Pictures found in the home of Walter Primrose and Gwynne Morrison showed the pair in a jacket that federal authorities say may be genuine KGB garments. (U.S. State Department via Courthouse News)
Alleged Russian spies in Hawaii to remain in federal custody until September trial
A judge denied the couple’s appeal for release, citing flight risk related to one defendant’s military history, among other concerns.
by Candace Cheung, Court House News, August 22, 2022
(CN) — In the case that has rocked the usually quiet Hawaiian islands, a federal judge ruled against releasing a couple accused of identity theft and spying on Russia’s behalf.
Although the pair’s defense counsel pushed for GPS-monitored release to one of their properties, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi maintained her prior ruling to detain Primrose and Morrison until trial, citing the case’s especially odd circumstances.
Walter Glenn Primrose and Gwynne Darle Morrison were indicted on charges of identity theft and passport fraud in early August. Their trial is set for Sept. 26.
The couple has been held at the Honolulu federal detention center since their arrest on July 22. What seemed like a simple case of identity theft garnered attention after photos of the pair in what appeared like authentic KGB uniforms near equipment possibly associated with espionage were found in the couple’s Oahu home.
According to the initial complaint, Primrose and Morrison had stolen the identities of dead children in Texas in the 1980s and had been using those identities since to acquire new Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and passports.
Primrose, who had been living and working under the assumed name Bobby Fort, was the source of the federal prosecutor’s greatest concern. Primrose’s history indicated to prosecution that he could not be trusted to comply under any conditions of release.
Under the Fort pseudonym, Primrose had previously been employed by the U.S. Coast Guard, where his work as an avionics electronics technician allowed him to receive high-level clearances both within the Coast Guard and while employed with a Department of Defense contractor.
“The defendant here is not a Zippy’s employee that was trying to cash a check under someone else’s name. He has a private pilot’s license, and while the government has seized that license, there’s nothing to prevent him, if he gets access to a plane, from cutting off from monitors and flying off-island,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Muehleck during a Monday hearing. “There’s nothing that connects him to this island, he has no family connections on the island, he has very limited involvement with family and neither does Ms. Morrison.”
An attorney for Morrison asserted that she could not be considered the same flight risk as her husband, pointing out that she does not have the same resources and specialized skillset as Primrose.
At the teleconference Monday, attorneys for both Primrose and Morrison maintained that the government is using the assertions of espionage to muddle the true facts of the case, which come down essentially to identity theft. The criminal complaint primarily alleges crimes associated with identity theft as well as conspiracy against the United States.
“The only explanation that government has advanced is that my client and his codefendant are Russian spies. That is just totally ridiculous, and there’s no evidence of that,” said Max Mizono, attorney for Primrose. “There could be a number of non-nefarious reasons as to why my client and his codefendant have allegedly done this for so long.”
The defense further stated that Primrose and Morrison had lived quietly in Hawaii for decades and, prior to this incident, had no criminal history or mental health issues that could provoke detainment, especially if the espionage claims are barred.
Judge Kobayashi emphasized that this case is still extremely atypical for identity theft cases.
“This is not your run-of-the-mill ID theft case. It’s a curious case because it’s a long period of time and the amassing a lot of property and bank accounts. And the question becomes, ‘To what end?’ So it begs the question about flight,” Kobayashi said. “I’m not taking into account the fact that they are a danger to the community or a risk of flight because they are foreign spies or have information they’re going to turn into foreign nationals.”