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Soldier AKA billionaire is back in Army fatigues

| Thursday, April 5, 2012, 12:00 p.m.

An East Liberty soldier facing a federal bank fraud charge for obtaining a debit card in the name of billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has been turned over to the Army, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The FBI affidavit accompanying his arrest said Brandon Lee Price, 28, was absent without leave from Fort Polk, La., in January when he persuaded a Citibank customer service representative to change the mailing address for an unspecified Allen account from Seattle to Price's Station Street address and, three days later, persuaded another representative to send him a new debit card.

Price was arrested March 6 and posted a $10,000 unsecured bond, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy ordered federal marshals to hold him until Monday to give the Army time to decide whether to charge him with desertion. The U.S. Marshals Service didn't return a call seeking comment, but the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed Price was turned over to the Army last week.

Maj. Lewis Kliem said Price is charged with illegally leaving his unit, the 10th Mountain Division, in July 2010.

Kliem, the senior military prosecutor who handles criminal prosecutions at the Louisiana base, said Price is serving with his unit while the desertion charge is processed. The idea is to give Price a chance to show he can be a productive soldier while his commanders decide whether to court-martial him, Kliem said.

A federal grand jury indicted Price on the bank fraud charge on March 27. The federal clerk's office issued a summons ordering Price to appear in Pittsburgh for an April 17 arraignment before a federal magistrate.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Jay Finkelstein, who is representing Price on the Pittsburgh charges, couldn't be reached for comment.

Price used the debit card to pay off a delinquent $658.81 loan and attempted a $15,000 wire transfer. He shopped at the GameStop near his home and tried to make a $1 purchase at a Dollar General store, according to the FBI affidavit.

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