St. Louis Man Who Lived a Double Life Avoids Prison, But Still Pays Steep Price

DeLeo Barner stole another man's identity to escape St. Louis, and now he is stuck here for years

Sep 7, 2022 at 7:34 am
click to enlarge DeLeo Barner lived in Germany under another man's identity for 30 years.
DeLeo Barner lived in Germany under another man's identity for 30 years.

A St. Louis man who lived in Germany for three decades under a false identity was sentenced in federal court yesterday to time served and three years of supervised release.

DeLeo Barner, 59, pleaded guilty in May to one count of passport fraud for obtaining passports under the identity of another St. Louisan. Though he avoided prison time, the supervised-release portion of Barner's sentence may be a significant hardship for the man who built a life and a family in Germany.

According to court documents, Barner grew up in St. Louis but wanted to escape the violent conditions he found himself surrounded by.

He joined the military after high school in 1981. A filing from his attorney says he was dismissed from the military in 1984 for "missing a readiness alert." The misconduct did not lead to a court martial, but Barner was not allowed to re-enlist.

Barner, by now in his early 20s, was devastated.

Filings from his attorney state that Barner "arrived back home to a St. Louis that was even worse from the one he had left. Many of the friends he went to school with were dead or in prison."

Two of Barner's friends died from gun violence in his first three weeks back home.

Wanting to rejoin the military to get back out of St. Louis, Barner stole the identity of Joel Sanders, another St. Louis man. Details as to how he stole his identity are unclear, but he was able to join the arm pretending to be Sanders and obtain passports in Sanders' name.

Barner was stationed in Berlin for many years until receiving a medical discharge in 1988.

For three decades, he remained in Germany working for security firms there. He built a civilian life as Sanders. At the time of his arrest, Barner had a German girlfriend and eight kids, six of whom still reside in Berlin.

Barner's life under the other man's identity came to an abrupt halt in June 2018 when the real Joel Sanders applied for health insurance and was told that, as a veteran, he should contact the Veterans Administration.

According to court documents, "None of [Barner's] children bear his real name, and the process of explaining all of this to his family was excruciating."

When Barner spoke in court yesterday, his voice cracked with emotion when he talked about the toll this has taken on him and his family.

“I’m still trying to say I’m sorry to my family,” Barner said. “I've had to tell my family in Germany the background.”

After spending a few nights in jail awaiting trial, Barner was released and found work as a delivery driver. According to his attorney, he has been closely following the terms of his pre-trial supervision.

Up until recently, Barner's whole life was in Germany, including being a father and grandfather to a large family. His return to his family is now in jeopardy.

"I don't know if he'll ever be able to make it back there," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Bateman.

Bateman added that whether Barner would be allowed to leave the country while on supervised release would have to be considered by probation authorities in the U.S. Then it would be up to German authorities if he would be allowed back in.

“I have a 13-year-old girl in Germany that needs me,” Barner said in court today, referring to his daughter. He said he also has grandchildren there.

"I want to get this over with so I can get back home," he said.

By "home" he was clearly referring to Germany, the country where he has spent the vast majority of his adult life.

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