Published: Feb 03, 2011 5:32 AM EST
Updated: Feb 03, 2011 1:46 AM EST

LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - Larry Smith of Lehigh Acres said Monday night was the best night of sleep he's had in years. After a stranger stole his identity 17 years ago, the man went on a crime-spree, and everything the fake Larry Smith did, the real Larry Smith was held accountable for.

"I've never seen him before in my life," Smith said.

Trouble started in 2003 when his income tax check oddly went to "Larry Smith" in Placer County, California. Then, it was one thing after another.

"He was arrested on a drug charge in Georgia, he did some jail time in Reno, Nevada, he bought a car in California and wrecked it in South Carolina, now they're looking for me," Smith said.

Joseph Kidd, a transient, allegedy obtained welfare and medicare benefits, and got married as Larry Smith from Florida. What did the real Larry Smith get? Eight days behind bars, tax liens, denial of medical care and a suspended driver's license, all at the hands of a man he'd never met.
    
"Nobody believed it wasn't me," Smith said. "They thought, oh, he's wanted in California, he's wanted in Georgia, he's wanted in South Carolina. You see stuff like that on TV, but it never happens to you."

Kidd's alleged crime-spree finally ended when Placer County Sheriff's Detective Jim Hudson found he'd filed for benefits under a false name.

"I'm kind of tagging this guy as the pioneer of identity theft," Hudson said. "We can actually track this guy back to 1984."

And with one phone call, Smith got his life back.

"It feels great, it feels great, yeah," Smith said.

How Kidd get away with it? According to Detective Hudson, once he was fingerprinted for an arrest in 1993, he forever became known in California as "Larry Edward Smith," with that name, birth date, and social security number.     

Because the real Larry Smith had never been arrested, those finger prints and arrests were forever associated with him. Kidd was arrested on charges of Identity Theft, Welfare Fraud and Grand Theft.

Larry Smith hopes his story helps others who fear they may be victims of identity theft.