Stepmother charged with fraud as search for Harmony, 7, continues

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Jan. 6—The estranged wife of Adam Montgomery was arrested Wednesday evening and charged with collecting food stamp benefits for her missing stepchild, 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery.

Authorities announced the arrest of Kayla Montgomery, 31, on a Class A felony charge of welfare fraud. Montgomery is not the biological mother of Harmony, who authorities stressed they are still looking at. She has not been seen since October 2019.

Meanwhile, donations have enabled police to increase the reward for information leading to the whereabouts of Harmony to $60,000, regardless of whether she is found alive.

That becomes less likely the longer a child is missing, homicide prosecutor Jesse O'Neill said.

"That's what statistics say in general, but a specific case like Harmony's, I can't say," O'Neill said. "We're still treating this like a rescue operation. In our mind, we're looking for her."

Kayla Montgomery is the second person to be arrested in connection with the girl's disappearance. Harmony's father, Adam Montgomery, was arrested Tuesday on charges of child endangerment, interfering with custody and felony assault. He's accused of striking her in 2019 with a blow that gave her a black eye.

On Dec. 27, New Hampshire child protection workers notified Manchester police that Harmony was missing, and authorities have been frantically searching and appealing for the public's help since then.

Harmony's biological mother is Crystal Sorey, who told police she has not seen her daughter for about two years. She lost custody of Harmony because of drug abuse issues, and the girl eventually ended up with Adam Montgomery, her father.

Kayla Montgomery has three children with Adam Montgomery. When confronted by police about Harmony's disappearance, she told police she last saw the girl that day after Thanksgiving 2019, according to an affidavit filed in connection with her arrest.

But according to police, she received more than $1,500 in food stamp benefits for Harmony from December 2019 to June 2021.

The affidavit contains a key date: June 2, 2021. At that point, the social worker handling the Montgomery family removed Harmony from the family case.

"During that contact, (Department of Health and Human Services) noted that case management for (Harmony) was closed, noting 'client said she moved back with her mother and to remove her from the case,'" an affidavit read.

Earlier, a social worker noted that Kayla Montgomery said Harmony visited Sorey every weekend.

Later Thursday, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Amy Messer ordered Montgomery released on $5,000 cash or surety bail. Messner ruled that she have no contact from Adam Montgomery, and that she live at 258 Dubuque St.

Montgomery's lawyer, Paul Garrity, spoke to reporters after her arraignment Thursday. He said a $5,000 cash bail in a welfare fraud case is unusual.

"It tells me there's suspicions from the state there may be something else involved," Garrity said. He said he didn't know whether Montgomery is cooperating with police, be he would want to be present when they speak to her.

Montgomery was arrested Wednesday night at the Families in Transition family shelter on Lake Avenue, O'Neill said. Her own children — ages 4, 2 and 1 — were moved in with their maternal grandmother at her Dubuque Street apartment.

Montgomery dropped out of West High School and went on to earn a high school equivalency degree. She has worked at a storage facility, as a flagger and at Dunkin Donuts. She has minor scrapes with the law for drug possession, theft and making a false report to police.

She had been in the FiT program since July.

O'Neill would not say whether she is cooperating with authorities.

Adam Montgomery was with his new girlfriend, Kelsey Small, when police found him on New Year's Eve and asked about Harmony. He initially told police he had seen her recently but then changed his story and said he last saw his daughter on Thanksgiving 2019.

Manchester police have received about 100 tips about Harmony.

O'Neill said tips are "pretty widespread" and coming from both inside and outside New Hampshire. Manchester police and the FBI are working on the case, as well as other agencies that O'Neill would not disclose.

Police were able to increase the reward thanks to generous pledges, including $10,000 from the U.S. Marshals Service.

Also contributing were Joseph Zagarella of Manchester, $5,000, and Jeff Comeau of Seabrook, $1,000. An anonymous $1,000 pledge came from Nevada.

The dedicated Harmony tip line, 603-203-6060, is staffed 24 hours a day.

mhayward@unionleader.com

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