South Korean prosecutors reopen bigamy case against ex-US soldier
Prosecutors in South Korea have reopened the case of a U.S. soldier who allegedly tricked a local woman into a bigamous marriage and left her $50,000 in debt when he returned to his wife in America, according to South Korean news reports.
Rachel Lee, 43, a divorced mother from Chuncheon, said a friend introduced her to Master Sgt. Scott Fuller, 40, in August 2013 when Fuller was serving with the Korea-based 2nd Infantry Division. The pair hit it off and married in a traditional Korean ceremony just four months later. However, documents Fuller submitted to have the marriage recognized in Korea, including Army and U.S. Embassy certifications of his single status, turned out to be forged, she said.
“He’s a con, and he killed my soul and broke my heart,” Lee said of the deception, which was discovered only after Fuller abruptly returned to the U.S. in May 2014. “He just left without saying anything. He totally ruined my life.”
The Army returned Fuller — who was stationed at Fort Drum in New York — to South Korea when it discovered the forgeries.
In October 2014, a South Korean court found him guilty of forgery and sentenced him to eight months in prison. The Army knocked him down in rank to sergeant first class after an Article 15 hearing, according to documents provided by Lee to Stars and Stripes. The details of the case were then verified by a U.S. military official in Korea.
Fuller then convinced Lee, the Korean court and the Army that he had, at last, divorced his American wife after producing what he claimed was a divorce judgment document from a New York court. His sentence was reduced on appeal to a $10,000 fine with no prison time, and his rank was restored. Fuller also used the document to obtain a dependent identification card for Lee that listed her as his spouse.
It wasn’t until August of this year that she found out — from Fuller’s American wife, Marianne — that the divorce document was also a forgery. The Army quickly determined that the document was likely not genuine. Nonetheless, U.S. and Korean officials declined to take further action, Lee said.
However, the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper reported over the weekend that Korean prosecutors are working with U.S. officials to re-examine the case with a focus on the forged papers and might seek his return to Korea.
After the court case, Fuller was allowed to retire honorably with benefits Nov. 1 and is living in Rockland County, N.Y., with Marianne, their daughter, 6, and son, 4, according to the New York Post.
“It’s not just a money matter,” said Lee, who claims to have been left with $50,000 in debt, which includes a two-year lease on the couple’s off-base apartment in Uijeongbu. “He has broken my heart and my 16-year-old son’s heart.”
Lee said she has tried to contact Fuller many times but received no reply. He did not answer questions from Stars and Stripes sent to an email address provided by her attorney.
Last month, Lee said she filed a monetary loss claim through the Army after being advised to do so by Maj. Gen. Theodore D. Martin, 2nd ID commander. That claim will be promptly reviewed on its merits, said Lt. Col. Richard Hyde, a 2nd ID spokesman.
“If approved, the claim may result in an order to Mr. Fuller to pay damages,” Hyde said. However, Lee also wants the Army to court-martial Fuller. Last week, Lee’s attorney, Howard Myerowitz of Song Law Firm in Fort Lee, N.J., wrote to Martin asking that the Army prosecute Fuller for crimes ranging from forgery to making a false official statement, bigamy, obstruction of justice and failure to obey a regulation.
“Fuller has never been punished for his bigamy or forgery of a New York Supreme Court Judgment of Divorce or for his use of forged documents to obtain a military I.D. card for Ms. Lee,” Myerowitz wrote. Under Article 2 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, “retired members of a regular component of the armed forces who are entitled to pay are subject to provisions of the UCMJ.”
It’s a security concern if soldiers are able to forge documents to obtain identification from the Army without punishment, Myerowitz said in a telephone interview last week. “How is this something that the Army doesn’t want to completely throw the book at him over?”
The Army doesn’t usually pursue charges in a case where South Korea asserts jurisdiction, Hyde said in a recent email.
“Former servicemembers are normally not directly subject to court-martial jurisdiction except in limited circumstances,” he said.
Decisions to charge soldiers — or former soldiers — are carefully considered and take into account factors such as the need to preserve good order and discipline, punishment of the wrongdoer, magnitude of harm to an alleged victim, cost and likelihood of conviction, Hyde said.
“All of these factors are considered in every case, as they were in Mr. Fuller’s case,” he said. “In the end, the decision to prefer charges is a purely discretionary act by a commander.”
Stars and Stripes staffer Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.