HONOLULU — A trial opened Tuesday for a Hawaii couple accused of fraudulently living for decades under stolen identities of dead babies.
Polaroids of the couple wearing jackets that appear to be authentic KGB uniforms were introduced early on by prosecutors, who suggested the case was about more than just identity theft. But prosecutors later said the uniforms are not relevant to charges involving identity theft, passport fraud and conspiracy. There was no mention of Russian spy intrigue as the trial began Tuesday.
The couple were arrested last year, and their defense attorneys have said from the start that those uniforms were worn once for fun.
According to prosecutors, Walter Glenn Primrose and Gwynn Darle Morrison are the real names of the couple who have been fraudulently living for decades under stolen identities Bobby Fort and Julie Montague. Prosecutors say Primrose spent more than 20 years in the Coast Guard as Bobby Fort, where he obtained secret-level security clearance. After retiring in 2016, he used the secret clearance for his defense contractor job, prosecutors said.
The judge presiding over the case referred to them Tuesday by their preferred names of Fort and Montague. They’re now representing themselves with attorneys standing by to help if needed.
In brief opening statements, they suggested that they harmed no one. Montague described the allegations as “victimless.”
The evidence will show “my husband and I have led a simple, quiet life,” she said.
Fort called it an “odd” case and told the jury, “we’d like you to have an open mind.”
He said the allegations don’t involve drugs, alcohol or firearms. The prosecution is relying on witnesses recalling things that happened decades ago, he said.
The government’s first witness was Tonda Montague Ferguson, who described being in the eighth grade when her mother gave birth to a girl in January 1968. She and and her sister were in a Texas hospital waiting room when their baby sister named Julie Montague was born.
“I will never forget the image of my father walking down the hall” to tell them the baby was born with a lot of birth defects and wouldn’t survive, Ferguson said.
She recalled helping her father take down the nursery at home “so mom wouldn’t have to come home and see that.”
The infant lived for 21 days. She said she remembers seeing her father crying at the funeral.
“It was hard on all of us,” she said.
Fort, during his cross-examination, asked when she learned about accusations that her sister’s identity had been stolen. Ferguson replied that she learned about it last year from a “media source.”
He asked her if she was aggrieved by it. She replied that the death of her sister left such an emotional scar, “I never had children of my own.”
In outlining the case during his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Muehleck said the real Bobby Fort has been dead for more than 50 years. The baby had “a bad cough” and lived 3 months, Muehleck said.
The two babies were buried in Texas cemeteries 15 miles (24 kilometers) apart, he said.
The couple were married twice — once with their real names and then again with the identities they stole, Muehleck said.
They had attended the same Texas high school and a classmate who had been in touch with them afterward remembered they stayed with him for a while and said they planned to change their identities because of substantial debt, Muehleck said.
The husband even used his fake identity, which made him 12 years younger, to join the Coast Guard, the prosecutor said.
It all caught up with them in 2020, Muehleck said, when a fraud program manager in the U.S. National Passport Center noticed Fort’s passport was issued based on a Social Security number for someone who would have been 20 and not a child as is usually the case.
The manager then found Fort’s death certificate and decided to look at the spouse’s passport, which was also associated with a Social Security number issued to someone older, Muehleck said. The manager then found a death record for Montague, he said.