Man, 86, convicted of stealing infant's identity - now facing decades behind bars

PORTLAND, ME – According to a report from the Associated Press (AP), authorities have arrested an 86-year-old man who allegedly stole his deceased brother’s identity and used it to double dip on Social Security benefits.

The man, identified as Napoleon Gonzalez, of Etna, has been convicted of several charges after being caught by facial recognition technology that essentially matched the same face to two different identities.

In 1965, nearly a quarter century after his brother’s death as an infant, Gonzalez assumed the identity of his brother. Authorities said that he then used the stolen identity to obtain Social Security benefits under both identities, multiple passports and state identification cards.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), in 1981, Gonzalez applied for a Social Security number in his deceased brother’s name and in 1999, filed an application for Social Security retirement benefits in his own name. Then, in 2001, he filed an application for benefits in his brother’s name.

On Friday, August 25th, a U.S. District Court jury in Bangor convicted Gonzalez of mail fraud, Social Security fraud, passport fraud and identity theft.

In terms of sentencing, mail fraud carries the greatest prison sentence of up to 20 years, which at his age, would keep him behind bars until 106-years-old.

His attorney, Harris Mattson stated that he plans to appeal the decision and will attempt to keep Gonzalez out of prison until the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issues a ruling.

Back in 2010, the 86-year-old man’s Social Security benefits were reportedly investigated by the Social Security Administration for potential fraud, but after the investigation concluded, his benefits were upheld.

Then, in 2020, a new investigation was launched after facial identification software indicated that Gonzalez’s face was on two state identification cards.

According to Emily Cook, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office in Maine, the facial recognition technology used by the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles ensures that no one obtains multiple credentials or credentials under someone else’s name.

She added, “When fraud is detected, the fraudulent transactions are investigated and referred for administrative and/or criminal proceedings. That is what happened with this case.”

Court documents state that when confronted, Gonzalez claimed that he “took on his deceased brother’s identity” at the “direction of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations” while participating in an undercover operation in the 1960s.

However, court documents also stated that Gonzalez later admitted to faking his death under his own identity and continued using his brother’s identity. As of this writing, a sentencing date has not been set for the 86-year-old man.

Mattson said that he does not think the government proved all of the elements of the multiple counts against his client. He also questions the decision of possibly sending his client to court for so many years at his elderly age. “At the age of 86," Mattson said, "he doesn’t know how much longer he has to live. He could easily be in prison for the rest of his life.”

With the rising costs of housing inmates, Mattson said it is ironic that it would actually cost more for his client to be incarcerated than the cost of the dual benefits he has been receiving.

Gonzalez faces up to five years in prison on the Social Security fraud charges, up to 10 years on the passport fraud charges, up to 15 years on the identity theft charge, and up to 20 years on the mail fraud charge.

He also faces a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release on all charges.
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