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Fugitive accused of stealing identity gets 5-year prison term

Joseph Thomas Hawkinson Photo courtesy of the Dakota County Sheriff's Office

DAKOTA COUNTY, Minn.—A fugitive who eluded authorities for three years using a fake name before his recent capture in rural Dakota County has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Joseph Thomas Hawkinson, 29, pleaded guilty Thursday in Dakota County District Court to felony possession of a firearm as an ineligible person. He faced up to 15 years behind bars but received the minimum 60-month sentence as part of a plea deal.

Two other charges were dismissed: felony failure to register as a predatory offender and misdemeanor identity theft.

Hawkinson was arrested Feb. 13 at his workplace in Vermillion Township, about a mile from where he had been living with his girlfriend and her young son. The two-time convicted felon had a loaded ­9 mm semiautomatic pistol in a hip holster, underneath his shirt.

PREVIOUSLY: Fugitive arrested by U.S. Marshals in Vermillion Township

Hawkinson, who in March pleaded not guilty to the three charges, "finally understood it" and agreed to take the plea deal, his attorney, Sam McCloud, said Thursday.

"The truth of the matter is, when it's time to tell the bottom line to a guy, I have to tell it like is," McCloud said. "And for him there was no way that any lawyer in the whole world could get a jury to give him a pass on the gun charge. (The pistol) was on him. So, let's get on with it, get it over with and be done with it. Going to trial isn't going to get you anything except maybe convicted of the other two charges."

Shortly after his July 2013 release from prison for kidnapping and domestic assault, Hawkinson took on a new identity — Wesley Scoggins, who is an actual person who lives in St. Paul.

He became a fugitive in March 2014, when he skipped a scheduled meeting with his probation officer and the state Department of Corrections issued a warrant for his arrest.

He shut out his family and friends — and vanished.

"I was already on the run," he told the Pioneer Press during a jailhouse interview last month. "So the only way to survive was to just kind of to start over."

He will serve his sentence at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.