GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A Newport man will spend over two years in prison after pleading guilty on March 21 to fraud and identity theft charges after abandoning his service in the U.S. Navy in the mid-1970s.
Court documents showed that Jerry Leon Blankenship, 65, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1976 and completed basic training; however, he deserted the service the following year and established a new life under a stolen name in Newport, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
He had been living under the same alias for over 40 years.
News Channel 11 obtained court documents that stated Blankenship obtained the name through an ex-girlfriend; she allegedly suggested Blankenship assume the name of a man with whom she had child support disputes. The girlfriend left Blankenship shortly after, but he continued to use the alias R.C.
Blankenship then met another woman, and the pair settled in Newport, Tennessee, where they raised three children and built a contracting business, according to court documents.
“…Blankenship had been dishonest about his name with almost everyone, including his girlfriend of  years and the mother of his three children,” the attorney’s office stated.
Several community members — including a school principal, retired Army colonel and retired U.S. Marine Corps member — portrayed Blankenship as “hardworking, courteous and professional,” court documents detailed.
Yet the Court will undoubtedly be left struggling to reconcile these characterizations of Mr. Blankenship with its own knowledge of the whole truth: that each one of these relationships, including the most significant relationship of all, between Jerry and [his long-girlfriend], is predicated on a lie.U.S. District Court of Eastern District of Tennessee at Greeneville, Sentencing Memorandum
Blankenship’s — who went by R.C. — true name was revealed after he received a COVID-19 shot at a Newport pharmacy. The identity theft victim was then notified “of the vaccination that [he] had not received,” and surveillance video identified Blankenship as the person who obtained the shot under another person’s name.
Further investigation revealed that Blankenship obtained three fraudulent Tennessee driver’s licenses since 2005, and he also used the name in the business he and his girlfriend started, according to court documents.
Blankenship pleaded guilty to fraud involving a social security number and aggravated identity theft. Following his 25-month prison time, Blankenship will remain on supervised release for three years. Blankenship may also face a military tribunal for his desertion.