Former Dinner Cruise Ship Captain Sentenced to Prison for Using Stolen Identity
GALVESTON, Texas – A former ship captain for Majestic Ventures, Majestic Dinner Cruises and Majestic Yacht Charters dinner cruise lines has been ordered to federal prison following her conviction of aggravated identity theft and making false statements in a passport application, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez along with Special Agent in Charge Michael Perkins of the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) and Captain Kevin Oditt, the commander of Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston.
Cynthia Lyerla, 53, of League City, pleaded guilty March 30, 2017.
Today, U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks ordered she serve 12 months for the false statements in a passport application as well as a mandatory 24 months for the aggravated identity theft which must be served consecutively. The total 36-month-term will be immediately followed by one year of supervised release.
At the hearing, the court heard that Lyerla stole the identity of a deceased child following an investigation into the death of her husband in 1988 and has used it ever since to obtain driver’s licenses, passports, merchant mariner licenses and transit worker identification credentials. She also purchased a firearm using the stolen identity.
Lyerla was further ordered to pay a $15,000 fine. In handing down the sentence, Judge Hanks noted the importance of the integrity of government records and that people’s safety depends on the information in those documents being accurate. He explained that the numerous documents Lyerla falsified and the importance of the documents warranted the sentence imposed.
“The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to working with the U.S. Department of Justice and our other law enforcement partners to investigate allegations of crime related to passport and visa fraud and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Michael Perkins, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Houston Field Office of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).
“The result of today's hearing was due to significant collaborative efforts from the Coast Guard Investigative Service partnering with the Diplomatic Security Service, the Transportation Security Administration as well as the United States Attorney's Office," said Oditt. “The Coast Guard is committed to a safe and secure maritime transportation system and this starts with ensuring mariners are properly licensed and credentialed.”
Lyerla admitted to obtaining the birth certificate of Christina White in 1992 and then using that identity to obtain a second Social Security number. She was also able to obtain driver’s licenses, passports, mariner licenses and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) documentation allowing her to enter secure port areas. Without a mariner license and TSA documentation, Lyerla would not be allowed to captain the ships for the dinner cruise companies.
The real Christina White died in 1965 on the same day she was born.
Cynthia Lynn Knox was born in 1964, later married Harold Lyerla and took his name. The marriage ended when Harold Lyerla was murdered in 1988 in Lompoc, California. Although another individual was convicted for that crime, Lyerla’s fingerprints were taken by the local police in the course of the investigation.
Since that time, Lyerla used the identity of Christina White, providing her date and place of birth, Social Security number and parents’ names in order to apply for and obtain various legal documentation.
Authorities discovered Lyerla’s true identity when her fingerprints were taken in connection with a mariner license application and compared to those taken in 1988 and 1989 during the investigation into the murder of her husband. Additionally, a retired California police detective, who investigated that murder, positively identified the defendant as Lyerla.
Previously released on bond, Lyerla was taken into custody following the sentencing today where she will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
The Department of State - Diplomatic Security Service and U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Goldman is prosecuting the case.