A former fugitive drug trafficker who eluded police for more than three decades – using the identity of a baby who died in 1955 – was sentenced Friday to four years in prison.
Howard Farley Jr.’s life as a free man ended last December when he was arrested at the home he shared with his wife in the 3,000-person town of Weirsdale, Fla. The Nebraska native pleaded guilty in April to three charges related to his stolen identity, including passport fraud.
Before announcing the sentence in a federal courtroom in Florida, U.S. District Judge John Antoon II described Farley as a “charming and talented” person, but one who abandoned his family and engaged in a decades-long fraud that enabled him to live a comfortable life.
“The fact that one daughter now forgives you and wants you in her life reflects favorably on her character but not yours,” Antoon said.
The judge went on to rebut Farley’s lawyers' argument that his second life as devoted husband and caring neighbor made him deserving of a lighter sentence.
“Your counsel cites Victor Hugo, but you are no Jean Valjean,” Antoon said, referring to the protagonist of Hugo’s famed 1862 novel, “Les Misérables.”
Farley, 72, proved to be the rare crime suspect who outran his initial charges.
He was accused in 1985 of running a sprawling drug operation based in Lincoln, Neb., that utilized the Southern Line railroad system. He was the only one among 74 defendants who was not apprehended after a Nebraska grand jury returned an indictment, authorities said.
The case was dropped in 2014 after the leads went cold. The man prosecutors had described as a “drug kingpin" had seemingly disappeared.
But in February 2020, Farley submitted a passport renewal application by mail using his false identity. After reviewing the application, federal investigators discovered a death record for the boy whose identity Farley had stolen.
The child, identified by the initials T.B., was from Lake Worth and died at the age of 3 months, according to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
Investigators discovered that Farley had used the dead infant’s identity when he applied for passports in 1987, 1998 and 2008, the complaint says. He also used it to obtain a driver’s license and a fraudulent pilot’s license, according to the complaint.
When federal agents descended on Farley’s home – inside an aviation community known as Love’s Landing – on Dec. 2, 2020, they encountered him inside his private aircraft hanger, prosecutors said in court papers. A fingerprint comparison confirmed that the man living at the house was the drug trafficking suspect, prosecutors said.
Farley’s attorneys argued in court papers that he had not run afoul of the law in decades and should not be punished for past misdeeds. They submitted testimonials from dozens of friends and family members, including two sisters and a daughter of Farley who had not seen or heard from him since the 1980s.
“It has been nearly 40 years since I have seen, hugged or spoken to him, yet I forgive him, for everything,” wrote the daughter, Amy Krause-Lisiecki
“We spoke for the first time the other day and I reverted back to the young girl I was when he left. We both cried and cried and cried. All I care about now is my dad being free and having a relationship with him again.”
Prosecutors argued that Farley in fact broke the law several times while on the run – whenever he applied for a new passport using the fake identity and even when he got behind the wheel of a car using a fraudulent license.
“Defendant hasn’t remained crime-free — he has lived a life of crime since the day he fled from Nebraska,” prosecutors said in court papers.
In arguing against a reduced prison sentence, prosecutors said Farley’s was not a typical passport fraud case.
“Seldom is the case where a defendant completely assumes another person’s identity and sheds all past identifiers in order to conceal himself from the government. And doing so for 35 years makes it even more unusual,” prosecutors wrote. “This case is unquestionably one of the most extraordinary cases ever brought before this court or any court for document fraud.”
Even the judge acknowledged the remarkable nature of the case at Friday’s sentencing.
“I’ve been a judge for 36 years,” said Antoon. “This is an extraordinary case. It’s difficult to find anything that’s comparable.”
After the hearing ended, Farley’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, said he was pleased with the judge's decision. He noted that his client faced a mandatory minimum sentence of three years.
“I thought it was a fair sentence,” Scheller said, noting that other jurists may have added years to the sentence for the past crimes Farley was accused of.
“He has an uncanny ability to craft just sentences,” Scheller added of Judge Antoon.
Farley’s wife, Duc Hanh Thi Vu, was also charged with passport fraud as well as making false statements to a federal agency. She has pleaded not guilty. Her trial is expected to get underway in the coming months.
Farley’s lawyers have said Vu, a successful computer analyst, was the couple’s sole breadwinner. Farley did odd jobs for neighbors but never held a full or part-time job.
In a letter sent to the court prior to his sentencing, Farley himself expressed his wish to be able to live freely with Vu someday in the not-too-distant future.
“I accept full responsibility for these charges and I am relieved that living under an assumed name is over,” Farley wrote.
“Your honor, I am hoping in spite of my health problems and the jail time I am facing, I will be able to finish my life with my wonderful wife,” he added in the letter. “With the years I have left, I also hope to reconnect with my family in Nebraska and meet my grandchildren.”