Three years ago, Arizona resident Clifton Goodenough was mailed tax notification forms from the Internal Revenue Service with his Social Security number — and another person’s name.
Maybe that explained his financial nightmare, he thought.
Goodenough, a nurse at a Phoenix veterans hospital, had been embroiled in a longtime feud with the IRS over "extra income" he supposedly earned in Las Vegas every year since 1995.
The agency had garnisheed his wages, taken funds from his bank account and caused his family substantial annual grief during the long ordeal, he said.
"I’d say, ‘This can’t be. I work for the federal government. I wasn’t in Vegas. I can’t be in two places at once,’ " Goodenough, 50, recalled in a phone conversation Tuesday.
Every year, Goodenough would prove his case, and the government would refund his money. But after each tax season, he would have to convince them again. And again. No one could explain why the income kept appearing under his name.
But the IRS finally had provided documents that named a person he could link to his torment: Joseph Richard Sandelli, a casino worker from Las Vegas, using Goodenough’s Social Security number.
Last week, the Nevada attorney general’s office announced the arrest of Arthur Gerald Jones, 72, also known as "Sandelli," a former Chicago commodities trader who had vanished more than 30 years ago.
Officials said Jones was fleeing gambling debts and mob connections when he abandoned his wife and three children in 1979. He was declared dead by an Illinois court in 1986.
But Jones was very much alive, although no longer using his real identity. Police said he created a few different aliases as he bounced around the country, first heading to Florida, then to California, and finally settling in Las Vegas under the name "Sandelli" in the late ’80s.
And the whole time, Jones was using Goodenough’s Social Security number, which he later admitted buying for $800 before leaving Chicago.
When Goodenough learned of "Sandelli," he initially didn’t suspect that something nefarious had taken place.
When he called "Sandelli" to chat about their shared problem, however, he said he sensed something amiss.
"He basically lied to me over the phone," Goodenough said.
"I told him I was born in a Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois, and he’d say, ‘So was I,’ " he said. "The more I thought about it afterward, I realized he was just agreeing with whatever real information I’d say, to lead me to believe this was just a colossal government mix-up.
"That’s what a good con man does, though. You give them all the information without even thinking about it."
During one conversation, "Sandelli" offered to go to the Social Security Administration to obtain a new number for himself.
Goodenough thought that was strange.
"He should be about ready to retire, and he’s making that offer to a guy 20 years younger than him? There was something wrong with that."
Although the men had known of each other for several years, neither the IRS nor the Social Security Administration appeared in a hurry to fix the error.
Goodenough still received yearly questions from the IRS about his earnings, he said.
In March — "fed up" — he decided to be proactive. He wrote to U.S. Sen. John McCain’s office, explaining the situation to the Arizona Republican and pleading for help.
Less than four months later, an exhaustive investigation by the Social Security Administration and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles was completed.
Jones admitted his story to detectives, and this month was charged with several felonies related to identity fraud. He has not been charged federally, but sources said that was a possibility.
"I give all the credit to Senator McCain’s office for getting me a resolution," Goodenough said.
A McCain spokesman said it’s general policy not to discuss specific cases.
Goodenough said he was shocked to learn about Jones’ double life.
"I’m just still kind of shocked and amazed. My family in Chicago keeps seeing my name in the news," he said.
He also is angry Jones was released on a $20,000 bond last week, considering his history of fleeing his problems, he said.
Goodenough hasn’t decided whether he will sue Jones, but he plans to attend the man’s next appearance in Las Vegas Justice Court on Aug. 23.
In an ideal world, Goodenough said there would be one hearing, at which a judge would order Jones to repay the IRS and himself for years of aggravation.
After 15 years of cleaning up Jones’ misdeeds, Goodenough said he isn’t sure he can sit through more than one hearing.
Goodenough was also embarrassed it took so long for the IRS and Social Security officials to uncover the truth and clear his name.
"I would think there would be a little better correspondence between the two (agencies). And I say that very dryly."
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at email@example.com or 702-383-0283.