Court records contain these images of passports that show the face of Napoleon Gonzalez but the name of his brother Guillermo, who died when he was an infant. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

ETNA — The modest one-story house sits back from the road in this rural, sparsely populated Penobscot County town between Newport and Bangor, the kind of place where it’s easy to live in anonymity.

An American flag hangs from the front. A late-model SUV with veterans’ plates is parked underneath a carport.

Napoleon Gonzalez peeked out from behind a window curtain when a reporter knocked on the door late last month and then motioned to meet him on the side of the house. He emerged from a door and asked what the visit was regarding.

On Aug. 18, Gonzalez, 86, was convicted of six felonies in federal court in Bangor after an investigation found that for more than 50 years he has been using his dead brother’s identity to fraudulently obtain government documents and Social Security benefits.

He has yet to be sentenced, and his attorney already has filed a notice of appeal, but the charges carry penalties of between five and 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each charge.

Asked if he wanted to address the charges and the possibility that he might spend his remaining years in prison, Gonzalez politely declined.


“I’m not supposed to say anything about it,” he said.

Gonzalez, who was born in Puerto Rico and said he grew up in New York, explained that he used to work in special investigations for the U.S. military. He said the investigators’ claims that led to his conviction are false, but said he couldn’t provide evidence to refute them. At least not now.

“They don’t even know really who I am,” he said.

Indeed, much of Gonzalez’s life appears shrouded in mystery, including how and why he ended up in Maine more than 15 years ago.

Court documents and trial exhibits reviewed by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, however, offer a detailed look at how investigators uncovered his crimes, first with facial recognition software at Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles and then by reviewing a complicated paper trail dating back to the 1960s. That included a 1985 story in the New York Daily News alleging that Gonzalez faked his death, and even purchased a body, to collect on a $300,000 insurance policy.

Gonzalez’s attorney, Harris Mattson, of Bangor, would not discuss the charges and verdict pending the appeal. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanne Semivan, who prosecuted the case, declined to be interviewed as well.


The following account is built from documents, exhibits presented at trial, and interviews with investigators.


Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles has a little-known law enforcement arm that investigates auto thefts, odometer fraud, vehicle registration evasion, and, increasingly, driver’s license and state identification card fraud.

Michael Ross is a detective with that division.

In 2019, the BMV was authorized to begin using facial recognition technology in its investigations. In early 2020, Ross and his team executed what he called a “scrub” of all existing photos in the agency’s system to look for duplicates.

Some matches turned out to be identical twins. Others were people who had changed their names. A small handful, Ross said, were set aside to investigate further. One of them was Napoleon Gonzalez.


Gonzalez obtained a state ID for the first time in 2017. Another man named Guillermo Gonzalez had first been granted a Maine license in 2008 and then had it renewed in 2015.

The two men looked strikingly similar, Ross said. Their heights and weights were identical, and their addresses appeared to be side by side.

“We decided after seeing the images and looking at the documentation that we had, at the very least we had to go do an interview with him and find out what was really going on,” Ross said last week.

In that interview, Ross asked Gonzalez a series of questions about his background and the various identifications he reviewed that included both names.

“But your real name is Guillermo? Or is it Napoleon?” Ross asked, according to the interview transcript.

“Both are real because they were issued by the government,” Gonzalez replied.


“Well, no. Only one is your actual ID. What is your birth name?” Ross asked.

“The birth one is Napoleon,” Gonzalez said.

This 2010 photo of Napoleon Gonzalez was presented as an exhibit during his trial.

Before the interview was even over, Ross called for assistance from another detective, Eric Dos Santos with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General.

That agency, as it turns out, had been aware of Gonzalez and even investigated him back in 2010.

“Almost immediately he said, ‘You aren’t arresting him, are you? Because I need to do more research on this,’” Ross said of that conversation with Dos Santos.

Without the facial recognition technology, Ross said, it’s unlikely anyone in Maine would have known Gonzalez was using two identities unless authorities received a tip.



The first instance of Napoleon Gonzalez using his dead brother’s identity was in the 1960s, according to court documents.

The brother, Guillermo, was born two years after Napoleon, in 1939, and died as an infant in Puerto Rico.

Napoleon served in the U.S. Air Force from 1957 to 1964, reaching the rank of technical sergeant. Court documents indicate he was stationed in Germany, France, Alaska, and Texas.

During his brief interview with a Press Herald reporter, Gonzalez mentioned those locations. He also said that time was when he first started coming to Maine.

Napoleon Gonzalez has lived in this home in Etna since 2008. Eric Russell/Staff Writer

Gonzalez told investigators he started using his brother’s identity when he was in the Air Force in 1965, while working on an undercover investigation, even though his actual service, according to documents, ended a year earlier.


Investigators asked the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation if they had any record of either Napoleon or Guillermo working for them. They did not.

During his interview with investigators in 2020, he provided them with a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits card in the name of Napoleon Gonzalez.

Records from the Social Security Administration, which were presented at trial, show that Napoleon Gonzalez had earnings beginning in 1955 and ending in 1979, with a gap between 1963 and 1971 in which he did not appear to work.

Guillermo, meanwhile, had earnings between 1963 and 1981.

Gonzalez admitted to investigators in 2020 that he used both identities at different times.

“What’s the purpose of that?” Dos Santos asked.


“Well, actually, I don’t know why I do that,” Gonzalez answered. “I don’t get much.”


While investigators continued to look into Gonzalez’s case in early 2020, they discovered he was receiving Social Security benefits for both Napoleon and Guillermo.

However, it took some effort to determine that the two beneficiaries were the same person.

A Social Security number was issued for Napoleon in 1954. Guillermo’s wasn’t issued until 1981.

According to court documents, a U.S. passport was issued to Guillermo Gonzalez as early as 1977. It was renewed in 1982. The document listed a spouse, with a marriage date of August 1965. Guillermo applied for renewal in 1993, while still living in Puerto Rico, and indicated that he had divorced that wife in 1992.


Court documents indicate that Napoleon Gonzalez was married in New York in 1957, just months before his military service began, and divorced in Puerto Rico in 1963.

Investigators believe Gonzalez fully began living as Guillermo in the early 1980s.

That became easier after Napoleon turned up dead.

According to a 1985 story in the New York Daily News, which was presented as evidence at Gonzalez’s trial, Napoleon Gonzalez had been arrested in Puerto Rico a year earlier for faking his death.

The story said Gonzalez even purchased a man’s body for $7,000 and buried him, in his military uniform, as Napoleon. The gravestone read “Napoleon Gonzalez, technical sergeant, Air Force.” The article says only that he acquired the body “through contacts.”

Before his “death,” Napoleon Gonzalez had taken out a $300,000 life insurance policy.


A few months later, when Guillermo Gonzalez showed up claiming to be Napoleon’s brother and the beneficiary of his estate, a judge became suspicious and Napoleon Gonzalez eventually was charged with falsifying documents and fraud.

The New York Daily News story did not indicate how that case was resolved, but Napoleon acknowledged in his interview with investigators in 2020 that the story was mostly true and said he had served three years in jail.

The body that had been buried as Napoleon Gonzalez was exhumed and determined to be a man described as a vagrant who died in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in a motor vehicle accident.

In his trial brief, Gonzalez’s attorney argued that the 1985 story about Gonzalez faking his death was prejudicial.

“The life insurance scheme came to an unsuccessful conclusion … while the Social Security scheme allegedly remained ongoing from 2001 to 2020,” he wrote in his trial brief. “The inference to be drawn from the other acts evidence (sic) in this case is that the defendant is a thief and acts like a thief, not that the benefits scheme is part of a single fraudulent plan that began in the early 1980s.”

Prosecutors, however, said the incident helped demonstrate the lengths to which Gonzalez has gone to maintain both identities.


The most recent investigation also included a criminal history check that found Guillermo Gonzalez, with an alias of Napoleon Gonzalez and a matching Social Security number, had twice been arrested for fraud, in 1988 and 1990. Court documents do not say how or if those cases were resolved.

Gonzalez maintained, however, that he faked his death at the direction of the government, as part of a secret investigation.


Napoleon Gonzalez first applied for Social Security benefits in 1999. He would have been 62.

Court documents indicate that he requested that work he had done under the Guillermo identity be posted to Napoleon’s record. Upon questioning, Gonzalez claimed that Guillermo had been his maternal grandfather’s name and that he assumed this name in his grandfather’s memory when he died. He even provided officials with a copy of his mother’s birth certificate, which verified the grandfather’s name.

The Social Security Administration deemed his explanation credible, according to court exhibits.


Beginning in 2008, his listed address was on West Plymouth Road in Etna.

The home of Napoleon Gonzalez in Etna. Eric Russell/Staff Writer

In 2001, Guillermo applied for and began receiving Social Security benefits. He later listed an address of West Plymouth Road in Etna, next door to Napoleon.

Court documents suggest that Gonzalez received payments in both names from 2001 through 2020. Guillermo’s Social Security bank deposits totaled more than $150,000 during that time.

In 2010, the Social Security Administration office in Puerto Rico first contacted Napoleon Gonzalez after it received information that Napoleon had died in 1984. His benefits were paused.

“They said I died of a car accident somewhere in San Juan, but they find (sic) out that was wrong, that was somebody else’s,” Gonzalez told investigators in 2020.

The Social Security Administration restored Napoleon Gonzalez’s benefits after he signed a statement confirming he was still alive.


It doesn’t appear that Social Security officials were aware at that time that he had faked his death, or that he was also receiving benefits under the name Guillermo.

In interviews and again at his trial, according to prosecutors, Gonzalez claimed that he took on his deceased brother’s identity at the direction of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations and that he was legally allowed to use both identities.

Prosecutors said there are no circumstances under which a single individual may legitimately use two Social Security numbers simultaneously.


In March 2020, the Social Security Administration suspended payments to Guillermo Gonzalez after Ross contacted detectives there and they continued to investigate.

One month later, Gonzalez sent a handwritten note, as Guillermo, asking for an explanation. He included the Social Security number assigned to that identity.


Five months after that, two agents came to interview Gonzalez again at his home.

They continued to ask questions about the two identities. Gonzalez often provided cryptic answers.

“Is there more that you aren’t telling us?” Detective Dos Santos asked at one point.

“There is a lot, but I can’t tell you,” Gonzalez replied.

“Why is that?”

“Well, I used to work for the government,” Gonzalez said.


“Ya, I work for the government as well. I understand,” the detective said.

Later in the interview, Dos Santos lays it all out.

“So, I guess the bottom line, Napoleon, is that you faked your death in the ’80s, you got a passport in Guillermo’s name, you’re getting benefits under both right now. You’re not both people. You’re Napoleon Gonzalez,” Dos Santos said, according to the interview transcript. “And I’m trying to get the truth out of you that this is what has taken place. Not another story that somebody directed you to do it and you were working for the government because I don’t believe it.”

Gonzalez replied: “Well, that’s OK. This is true. It is in my mind that this is true.”

Gonzalez was indicted by a federal grand jury in July 2021. The charges were: identity theft, providing false statements in the application and use of a passport, Social Security benefit fraud, and mail fraud.



In his brief interview with the Press Herald, Gonzalez said he first came to Maine in 1957. He said he decided to move here full-time later in life because it was the most beautiful place he had ever visited.

Property records show Guillermo Gonzalez purchased a house in Etna in 2008. Another woman was listed on the deed, the same woman who was listed as an emergency contact on one of his earlier passport applications.

Both were listed as residents of Puerto Rico. The purchase price was not included.

In 2015, according to records, Gonzalez and the woman sold the house for $1. Attempts to contact the person listed as the buyer were not successful.

Although records show that Gonzalez sold the house, he was still living there as of last week.

The same year he purchased the house, Guillermo Gonzalez applied for a driver’s license. The year before, he had applied for and was granted a U.S. passport in Maine.


That passport was renewed 10 years later, in October 2017. He used that passport to travel to Canada the next year.

Months before that renewal, though, Gonzalez applied for a Maine state identification card as Napoleon. He listed an address next door to Guillermo. It wasn’t clear why Gonzalez wanted the second state ID or what he planned to use it for, but that decision ultimately is what sparked the investigation.

When Napoleon had his picture taken for that ID, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles’s facial recognition system was not yet in use, so no one knew. That didn’t come until three years later.

“If the system had been live, we would have had a match at that point,” said Ross, the detective.

Now, at the end of every day, every picture taken at a BMV location in Maine is run against all other photos in the database.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, whose office includes the BMV, said the Gonzalez case shined some light on what investigators do and how they use facial recognition.


“When people succeed in compromising that system as Mr. Gonzalez did, they will be caught and prosecuted,” she said.

But she said it’s important for the public to understand the safeguards that are in place to protect their privacy.

If another agency – the Maine State Police, for instance – wants to use the technology in an investigation, it has to make a formal request and those requests are logged.

“They don’t just have access to the database to run queries,” Bellows said. “Similarly, there is no public access to what we’re doing. We’re not using facial recognition technology to monitor or surveil members of the public.”


At the back of his house in Etna, there is a detached workshed where Gonzalez said he spends most of his time.


Inside are various electronics waiting to be repaired, and tools. He said he came to Maine many years ago to retire but hasn’t really stopped working.

On one wall, there is a large monitor split into six screens that appear to show different surveillance camera views of his property.

Gonzalez had already explained several times that he didn’t want to talk about his conviction, but he kept talking anyway. He said his life could fill a book.

Just as he did with investigators, Gonzalez said his past military experience prohibits him from revealing too much. But he also said there will come a time when everything will be explained.

For now, he waits. Either to learn whether his appeal will be heard by the 1st Circuit Court in Boston or to learn a sentencing date has been set. He is free on bail but can’t travel. He is still receiving Social Security benefits as Napoleon.

It’s not yet known how long of a prison sentence the government will ask for, but Gonzalez’s lawyer has said his client’s age should certainly be a mitigating factor.

Gonzalez has two adult daughters who live in other parts of the country, according to his lawyer. It’s not clear whether they know him as Napoleon or Guillermo or what their names are. They don’t show up in any court records.

As far as investigators are concerned, it doesn’t matter. They don’t believe that he is some military spy sworn to secrecy – just a lifelong con man who finally got caught.

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