Posted by: admin On: Wednesday 18th, 2013
By Paul Woolverton Staff writer
A soldier who used his brother's identity to enlist in the Army 25 years ago was demoted two ranks Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of his court-martial at Fort Bragg.
Sgt. Maj. William Anthony Morrone Jr. was convicted earlier Wednesday of fraudulent enlistment and making false official statements for his use of his brother Gerald's name and Social Security number throughout his 25-year military career.
He said he took his brother's identity in 1988 because he couldn't get back in the Army any other way following a less-than-honorable discharge in the early 1980s.
The judge demoted Morrone to sergeant first class.
In an unsworn statement to the judge before sentencing, Morrone said he loved being in the Army.
"It's the best thing in the world. It really is," Morrone said, choking up. "So I came back in. That's what I did."
Morrone said he first joined the Army at age 17 in 1979. He had to get his mother to sign off on his enlistment because of his age.
"Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a soldier," he said.
Less than three years later, Morrone was kicked out. It wasn't clear from comments in court what led to his discharge.
Morrone's unsworn statement and the evidence presented during the trial this week indicated that he tried several times to re-enlist in during the 1980s.
He also got into trouble with the law in Washington state - with a guilty plea to a felony in 1987 followed by a failure to complete the terms of his probation and punishment. Those factors, too, would have kept Morrone from re-enlisting.
William Morrone said that in 1988, he lived with his older brother Gerald and came across Gerald's birth certificate and other personal papers. That spring, he took these to sign up for the Army again. For the second time, William Morrone went to jump school to become an Army paratrooper.
His brother's college degree gave him a head start at his revived military career, with his rank private first class instead of private, a prosecutor said.
Morrone was stationed at Fort Bragg and spent much of the next 25 years here.
He served in the first Gulf War in the early 1990s and the Iraq war zone during the war on terror.
"I put the boots on. I buried my soldiers," Morrone said.
There were stations in Japan and Korea. He injured his back, arm and neck in the service and has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
Morrone's lawyers contended that he tried several times through his career to get his identification corrected, but the Army never followed through.
In 19 years, he rose through the ranks to sergeant major, an unusually fast ascension, defense lawyer Bill Cassara told the judge.
His performance reviews were strong. Morrone said he put the Army ahead of his marriage and family. His wife, Linda, left him in 2004 and they divorced in 2010.
Linda Morrone was in court supporting him this week, as was Gerald and their father, William Sr. Soldiers who served with him decades ago and in recent years stood by him.
Gerald Morrone, who lives in Wake Forest, testified Wednesday morning that he learned in 1989 that William Morrone had used his name to rejoin the Army. People who served with William knew, too, Gerald Morrone said.
Gerald Morrone testified that in the early 1990s, he went to Pope Air Force Base from Greenville, S.C., to greet William when he returned from deployment in the Gulf War.
William introduced him to his fellow soldiers with a joke, Gerald said, such as, "Hey guys, this is the real Gerry Morrone," or "the other Gerald Morrone."
Gerald said he asked William to resolve the identification matter, but he received about seven notices from the Internal Revenue Service over the years about William's income from the Army.
The IRS inquiries were resolved with letters or phone calls explaining he had never been in the Army, Gerald Morrone said.
The identity issue caused further confusion when Gerald Morrone moved to North Carolina about three years ago, he said. According to N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles records, William Morrone had been registering his vehicles under Gerald's name.
William Morrone had an Indiana driver's license under Gerald's name, said Maj. Joshua Toman, the lead prosecutor. Under that name, he had traffic stops at Fort Bragg, in Illinois and in Montana, Toman said.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that Morrone opened bank accounts in his brother's name.
"I didn't know that he had a driver license under my name until about a year ago," Gerald Morrone said. He doesn't think he suffered any consequences to his driving privilege or car insurance bills, he testified.
"It's never been an issue," Gerald Morrone said.
But Gerald's wife, Jamie, was troubled by the identity theft. She said her name was on an IRS letter several years ago regarding William's military income. She said she contacted law enforcement to report the identity theft.
She wanted to see William punished.
Capt. Emily Geisinger, one of the three prosecutors, had asked Glass to demote Morrone to private, give him a dishonorable discharge, terminate his pay and benefits, and give him a long prison sentence.
The Army expects its soldiers to demonstrate honesty and integrity, she argued.
Defense lawyer Cassara asked for no punishment. He cited Morrone's service since 1988, plus his three prior years.
William Morrone also faced an additional criminal charge of failing to tell the military that he got divorced in 2010 and his son turned 21 in 2012. Morrone's wife and son had been listed as his dependents, which boosted the housing supplement the Army paid him.
He has been paying back the overpayment, according to testimony.
Morrone was found not guilty of that charge.
"To me, for justice to prevail ... you go by the letter of the law, the intent of it, the spirit of the law, and I think that's what happened (today)," said William Sr., who is 82. "In the true sense of the word, justice was served."
Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3512.