Lakeway Area man accused of deserting military, stealing victim’s identity

A Cocke County man, accused of deserting the United States Navy more than 4 decades ago, was sentenced to 25 months in prison for identity theft.

On Monday, 65-year-old Jerry Leon Blankenship, currently of Newport, was sentenced to 25 months in prison by the Honorable J. Ronnie Greer in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Greeneville.

As part of the plea agreement filed with the court, Blankenship agreed to plead guilty to an indictment charging him with one count of fraud involving a Social Security number, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 408(a)(7)(B), and one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A. Following his release from prison, Blankenship will be on supervised release for three years.

According to filed court documents, in 1976, Blankenship enlisted in the United States Navy. The following year, after he completed basic training, he deserted, with a goal of avoiding future military service. Blankenship then assumed the name and identity of another individual. By doing so, Blankenship established a new life under the stolen name in Newport, Tennessee. Since 2005, Blankenship had obtained three fraudulent Tennessee driver’s licenses in the victim’s name. Blankenship also used the victim’s name in a business that he and his girlfriend ran in Newport.

Authorities discovered Blankenship’s true identity after he obtained a COVID-19 vaccination at a Newport pharmacy. The real victim was notified of the vaccination that the real victim had not received. Store surveillance video showed Blankenship was the person who had obtained the vaccination under the victim’s name.

It is anticipated that Blankenship will face a military tribunal for his desertion.