How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!
— Shakespeare’s King Lear
Tyler Adams is accused of using the identities of his mom and dad to run up more than $3 million in debts in San Diego County. Instead of enjoying the properties in Rancho Santa Fe, La Jolla, and downtown San Diego that the couple had supposedly purchased, they were living in a double-wide mobile home on a couple of acres in Fairview, Pennsylvania.
“I lived in a modest house with a modest job,” said 62-year-old Donald Chaffee when he testified against his stepson at a felony fraud hearing. The bespectacled man with graying temples said he’d worked at a metal shop for 20 years making $12 an hour. His wife Bonnie had worked for two decades at a plastics assembly plant.
Donald and Bonnie Chaffee lived a simple life until 2006 — then things got complicated.
The Prodigal Son
“He is my stepson,” said Donald Chaffee, speaking of the 39-year-old man who was 4 or 5 when Donald married Bonnie in the 1970s. The child grew up using the name Kevin Michael Schoolcraft.
Kevin joined the Navy when he was 21. A couple of years later he moved back in with his parents while he attended Penn State University. But friction developed. Donald said his stepson was “trying to control everything.” The young man told his parents what to eat, disapproving of hot dogs, for example. He tried to stop his stepfather’s smoking. “He was so opinionated,” said Donald. “We actually had to ask him to leave our home.” When Donald and Bonnie kicked Kevin out, he moved to California.
After Kevin went out West, he asked his parents to call him Tyler Adams.
(In a handwritten letter to a judge, Tyler Adams claimed to take the name “Adams” from a great-grandmother. In a letter dated April 27, 2010, he stated, “I was raised by a great grandmother by the name of Thelma Adams as my natural mother was experimenting with the counter culture of her time, which I forgive and honor my mom. But when I graduated from Penn State I vowed to carry on Thelma Adams name for she had no male children to do so.” Deputy district attorney Anna Winn disputes this, stating, “I know for a fact that Bonnie is his birth mother, and no one else raised him. He lived with Bonnie and Don all his life until he left home as a young adult.”)
Tyler wanted his parents to visit him in California. Donald said he was very persistent, but the middle-aged couple resisted. They acquiesced after Tyler sent them two plane tickets.
Donald found Tyler’s home in Temecula “quite impressive.” In fact, he said it was more home than he ever dreamed of possessing. Tyler told his stepdad that he worked in the real estate business. Donald observed that his stepson was “quite busy” and “always on the phone.”
Tyler showed his mom and dad ten acres in North County that he wanted to subdivide and develop. The land was in De Luz. The young man told them he had plenty of cash, but he needed to use Donald’s good credit rating to swing the deal. “He’s always trying to make deals,” remembered Donald. The older man was surprised and flattered to find out that he had a good credit rating. He said he had never checked it. Oh, and Tyler said he needed power of attorney, too, and some other information, like Donald’s Social Security number, to make the real estate deal happen. “And I provided all that,” said Donald. Back home in Pennsylvania, the agreeable stepdad mailed a notarized power of attorney to Tyler in January 2006.
The same month, mail started arriving at Donald’s home that confounded him. Donald sent this email to his son, dated January 27, 2006:
Just received a package from the title company, it is addressed to David Chaffee. There are several forms for Bonnie and I to sign in front of a notary. We already talked about your mom signing anything. Also I thought you were going to take care of everything that you needed. You know I won’t sign any false statements or do anything illegal. You were just going to use my credit rating to help get your land. These papers are time sensitive (says on the outside of the envelope). Let me know.
From the start, Bonnie did not want anything to do with the land deal or with providing her credit rating or power of attorney. “She’s smarter than I,” said Donald, looking chastened when he told his tale five years later in court.
Donald began getting rude phone calls and mail asking why he wasn’t making payments — all for accounts he had never opened. He was stunned that he was being called a deadbeat. He never carried a balance from month to month on the two credit cards that he had in his wallet.
Seeking help, Donald went to his local bank. His banker ran a credit check and handed Donald 13 pages of accounts and purchases. “So much put in my name I had nothing to do with!” Donald saw that he had multiple addresses listed in California. He contacted his stepson, who assured him “everything is going fine.”
Donald put a “fraud alert” on his credit, but an angry Tyler contacted him, telling him to remove the “fraud alert” since it was interfering with the important real estate deal. Tyler also caused his parents’ home phone to be disconnected to prevent creditors from talking to the real Donald Chaffee.
Donald’s alarm about this situation consumed him night and day. “It was nonstop, ongoing.” He was so distracted and nervous that he started missing days at work. Donald said he worked with molten metal, and a lack of concentration could mean “loss of a limb.” Eventually, he got fired from the job where he had worked for 20 years. Now the 62-year-old man is unemployed.
If You Are Smarter
In phone conversations with Tyler, Donald said he was eventually made to understand that Bonnie was a dumb country girl and that he was a stupid blue-collar worker. His stepson explained that if you are smarter than someone else and you take advantage of that person, then that’s just the way it is. As if there’s nothing wrong with it.
Donald said he tried phoning law enforcement in the Temecula area in June 2007.
Finally, in October 2007, Donald was steered to an attorney, and together they revoked the power of attorney that Donald had granted his wheeling-dealing stepson.
Published reports indicate Tyler fled to Hawaii in 2007, and he lived there through 2008. He reportedly lived in the expensive Honolulu neighborhood of Kahala, where he went by Kevin Kennedy — and four other names. After some time, a grand jury in Oahu indicted the multi-named man for stealing $130,000 from Hawaiian banks; he reportedly registered four fake businesses and a charity in that state and then opened bank accounts for each. All this was reported in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which quoted a prosecutor who described Tyler Adams as “a con man, a sociopath who had no regard for the victims’ property or those who might be affected by his criminal activity.”
Fraud investigators in San Diego County got an arrest warrant for Tyler in July 2009. After months of searching, they found him moving his belongings out of one of his properties in La Jolla. In November 2009, he was taken into custody.
Donald flew out from Pennsylvania to testify in the Vista courthouse in June 2011. In the three-day preliminary hearing, the prosecutor showed Donald many documents; he said, “No, that is not my signature” probably 30 times.
Deputy district attorney Anna Winn said the prodigal stepson purchased multiple properties using the identities of both parents and collected more than $180,000 in commissions alone because he posed as both a loan officer and a real estate agent. Tyler never made any payments, and he defaulted on at least five mortgages, Winn alleged. Tyler collected rent from tenants at some of the properties and pocketed the money, the prosecutor said. He also opened up credit lines to buy clothing and computers and to charge common living expenses such as groceries and gasoline.
Tyler faces more than 39 years in prison if he is convicted of all 48 felonies in the current complaint. As the months have gone by since his arrest in 2009, the deputy district attorney has added more charges. The defendant’s trial has been delayed in part because he tried acting as his own attorney. “He’s given me more time to work on it,” prosecutor Winn said with a smile. While Tyler was acting as his own attorney, he filed motions that stated, “This was a monetary dispute civil matter amongst family members from the very beginning.”
Tyler is pleading not guilty now through a public defender. He is currently scheduled to go on trial on September 19. “I do think the case will go to trial,” said Winn. “If Tyler takes the stand, I know he will try his best to come up with some innocent explanations, but I think the evidence of his criminal intent is obvious. Actions speak louder than words, after all.”