PORTLAND, Ore. – A Bulgarian man was sentenced Thursday to two years and a day in prison for stealing the identity of an Ohio boy who was kidnapped and killed at age 3.
Doitchin Krastev, who used the name for more than a decade while living as an American citizen, apologized to his own family for "falling off the face of the Earth" and to the family of Jason Robert Evers, whose name, birthday and Social Security number he assumed in 1996.
Krastev had a private meeting with the child's relatives, who wanted to be sure he knew Jason Evers was a real human being, not a faceless name. The meeting helped humanize Krastev, the boy's sister, Amy Evers, said afterward. But she was unsure if the apology was genuine.
"He's lived for 15 years in a lie," Evers said. "It's kind of hard to be truthful when you've lied for so long."
Amy Evers was 6 when her brother was abducted from a YMCA and killed in 1982. A 17-year-old boy was convicted of manslaughter in the boy's death, described as a botched kidnapping plot to get ransom money so the teen could buy a car.
In a deal with the government, Krastev pleaded guilty in November to passport fraud and aggravated identity theft. He'll be on probation for three years after his release, but he's likely to be deported soon after he gets out of prison, attorneys said. His lawyer, Susan Russell, said he hopes to rebuild a life in Bulgaria with his American fiancee.
Krastev apologized to the people he hurt and thanked his lawyer, friends and family in a brief statement to U.S. District Judge James A. Redden.
In videotaped interviews, friends and relatives from Bulgaria to Oregon described Krastev as a bright, hardworking man who loved to play chess and help others in need.
His newest friends called him Jason Evers. Hearing that, Amy Evers had to step out of the courtroom for a moment.
"You are not Jason Evers," she told him later.
Krastev's mother Krassimira Baytchinska said in a video her son was badly beaten in school when he was 11 and suffered from an eye tick. Michael Horowitz, a former Reagan administration lawyer who took him in for two years of high school, suggested Krastev disappeared out of an intense fear of returning to Bulgaria.
Russell, his lawyer, told the judge Krastev made a bad decision as a young man and couldn't get out from under the lie as he built an increasingly complex life around the false name.
Krastev, 37, was born to a prominent Bulgarian couple in the former Soviet Union and came to the United States to get an education. He graduated from an elite Washington high school before dropping out of college, disappearing and eluding attempts to track him down.
He later bought property in Oregon and Idaho. He even passed a criminal background check and worked as a sworn investigator for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
It all came apart last year, when a routine check of passport records against death certificates raised a red flag for the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service. Authorities arrested the man who called himself Jason Evers, but he refused to reveal his given name.
It wasn't until an old acquaintance recognized his picture in online newspaper articles that authorities discovered his true identity.
Krastev was arrested last May in Idaho, where he owned a home in Caldwell.
Amy Evers was eager to see Krastev deported. He made decisions the real Jason Evers never would have made, she said, and used the name to build a life her brother never got to build.
"That belongs to my family," she said of the name. "That is what we have left of my brother, and I want to keep it that way."
(This version CORRECTS last quote to add "of my brother")
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