How a case of mistaken identity made it to print

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Last week I wrote a story about Stephen D. Cardelli Jr., a 50-year-old South Portland pilot who was killed when his plane crashed in New Hampshire on June 13.

But I made a an error, and it was a big one.

My story confused the criminal drug conviction of Stephen D. Cardelli Sr. with his son, who was the pilot in the fatal crash. 

Stephen D. Cardelli Sr. was convicted of drug charges. Stephen D. Cardelli Jr. was not.  

How did the mistake happen?

While researching the pilot killed in the crash, I discovered documents from the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston about a Stephen Cardelli.

Like any curious reporter, I decided to investigate whether the Cardelli in the court case was the same Cardelli killed in the plane crash.

I called the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to get information about the arrest. I reached a DEA agent who told me there were two Stephen Cardellis. The agent said he couldn’t verify whether the Cardelli killed in the crash was the same one convicted of the drug charge.

But when I asked for the birth date of the Cardelli who had been arrested, the agent told me it was July 4, 1958. I then called the Gilford, N.H., Police Department to get the birth date of the deceased pilot. I was told it, too, was July 4, 1958.

Believing I had confirmed my information, I included two paragraphs about the conviction in my story.

Shortly after the story was published online, The Forecaster received calls questioning the veracity of the information. I promptly – and frantically – called the MDEA to reconfirm the information I had been given.

I reached a different MDEA agent, who looked up the file. He found references to both Cardellis in the agency’s database index, and said there was no way to open all of the files for further details.

It was information – not provided the first time I first called the MDEA – that raised a red flag. Eventually I learned the birth date of the arrested Cardelli was actually March 4, 1940.

My stomach has been in knots since I learned of the error. The original story has been replaced online by a corrected version, which will also run in the June 26 print edition of the paper.

This is by no means an attempt to cast blame or make excuses. It is an effort to explain the how the mistake was made, and to offer apologies and condolences to the Cardelli family.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or