Paul Keener, aka Aron Silverman, aka Paul Robison, aka Scott Walker, aka Antonio DeLuca, got a chance to tell his story Thursday.
It’s a story of Keener’s more than two decades on the run and, like the Leonardo DiCaprio character in "Catch Me If You Can,” his use of multiple fake identities to avoid law enforcement, according to prosecutors.
Keener, described by investigators as a serial con man, escaped from a Colorado state prison 20 years ago and was living in Cheektowaga, posing as Silverman, when the U.S. Marshals caught up with him.
After pleading guilty to aggravated identity theft, he was sentenced Thursday by Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. to a mandatory two years in prison.
“I shouldn’t even be here," Keener, who acknowledged a need for counseling, told Geraci.
From the start, there were allegations that Keener relied on several identities while on the lam and that his travels took him to Florida, back to Colorado and eventually to Cheektowaga, where he settled and married a woman from Ohio.
Keener’s wife knew him only as Silverman, an identity he bought for $300 on Craigslist, and nothing of his real identity, investigators say.
They say Keener’s attention to detail – he kept photos from his life as Silverman on the walls of his Cheektowaga home – allowed him to remain free long after his 1996 escape from the Colorado prison where he was facing fraud charges.
Geraci, in sentencing Keener, read from a laundry list of previous convictions for everything from fraud to forgery.
“You’ve got some issues to deal with," the judge said Thursday.
Not surprisingly, the case brings to mind the 2002 movie starring DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr., the real-life criminal who posed as a Pan Am pilot, teaching assistant, doctor and lawyer.
Like Abagnale, Keener didn’t rely on just his Silverman identity, but it was that identity that eventually got him convicted.
The real Aron Silverman ran away from his home in Virginia in 1993 and was never seen again.
Even on the day of his arrest in March, Keener spent 20 minutes arguing that he was, indeed, Silverman, investigators say. And when that didn’t work, they say, he acknowledged the false identity and claimed he was really Scott Walker.
And only then, after trotting out several other names, all of them aliases, did he admit his real identity, investigators say.
“He finally gave the name Paul Keener,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott S. Allen, the prosecutor on the case, said at the time of Keener’s arrest.
On Thursday, Keener apologized to Silverman’s family. He also asked the judge to send him to a federal prison where he can get the help he needs to become “a whole person.”
He also asked to be close to Buffalo.
“I still have a support system here," he told Geraci.
At the core of the government’s case was the allegation that Keener used Silverman’s identity to register to vote, acquire a passport, cross over into Canada and apply for and receive college financial aid.
Keener’s use of Aron Silverman’s identity has periodically raised a red flag at the Center for Exploited Children, where the missing boy’s name is on record. Keener was always able to convince the police that he really was Silverman, investigators say.
Sometime between 2004 and 2006, he moved to Western New York and eventually settled in Cheektowaga. After marrying a woman from Ohio, he enrolled at Erie Community College and applied for and received $6,000 in federal Pell grants and Stafford loans.
As part of his financial aid request, Keener is accused of creating a fake British Royal Air Force document. Investigators say Keener produced the document when he was asked why he had not registered for the Selective Service here.
About the same time, he applied for a passport renewal and again found himself answering questions about Aaron Silverman. And this time, the people asking questions were from the U.S. Marshals, the Social Security Office of the Inspector General and the Diplomatic Security Service, the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of State.
Keener still faces an outstanding warrant in Colorado.