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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2005

Stripped of common sense

LET'S hope that Ohio liquor enforcement officials have learned their lesson after disclosure of a Miami County sting operation in which authorities stole a woman's identity as part of a campaign to close a strip club.

It's true: State liquor agents, in cooperation with a county prosecutor, actually appropriated the driver's license and Social Security number of a living resident of Ohio and gave them to another woman, who used them to pose as a stripper to gather evidence to close down a sleazy strip club in the city of Troy in 2003.

We could call the stripper an undercover agent without any cover, but the potential consequences for the victim of the identity theft were not funny at all.

Even less amusing is the claim by the county prosecutor, Gary Nasal, that the sting operation was legal under a state law he says allows authorities to assume the identity of anyone during an investigation.

While Mr. Nasal pointedly refuses to apologize - shutting down the strip club justified the means, he says; the rest was just "a screw-up" - the state lawmaker who sponsored the statute in question has a decidedly different take.

"It was not intended for that, I can tell you that," Rep. Jim Hughes, of Columbus, told the Columbus Dispatch.

The law actually was meant to aid financial institutions in the capture of identity thieves, not to allow law enforcement officers to engage in identity theft for their own purposes.

As Jeff Gamso, the Toledo lawyer who is legal director of the Ohio branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, put it, "Anybody who gave it a moment's thought would know [lawmakers] didn't mean that."

But the General Assembly can't legislate common sense, and it is now up to the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the agents, to investigate and punish the individuals responsible.

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