“Okay!” I blurted out. “I was never in a relationship with my husband. We did it so we’d have the money to get an apartment! I can’t lie anymore. I can’t play this game.”
“You’re not a good liar,” Brown said, with a sympathetic smile.
I broke down in tears, feeling pathetic and weak. I spilled my guts about myself, my marriage, and my white-trash past. I was scared and naïve. I even answered overly personal questions, such as “Do you still believe that your marriage was legal when you never had sex with your husband?” I began telling them whatever they wanted to hear so I could escape that interrogation room.
“Girl, I’m not worried about you,” Brown said, smiling again. “Yeah, you’re in trouble. You’re in big trouble. But look at how far you’ve come.” She reminded me that I had my whole life ahead of me.
“From the path you were going, you should have been lying in a gutter somewhere, but here you are now, in the Navy and on track. You’re going to be fine.”
In a way, Darnita Brown broke me down and built me up. I can’t say that I ever hated her or NCIS. We all had a job to do.
They took my mug shot, got my fingerprints, and said that I was a criminal for embezzling $31,025.10 with my “arranged marriage.” For the next five months, I was under an extreme amount of stress. Before this, the most legal trouble I’d had was a speeding ticket. I developed migraines, and I became afraid of spending money. I hardly left my apartment. My old reality seemed like a distant memory. I felt backstabbed, unsure of who had begun this investigation. During those few months, I was constantly paranoid, jumping every time my phone rang. It seemed as if I was always being watched. I honestly felt that I had done nothing wrong. The only requirements for BAH were a valid marriage certificate and spousal support. I had all of that. I had everything.
I also had a raging resentment toward the Navy’s hypocrisy. I thought about all the cheaters I saw on my ship. I remembered two officers that had been caught having sex during a deployment. Their only punishment was transfer to another command. Both were married with children. Both were supposed to be leaders, examples for the enlisted. I even worked for a guy who raped a college girl. She had medical evidence of anal tearing, but the Navy never pursued the case, supposedly because there was no evidence of forced sex. Yet they could prove that I never loved my husband. I didn’t hurt anyone, lie to anyone, and I followed the rules. There were no requirements to feel a certain emotion for your spouse.
I wrote in my statement to NCIS, “We were two close friends who committed to a marriage that was not so much for romance but for convenience. I understand that our marriage was legal in the State of California but not appropriate for Navy standards. I did not believe that I was committing any type of fraud.”
Suzanne Lachelier is the Navy lawyer who handled my case. She has since moved to Washington D.C. In mid-January I called her to say I was finally out of the military.
“Good!” she said. “I’m glad it all worked out for you.”
She was assigned to my case after my interrogation. I was skeptical about her at first because she was a Navy lawyer. It didn’t make sense for the same system prosecuting me to be defending me, too. But I quickly liked her and felt comfortable around her. A dirty blonde, fair-skinned woman in her early 30s, she represents what I strive to be: successful with a career. She’s an intelligent woman, who searched the Navy’s rules and regulations for ways to help me escape. It turned out that not everyone in the federal government was trying to screw me over.
She had dealt with two BAH fraud cases about ten years earlier, but both marriages had fake certificates. Mine was valid. Lachelier thought no one could be punished for marrying for a particular reason.
“I never thought the Navy would get into that,” she said.
The military has never officially defined marriage. There are no written rules.
“If you had researched the Navy rules before you got married, it actually would have been more reason for you to get married for BAH,” Lachelier said. “There were no rules to break.”
She told me that my command initiated my case.
“Why do you think they were pushing so hard to prosecute me?” I asked.
“Well, you being a woman may have something to do with it, because most women are more emotional toward marriage. Also, you’re outspoken and articulate. That can be intimidating, especially in the military. But I think it was mostly for moralistic purposes. They probably felt what you did was wrong and wanted your punishment to be an example to other military members.”
The Navy will make an example of you when you mess up! I remembered officers constantly telling me that.
“They were trying to prosecute you for marrying for financial purposes, but they are the ones who are putting a price on marriage,” Lachelier said.
Lachelier got my fraud charges dropped. I walked away with reduction in rank and had to pay a fine of about $4000, plus get lectured about committing fraud. My life was not ruined. Although my superiors did not treat me as if my charges were dropped, I left the Navy with an honorable discharge at the end of my enlistment.
With the war in Iraq, military members are faced with incredible stress. I witnessed a lot of broken marriages. I decided to speak with an expert on these problems: a Navy marriage counselor. I called the Fleet and Family Service Center. A man answered the phone in a friendly voice.
“Hi. I’m writing a paper on Navy marriages, and I was wondering if I could speak to a counselor.”
Click here to see interview with Maggie Young on Fox News.