Apparently guilt-stricken over leading his younger brother into a life of crime, a Simi Valley man served the brother's six-month jail term for him, a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective said Monday.
Now prosecutors are considering whether to try to charge him $9,000 in room and board for the six months he spent as a taxpayer-supported convict.
"He got free meals, free bedding and free medical," Sheriff's Detective John Benedict said.
It was Benedict who discovered that Crispian Rawlings, 25, had actually served the jail term imposed on his brother Eric, 23, for a parole violation in connection with a sentence for robbing a woman in the San Fernando Valley in 1992.
"I think Chris is feeling somewhat guilty" about getting his brother involved in criminal activities, Benedict said. "He's trying to be a big brother."
In 1992, the Rawlings brothers--who look remarkably alike--robbed the woman acquaintance together, Benedict said. On Jan. 6, 1993, Eric Rawlings pleaded no contest to second-degree robbery charges and was sentenced to one year in prison and three years' probation, Benedict said.
Charges against Crispian Rawlings, the older brother, were dropped when the victim vanished, Benedict said.
With credit for several months spent in County Jail awaiting trial, Eric Rawlings was soon released, Deputy Dist. Atty. Ken Barshop said. But on June 22, 1993, a warrant was issued for his arrest because he had skipped an interview with his probation officer, Barshop said.
In August that year, a man identifying himself as Eric Rawlings walked into Superior Court Judge Meredith Taylor's court and turned himself in for violation of the terms of the probation. He was sentenced to two years and was taken to the state prison at Wasco, Barshop said.
He was released six months later for good behavior, Barshop said.
That man, authorities contend, was not Eric, but Crispian Rawlings, who next surfaced in June, 1994, when he was arrested for credit card theft and was questioned by Benedict.
Benedict had assembled a file on Crispian Rawlings. Knowing the brothers were close, he also had information on Eric; while questioning Crispian, Benedict glanced at a jail photograph that purported to be that of Eric.
As Benedict tells it, the person in the photo looked familiar. He glanced up at Crispian Rawlings, seated across the table. He looked back at the photo, and then again at Crispian.
"You and your brother look really alike," Benedict said.
"Yeah," said Crispian.
Benedict looked at the photo again. The man in it was bare-chested, his tattoos showing.
"Take off your shirt," Benedict said. Crispian turned red and began stammering, but he pulled his shirt off, Benedict said. His tattoos matched those in the picture taken of the man who had served the jail term, Benedict said.
"This is you, isn't it?" Benedict said.
At that point, Benedict said, Crispian confessed to the swap.
He was later convicted of the credit card theft and served about four months in County Jail again, this time as himself, authorities said.
Benedict referred the identity-swap information to the district attorney's office for possible prosecution as grand theft from the state, which could bring a five-year prison term. In January, the district attorney's office issued a warrant for Eric Rawlings for the revived parole-violation count. But meanwhile, both brothers have vanished.
Sheriff's Lt. George Sennatt explained that when the man claiming to be Eric Rawlings surrendered to the court, he avoided standard fingerprint checks on his identity. Later, when "Eric Rawlings" was taken to County Jail, Sennatt said, he was fingerprinted, but those prints were not checked against those of the real Eric.
"If the court says that's who he is, and he came to us and didn't tell us any different, that's what we accepted," Sennatt said.
Although Crispian Rawlings surrendered in the same courtroom where his younger brother had pleaded no contest eight months earlier, no one recognized the swap, Barshop said.
"You're talking about something that's happened months before," said Barshop. "No one would remember a run-of-the-mill case" like that of Eric Rawlings, he said.
Taylor, the judge, said she could not comment on the case. And an official at the public defender's office said: "It's just not an everyday problem. This is only a story because it's so rare."