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KFOX14 goes undercover: Marriage for hire, soldiers seeking brides
By: Genevieve Curtis
EL PASO, Texas -- Weddings cost a fortune, and as KFOX14 found out, many military marriages could also be costing taxpayers.
KFOX14 has uncovered soldiers seeking to turn a marriage that matters into a quick cash commitment ceremony.
Even though finding a bride with a carefully crafted advertisement is a practice as old as print, some soldiers have found a twist on the old-fashioned search to tie the knot.
For the past year and a half, KFOX14's Genevieve Curtis collected dozens and dozens of ads on websites like Craigslist by soldiers looking for a wife.
One ad reads, "Location: Bliss, Age 21: Looking for the right person to set up a contract marriage for a couple more years. I'll be in the military a few more years and need someone to help me stay sane."
Another ad reads, "Location: El Paso, Age 22: Looking for someone to contract marriage with. Would prefer military like me. You can be lesbian looking to get the Army benefits."
Yet another said, "Location: Fort Bliss: I'm 21 in the army but want out of the barracks is there any decent women out there not older than 26 that would want to do a contract marriage and we can talk it out."
Through e-mail, KFOX14 set up a date to meet a soldier looking for love, or marriage. KFOX14 is not identifying him by name; instead he will be referred to as "Mr. X."
He writes, "This benefits me because I get my own place off base or at least out of the barrack. But it also provides me with extra money to save up and do stuff with."
Posing as a 22-year-old freelance photographer, one of KFOX14's producers went in to meet Mr. X.
Once she arrived, he explained his motivation.
"It's very frustrating living on base," he said.
Mr. X said soldiers often enter into contract marriages so they can move off post, plus it's a lucrative way to increase their housing pay.
"You receive your housing allowance to find a place or rent a place or you can put in with the on-post office," said Mr. X.
It varies post to post and depends on a soldier's rank, but a married soldier receives substantially more money than a single soldier for Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH.
That's not all. Enlisted soldiers living off post also receive Basic Allowance for Subsistence, that's $352.27 a month.
Mr. X told our potential contract bride the benefits she, as a civilian, would also be entitled to if she participates.
"The medical and dental stuff is really cheap," said Mr. X. "The military does all this for me," he added.
Plus, he said, she would get perks like Lasik eye surgery, access to the commissary, where goods are typically cheaper and not taxed, and travel expenses.
"It's $126 for a round trip to Tokyo and back, it's a great way to travel," he told her.
Mr. X went on to say that if he were to get stationed in Korea or Germany the Army would pay for our producer to relocate with him.
He added that if she wanted to go back to college, the government would pay for that too.
"$4,500 you can use for the entire year. Whatever you want to do, you just want to take your core classes or extras," said Mr. X.
Health care, extra cash, travel and tuition all bought with taxpayer dollars and all our producer had to do was sign her name next to Mr. X's on a slip of paper at the courthouse.
But is it legal?
The producer asked, "Can we get in trouble for it? That's my main concern, I guess."
"There is a possibility, but it takes so much substantial evidence that actually has to be proven. What can the Army really say?" he responded.
With housing increases and other bonuses stemming from marriage, the average solider can make an extra $20,000 a year. So we also wanted to know what the Army would say. After waiting weeks for a response from Fort Bliss, we received a statement Monday that reads, in part:
"The First Armored Division and Fort Bliss leaders are concerned about the possibility of a Fort Bliss Soldier considering engaging in a fraudulent marriage.
"Marriage is a personal, private decision between adults, so the Army does not question a Soldier's marital decisions without cause. Soldiers must possess all necessary legal documents verifying their marriage before receiving benefits.
"The Army investigates fraudulent marriage allegations involving Soldiers. Any Soldier in a fraudulent marriage potentially is in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and could face administrative and punitive actions.
"Fraudulent marriages are not condoned by the military and are inconsistent with the values and ethics we require from our Soldiers."
According to Army officials, soldiers could face several charges for hiring a spouse.
Those charges could include conspiracy, false official statement, and larceny of military property, obtaining services under false pretenses and soliciting another to commit an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Punishments for those offenses range from dishonorable discharge to 10 years in prison, reduction in rank and possibly the total forfeiture of pay and allowance.
KFOX14 asked Fort Bliss how many fraudulent marriages have been investigated in the last five years and whether investigators monitor sites like those KFOX14 found with the ads. Officially, Fort Bliss would not respond but an Army official said the Criminal Investigative Division investigates these crimes on a case-by-case basis. But how many Fort Bliss has had or has currently is unknown.
After the meeting with our producer, Curtis confronted the potential husband and asked him about his marriage ad, plans and meeting with our producer.
"No comment," Mr. X said before driving away, a single man.
KFOX14 looked at web listings in other military cities around the U.S. and found hundreds of ads similar to those found in El Paso.
KFOX14 brought it to the attention of the House Armed Services Committee, including one of El Paso's congressmen, Pete Gallego.
Gallego would not comment on the subject of contract marriages.
However, hours after KFOX14's inquiries to the committee, higher command in Washington contacted Fort Bliss regarding our story. It was through those meetings Fort Bliss eventually responded.
So how much money is the government losing on contract marriages?
The price tag on government waste is unknown.
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke sent this statement regarding KFOX14's story.
"Due to the sequestration budget cuts, Fort Bliss and the rest of the military are having to do more with less. The illegal fraud uncovered by your report is unacceptable. Ultimately, it means there are fewer resources for Fort Bliss and the Army to carry out their mission. I am confident that the leadership at Fort Bliss will take appropriate action to prosecute ongoing fraud and prevent future abuse. My office stands ready to work with them to assist in any way we can," said O'Rourke.