'Dead voter' charge leads I-TEAM to extreme case of alleged ID theft

Posted at 9:48 PM, Feb 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-02 23:25:28-05

MILWAUKEE -- When I-TEAM Executive Producer Tonya Simpson bounced over to my desk in late December and announced "I found a dead voter," we were desperate to know more.

Just two months earlier, the I-TEAM analyzed more than 800,000 Wisconsin voting records from the 2012 presidential election, searching for ballots cast in the names of people who were dead.

We found zero.

So where did this one - in a federal indictment, no less - come from?

What we found goes far beyond a case of in-person voter fraud. Instead, the facts lead us into the realm of extreme identity theft.

We discovered a man allegedly living two lives -- one by his birth name, another in the name of a little boy who died in 1957.

This is the story of our journey.

The Indictment

On December 13, 2016, a federal grand jury had heard enough.

It returned an 11-count indictment against David A. Erchul of Cudahy, accusing him of fraud against the state and federal government.

Erchul, the indictment said, applied in 1985 for a social security card in the name of a little boy who died in 1957.

The little boy was identified only by his initials, "J.B."

The I-TEAM searched death records and confirmed that little boy was James Belisle of Cudahy, who passed away in 1957 at age 12.

The brief death notice filed away in the archives of the Milwaukee Journal listed all of Jimmy's brothers and sisters. Only two are alive today, his youngest brother and an older sister.

Virginia Montbriand said her little brother suffered from muscular distrophy, but still tried to live the normal life of a little boy in post-war Milwaukee.

"He was never sad. He was never crying, he was never, you know, he was just happy," Virginia said.

In 1957, Jimmy got a bad case of pneumonia.

Weaked by muscular dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair, he was not able to fight off the illness.

"You know I think the worst part of it was when we had to bury him. You know and when we had to go get a suit for him. That was the hardest part," she said.

On paper, it appears Jimmy lived - and continues to live - a full and active life.

Prosecutors say he had a drivers license, a credit card, a bank account, and was even collecting federal benefits.

Voting records uncovered by the I-TEAM show Belisle cast ballots in seven elections between the presidential primaries of 2012 and 2016 - elections where records show David Erchul also cast a ballot.

Erchul declined to comment on the charges when reached at his Cudahy home - a home just blocks away from where Jimmy Belisle lived and died.

Virginia Montbriand does not know how Erchul and her brother could have been connected, but takes some comfort in knowing he will be prosecuted for allegedly stealing her little brother's life.

"I don't know how he did it and I just wish it never happened, but I hope that he knows what he did," she said.

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