Man accused of misusing records again
A funeral director convicted of an AIDS privacy breach is now accused of ID theft.
By JACOB H. FRIES
Published July 25, 2006
CLEARWATER - It was the nation's worst breach of AIDS patients' privacy, and Greg Wentz was at the center of the scandal.
He copied a list of 4,000 Pinellas County AIDS patients and mailed it anonymously to Tampa Bay's two largest newspapers. Wentz initially took the list to target customers for his funeral services business, but sent it to the media to discredit his lover after a bad breakup, prosecutors argued at his 1997 trial.
Convicted of violating the confidentiality of AIDS test results, Wentz spent 30 days in jail, maintaining his innocence throughout.
"Somehow I've been set up in this matter," he said.
Now, 10 years later, Wentz is in trouble again. This time he is accused not of disclosing confidential information, but of stealing it from a dead woman to try to get a fraudulent credit card.
Wentz, 42, of St. Petersburg was working last summer as the funeral director of International Casket and Urn in Clearwater. In that job, he stole the Social Security and driver's license numbers of Florence Winton, 88, who died in July 2005, then applied for a Best Buy credit card, Pinellas County sheriff's investigators say.
A reply letter from Best Buy was sent to the funeral home's address in the name of Roger Winton, Florence's husband, but the business' owner, Faye Ray, discovered it and called authorities.
"I called police thinking someone was Dumpster diving and got some records from my trash," said Ray, who said she bought a shredder later that same day. "I would never have dreamt it was my funeral director. If anyone in the world should know better, it's a funeral director."
Sheriff's Detective Richard Cantelmo said Wentz applied for the credit card via the Internet, leaving a trail of computer records that ultimately marked him as the culprit. Wentz never got an opportunity to take advantage of the fraudulent credit application, and so far, Cantelmo said, he has found no other victims.
Wentz was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on May 6 on charges of fraudulent use of personal identification information of a deceased individual as well as another related felony. He posted $5,000 bail that day and was released. His next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 29. If convicted, he could get up to 10 years in prison.
Efforts this week to reach Wentz for comment were unsuccessful. A cell phone number he provided on his arrest report was no longer in service.
Wentz has been assigned a public defender, claiming indigent status, but that attorney did not return repeated phone messages.
Wentz, who worked at International Casket and Urn for only about six months in 2005, quit before authorities began to pursue him as a suspect. His license as a funeral director has gone into delinquency status because he failed to pay renewal fees, state officials say. If found guilty, he could lose it altogether.
Ray said she had no idea of Wentz's past when she hired him. She said she had checked his license then, figuring any criminal history would appear on his record. It didn't, she said.
"I would have thought the state would have revoked his license" after the AIDS list disclosure, Ray said.
Computer discs with the confidential list were first received in September 1996 by the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune. The discs came with an anonymous letter accusing Wentz's former lover, William B. Calvert III, of leaking information from the list, which Calvert had compiled for four years as an employee of the state Health and Rehabilitative Services Department.
At that time, Calvert and Wentz were embroiled in a business dispute over a St. Petersburg funeral home, Southern Funeral and Memorial Services, that they had operated together.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Wentz copied the list from a computer disc Calvert brought home and mailed the lists and the letter to get Calvert into trouble.
Wentz consistently denied his involvement, even though his fingerprints were found on one of the packages sent through the mail.
In 2000, the Times reported that Wentz was trying to rebuild his life. He had opened two businesses, a hair salon and a cremation business, in Belleair Bluffs. He told a reporter he knew who sent the AIDS lists, but realized that no one would believe his claims of innocence.
"I would never do that," Wentz said. "It's horrible. ... Everyone says in jail they didn't do it. Honestly, I didn't."
Jacob H. Fries can be reached at email@example.com or 727 445-4156.
[Last modified July 24, 2006, 20:46:51]
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