Dream of a Better Life
A cut above the others. A man of his word. Clean cut. Tall, dark, and… The sound of the car door opening and Sophie plopping herself onto the seat jolted me out of my daydream. Raising Sophie was my 24/7 assignment. Her father and I had divorced years before. Now he refused to pay child support and didn’t bother to take advantage of visitation rights with Sophie.
Sophie’s involvement in sports, music, and honors programs accelerated over the years. I joined a gym to get fit so that I could try to keep up with her. Financially strapped and 20 minutes behind in life, we continuously juggled time, energy, and money shortages. I longed to be rescued. Where was that man in my life?
“Mom, get up!” Sophie called just before sunrise. She needed a ride to school. Coming to full consciousness, I remembered we had not gotten home from the ball game last night until eleven. No time for a hot bubble bath this morning, and it wouldn’t soften this boot camp lifestyle anyway. I want a husband to share this load.
An Officer and a Gentleman
Then one day he arrived-Frank, my knight in shining armor He didn’t just talk of slaying dragons, he went right to work on them. He chased away an unfit boyfriend who had eased himself into Sophie’s life. He successfully confronted an unscrupulous male vendor in one of my most challenging business situations, saving my business and $5,000. His persuasive manner and loving cooking enticed my daughter to eat meat once again. Because he made it his business to cook her favorite meat dishes, she regained her health after having developing serious anemia from a fad Vegan diet.
Frank and I had met casually at the post office. A few telephone conversations later and he arrived at my place of business in uniform to take me out to lunch. Tall, dark, and handsome, Frank was an accomplished Air Force Academy graduate, officer, pilot, and church-going man. After 14 years of waiting, my dream was about to come true. God owed me this one.
A Dream Wedding
The day was pristine, the air crystalline, and the sea around us a sparkling turquoise as we spoke our vows to one another. Overlooking the ocean from the Captain’s bow, we could see forever-this was a beautiful prelude to our future life together. It was August 7, 2000. Because this was a second marriage for each of us, we agreed a quiet wedding cruise would be romantic. Frank arranged for Sophie to have a private room onboard ship so that she could be my maid of honor. I can still envision our breathtaking wedding on the ship floating on the Caribbean Sea. It was simple, elegant, and tranquil-a heaven-sent marriage.
I vowed to dedicate all my being toward my husband’s happiness. Once home, even the mundane took on a quality of special-ness. Frank took us to church, to dinner, and on movie dates. He continued to court me, politely including Sophie. Frank remembered holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries with flowers. Following our wedding, he booked a honeymoon cruise for later. My perfect husband had come to life.
Peace, as tranquil as the eye of a storm, enveloped our household. It was interrupted only by the normal minor adjustments each of us had to make to married life. Then Frank was promoted to major. I was disappointed when I was not invited to the ceremony. “At the last minute, my team flew in from Washington D.C. I barely knew about it,” Frank explained. He atoned by hosting a dinner and inviting non-military friends to celebrate his new rank. Then came 911. The Air Force put Frank on “red alert” for a combat mission to Afghanistan.
On September 18, my major rose early and kissed me good-bye. Proudly, I posted Frank’s photo amidst the other servicemen’s photos on our church bulletin board and fervently prayed for my major to come home alive. He arrived home ten days later. I noted others were gone longer. Back from a top-secret mission, I tried to decode his dark moods and silence. Just part of his responsible nature, I reasoned. He often reminded me of his top-secret clearance and I…I just submitted to his stifling gag order.
The Honeymoon Is Over
Tension arose in our marriage when I began to pressure Frank for dependent military identification. Sophie needed an athletic physical and I needed dental work. But Frank dragged his feet about finalizing our military benefits.
Then there was the delayed honeymoon. As I was finally and happily packing for the cruise, Frank cracked his tooth on a fruitcake nutshell. We cancelled the trip just hours before we were to leave. Everyone knew the ship’s onboard dentist could have taken care of Frank’s tooth, but he refused to go. And I cried my heart out. Our honeymoon trip was over before it started.
I began to be besieged by mounting insecurities and suspicions. I ask Frank to join me in marriage counseling so that we could confront trust issues and financial concerns. He said the problem was mine-that I had not yet overcome my fear of trusting men. In good faith, I had shared my assets with Frank and conveyed half interest in my home to him; but it seemed he wasn’t willing to share anything with me. What was mine was ours, and what was his was still his. To assuage my fears, he finally agreed to attend marriage counseling with Dr. T
The Truth Comes Out
Then one day while I was cleaning, I found airplane tickets and receipts showing a Philippine destination at the time of his supposed Afghanistan mission. A travel agency, not the military, had issued the tickets to Frank. Torn between betraying Frank and learning the truth, I wanted to pretend I had not seen this. But if I were to deny the truth, I would betray myself. I had to find a logical explanation.
At our next counseling session, I confronted Frank about the Philippines. He explained he’d been assigned to perform a special mission under civilian cover. His reluctant, but assured, manner conveyed a top-secret aura. My feelings were mixed. I was ashamed that I had disrespected Frank’s career, but I was relieved by his explanation. And I was confused because there was still a lack of clarity. Our counselor advised me to accept Frank’s explanation at face value, but his face showed growing concern.
My mind became a battlefield of conflicting questions. Why can’t I just trust him? Why had Frank misled me about his mission’s destination? How do other officers’ wives handle these situations? I would have loved my knight in shining armor forever had not cracks in his armor continued to emerge. His “top-secret” missions just weren’t adding up.
Now my sister and Sophie became suspicious. They ran an Internet background check and learned Frank wasn’t an Air Force Academy graduate, pilot, or major. He was not a college graduate either. It was all a lie! But they were certain that at this point I would not believe such allegations. So they delayed telling me.
Confusion with Frank’s credit and identity because his full name was rather common, brought increasing public embarrassment. The time had come to combat my imaginings once and for all. I sent an inquiry to the United States Air Force in Washington D.C. to find out if Frank might possibly be impersonating an officer.
A pilot friend had become suspicious of Frank’s lack of aircraft knowledge. He volunteered to search Frank’s social security number through some connections he had. I took him up on it. About then a city detective spoke with me. He had recently arrested Frank on a $37,000 check fraud charge. Frank had professed mistaken identity. Mistaken identity or identity fraud?
I began to think about confronting Frank, but would I endanger myself …and Sophie? Would he tell the truth? I have to know who he is…or isn’t, my mind screamed. Looking back, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I knew who he wasn’t. The real Frank is buried beneath multiple layers of cover-ups. So instead of confronting him only to rouse another cover-up, I became a spy wife! For 22 minutes each day while he showered, I searched his wallet for evidence; nervously scampering down to my office to make copies of everything I could get my hands on.
Yet, I was heartsick when I heard from the local Office of Special Investigations (OSI) that Frank’s shiny patent leather shoes, pilot’s wings, medals, and insignias, weren’t Air Force issued, and the so-called housing allotment from the US Treasury turned out to be a meager disability check.
As spy wife, I felt like an amateur playing chess with a seasoned master. Clearly, I had to find some irrefutable evidence. Only that would show the truth to be more believable than Frank’s lies. Apprehensive about the danger I might be in, I played the devoted wife, while I continued spying. I needed to know his real identity and agenda.
My sister and Sophie finally revealed the results of their investigation to me. We formed an ad hoc spy team. At that point, we only knew who Frank was not, but piece-by-piece, our spy team assembled the bigger picture. We found that Frank was 10 years younger than he claimed to be. We learned that he had used numerous social security numbers. His true social security number led us to a criminal history fraught with dismissals and probations for felony fraud offenses. We deduced I wasn’t his second wife, but his fifth. He’d fathered at least four children, yet claimed only one.
We tracked down two of Frank’s former wives in town, and both were remarkably understanding and helpful. Both had unresolved issues with Frank. He had used their credit cards even during our marriage. The former wives joined our spy team and together we pressed credit card fraud charges against Frank.
Dr. T, now wise to Frank’s game, used our last counseling session to influence Frank to return his interest in my property. “You’re an Air Force Major, right?” Frank nodded yes. “You don’t need her money, do you?” Dr. T challenged. Determined to preserve his false identity, our “major” boldly signed the deed. Dr T. had a notary standing by to make it legal. Outside, an angry Frank proclaimed, “I’m finished with marriage counseling!” Because Frank had impersonated an officer/pilot and traveled to the Philippines shortly after the 911 terror attacks, a possible terrorism connection couldn’t be ignored.
Then a question arose in my mind. Could I be considered an accomplice to whatever Frank had done? I decided I had to cooperate fully with the OSI. As the OSI prepared to arrest Frank for impersonating an officer, they requested I keep a log of the times Frank went out in uniform. Had I awakened on the scene of a 007 movie? I wondered. “Next time he dresses in uniform, page me, and we’ll arrest him,” the OSI major ordered.
Legal Rights and Wrongs
Frank put on his uniform and left the house. So, as instructed, I paged the OSI. Their response shocked me. “We aren’t going to arrest him; he’s never been military and isn’t in our jurisdiction.” I asked how they knew. “We ran his social security number,” he replied. “Which one?” I asked incredulously. “The one on his military ID.” I couldn’t believe my ears. “You ran his false social security number on his false military ID to determine he’s never been military?” “Yes,” the officer replied unflinchingly.
More of the unbelievable was yet to come. On July 7, 2002 I’d had enough. Frank had long since quit contributing financially to our family. It had only been a show of credibility anyway. Weary of supporting him while awaiting his arrest, and satisfied with the proof of fraud that we had accumulated, I decided to seek an annulment. I changed the security code to my home. Frank, not to be deterred, broke in. Sophie and I called police. Frank told them he had a right to “break into his own home.” The police asked for his identification for their report. Frank could not produce valid identification.
As police questioned Frank, Sophie quietly dashed upstairs to his office. Because she had been investigating him and had come up with so many inconsistencies between his stories and truth, she was sure he had fake IDs stashed somewhere. In the deep dark recesses of his closet, she reached into a tuxedo jacket pocket and struck a goldmine of false ID cards, credit cards, and cash Frank had taken from my purse. My driver’s license was there too. She discretely handed them to the officer. In moments Frank was arrested for false ID. Frank wasn’t, however, charged with the theft of my cash or driver’s license. “Community property can’t be stolen,” police explained. Not knowing how Frank might retaliate should he discover my spying, I played dumb and reacted with utter shock when informed of his false identity.
The police took him away, but shortly afterward they came back to warn us. Frank had been released by the FBI and he was walking home. They advised us to get out and stay elsewhere for safety. They couldn’t arrest him because the FBI now had jurisdiction. Why the FBI let him go is still a mystery. “I have a right to be here,” declared Frank when I called home to ask him to leave. My neighbor had called the police for Frank and they had helped him break into my house. The police told me that without divorce papers or a restraining order, Frank had a right to be there!
After months of my assisting the OSI and FBI, Frank was free and making me a refugee from my own home. Even though Frank had fake military ID and the FBI knew it, the FBI declined to charge him. It was unbelievable! The following day I filed for a temporary restraining order and moved home as soon as the police escorted Frank out. Next, I endured a series of nerve-wracking hearings to fight for a permanent restraining order. Frank hired an attorney, but because my finances had been depleted by his embezzlement, I had to represent myself. Frank’s exes, Darla and Delia, joined me in court and held my hand to keep me brave. Thanks to a discerning female judge and astute witnesses, we won the case! I had become spy wife, detective, and now an attorney.
Frank had used his imaginary military rank like a magic wand to achieve his desires. His uniform disarmed people, overruled suspicion, and granted him instant authority. With a fraudulent credit report, he acquired a $10,000 loan in uniform from a military credit union. In uniform he sweet-talked a teller into cashing a large counter check on my business account. The account went negative and was closed. It took nine months, copies of the annulment, restraining order, and notarized fraud affidavits to reopen that account.
In uniform “my hero” secretly borrowed money from my dearest friends, explaining that my business was undergoing adversity and that I was too proud to ask for help. Frank “borrowed” thousands-thousands for which I was liable. Frank’s case went from the United States Air Force (OSI) to Homeland security, to the FBI and, finally, to the Colorado Attorney General. An agent came to retrieve evidence-uniform and medals. The FBI investigation finally concluded, but in another episode of the unbelievable, the agent explained, “Ms. Nelson, the attorney general has decided not to take enforcement action against Frank.”
They had deemed Frank’s impersonation was not prosecutable, because he hadn’t cost society at least $100,000 within two years! And to further compound the unbelievable, no one bothered to inform the local police that they now had jurisdiction to pursue the impersonation charge.
One More Time
The knock at my door on October 20, 2003 startled me. I opened it to a police officer whom Frank had corralled to come “get a jacket from my home.” I was overcome with fear, and the officer had to calm me down so I could locate the restraining order. Although illegal for Frank to be within 100 yards of my house, he stood in the front yard and taunted me for hours. The con artist had cunningly applied one more legal ruse to violate the restraining order and avoid arrest-for the fourth time.
Once they understood Frank’s game, police scrambled to arrest him for something-military license plates became their focus. Collaborating with the FBI, police were told not to arrest Frank for the plates. He had been in the military in1976! What? The OSI had earlier declined to arrest Frank for impersonation because they said he’d never been in the military! Finally the police gave up and wrote him a ticket for driving without a license.
Despite documentation of fraud and impersonation of a military officer that was provided to the OSI and FBI, Frank has yet to be charged with any of these crimes. He is still not in jail. The Selective Service and United States Air Force records via the Public Information Act, verify that this man was indeed in the military (Air Force) from 1972-1976. But when I married him, he was no longer in the military and was certainly never a major.
I was able to get an annulment and was released from potential financial or criminal liability created by and during my marriage to Frank. Sophie graduated from college and has moved on to her career. I’m spending more and more time away from the city where this all happened and where Frank still lives. We are fine now, but are determined never to be duped by a con man in uniform or any other dress again. We are also determined to do everything we can to help other women avoid the pain of relationship fraud.
You need to know whom you fall in love with. But how can anyone really know? Should we run a background check on everyone we date? How practical is that? Over 50% of online daters present a fantasy or false persona. I don’t want to fill you with such suspicion that you’ll never fall in love again. But you must learn to discern the difference between your fantasy man and a real man.