Jersey Department of Health, Vital Statistics, and Registry, but there was one big problem: a noticeable misspelling of the English word “Registry”. written as “Regsitry” instead of “Registry”. There were also inconsistencies in font type and size that raised suspicions, prosecutors said.
The true New Jersey Department of Health, Vital Statistics and Registry confirmed that Berger’s death certificate was false, prosecutors added.
Berger was alive, but not quite well. While he was supposed to be dead, he was detained in a Philadelphia suburb on charges including charges that he turned over a false identity document to authorities and robbed a Catholic university. In January, he was sentenced to up to one year in prison, according to Pennsylvania court records.
Michael Sisak is on Twitter at: twitter.com/mikesisak