A Long Island criminal defendant tried faking his death to avoid a jail sentence, but the phony death certificate his lawyer submitted had a glaring spelling error that made it a dead giveaway for a fraud, prosecutors said Tuesday. Robert Berger, 25, of Huntington, New York, now faces up to four years in prison if convicted in the alleged scheme. That's in addition to pending sentences for earlier guilty pleas to charges of possession of a stolen Lexus and attempted grand larceny of a truck—punishment prosecutors say he was looking to avoid. "It will never cease to amaze me the lengths some people will go to to avoid being held accountable on criminal charges," Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas tells the AP. Scheduled to be sentenced to a year in jail last October on the theft-related charges, Berger fled the state.
He took steps, however, to convince his then-lawyer, prosecutors, and the judge that he'd killed himself—including allegedly using his fiancee to pass along a bogus death certificate, prosecutors said. At first glance, Berger's purported death certificate looked like an official document issued by the New Jersey Department of Health's Vital Statistics and Registry office, but there was one big problem: Registry was spelled “Regsitry," prosecutors said. There were also inconsistencies in the font type and size that raised suspicions, they said. The real New Jersey health department confirmed Berger's death certificate was a fake, and a public defender took over Berger's case after the lawyer who submitted the suspicious death certificate claimed he'd been used as a pawn. Berger pleaded not guilty to a single count of offering a false instrument for filing. A judge set bail at $1 but ordered Berger back to jail due to his underlying cases. His next court date is scheduled for July 29.
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