A former Roanoke bankruptcy attorney — disbarred in Virginia in 2009 and arrested last month in Lima, Ohio — destroyed her own fingerprints in an attempt to obscure her old identity, even as she was in the process of creating a new one, investigators say.
Ann Marie Miller was taken into custody in Lima on July 9 and charged with tampering with records. Police said Miller, 40, had successfully used a fake Maine birth certificate to obtain a valid Ohio DMV identification card under the name Julia Wadsworth and was trying to parlay that into additional documents.
“She was applying for a Social Security number, claiming she never had one,” said Detective Mark Baker of the Allen County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio. He said she applied as Wadsworth, but “at that time, Social Security wouldn’t give her a number without further investigation.”
As part of Social Security’s background check, the FBI requested Miller’s fingerprints and she agreed to meet with agents, but Baker said that when she showed up her hands were coated with salve and she claimed to be suffering from fungal dermatitis. When Miller was asked to remove the lotion, she excused herself and fled.
Baker said that on July 9, he traced Miller to a home in Lima where she was acting as the caretaker of an elderly woman. She was arrested and, during booking, police attempted to fingerprint her.
“She put up a heck of a fuss even giving them,” Baker said. “Our ID guy said, ‘We can’t even read them, there’s nothing there.’ She’d damaged her fingerprints and palm prints to the point they were no longer usable.”
He said he believed she had softened the skin by exposing her hands to some kind of chemical, and had then used a file to remove the identifying patterns, manipulating them over the course of six or eight months.
“I’m not sure they’ll come back. They’re almost kind of raw,” he said.
In searching her computer, police discovered searches that tied into their investigation.
“She looked up how to destroy your fingerprints, how to change your appearance, how to know if you’re under investigation,” Baker said. “She was also looking into plastic surgery. Looking up a lot of things typically John Q. Public doesn’t look up.”
Baker said she was ultimately identified to investigators by acquaintances in Florida, where she had previously lived, and by her former law partner in Roanoke, Jeffrey Kessler. Kessler could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
In addition to the records tampering offense, a felony, Baker said Miller could face counts of voter fraud and welfare fraud in both Ohio and Florida, where she had previously lived.
Miller has also been charged in Denver with 14 separate offenses, including theft, fraud and forgery, Baker said, but the details of those charges were not immediately available Monday.
Miller remains jailed in Lima on $50,000 bond, but Colorado police have ordered her detained under a holding order. She has pleaded not guilty to a bill of information on the tampering charge and has a pretrial hearing in Allen County today.
In 2008, Miller began working as a Roanoke bankruptcy attorney, but her practice collapsed dramatically the following year after a dispute with Kessler — a conflict that ended with her being convicted of disorderly conduct and drawing four days in jail. A related charge of assault was ultimately dropped by a judge on the condition of her good behavior.
In 2009, the Virginia State Bar also moved to close Miller and Kessler’s practice when a number of their roughly 800 clients complained that work they’d paid for hadn’t been done. A court order filed in 2010 said client claims totaled more than $214,000. Roanoke attorney Carter “Chip” Magee was appointed to close the practice and was tasked with uncovering and collecting the funds to repay the clients.
“We distributed all the money we could find, but the state bar took about a $100,000 hit,” Magee said Monday.
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