Man who forged his own death certificate to avoid jail is given away by a typo, DA says
A Long Island criminal defendant tried faking his death to avoid a jail sentence, but the phony death certificate his lawyer submitted had a glaring spelling error that made it a dead giveaway for a fraud, prosecutors said.
Robert Berger, 25, of Huntington, N.Y., now faces additional time behind bars — up to four years — if convicted in the alleged scheme. That’s on top of pending sentences for his earlier guilty pleas to possession of a stolen Lexus and attempted grand larceny of a truck, punishment that prosecutors say he was looking to avoid.
“It will never cease to amaze me the lengths some people will go to to avoid being held accountable on criminal charges,” Nassau County Dist. Atty. Madeline Singas said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Scheduled to be sentenced to a year in jail last October on the theft-related charges, Berger fled New York, while taking steps to convince his then-lawyer, prosecutors and the judge that he had killed himself — including allegedly using his fiance to pass along a bogus death certificate, prosecutors said.
At first glance, Berger’s purported 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: “Registry” was spelled “Regsitry,” prosecutors said. There were also inconsistencies in the font type and size that raised suspicions, they said.
The real New Jersey Department of Health, Vital Statistics and Registry confirmed that Berger’s death certificate was a fake, prosecutors said.
Arraigned by video Tuesday because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Berger pleaded not guilty to a single count of offering a false instrument for filing. A judge set bail at $1 but ordered Berger back to jail because of his other charges. His next court date is scheduled for July 29.
A message seeking comment was left with a public defender who took over Berger’s case after the lawyer who submitted the suspicious death certificate said he’d been used as a pawn and had nothing to do with the alleged shenanigans.
Although Berger is alive, he’s not entirely well. While supposedly dead, he was arrested in suburban Philadelphia on allegations that he provided a false identity to law enforcement and stole from a Roman Catholic college. He was sentenced in January to up to a year in jail, according to Pennsylvania court records.
“You’re gonna get caught,” Singas said. “We say it all the time. Crime doesn’t pay. We’ll catch up with you eventually. In this case, it’s never a good idea to submit phony documents to the district attorney. We were able to make sure that he wasn’t able to get away with it.”
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