Political News

Bragg general to serve no jail time in sex case

Posted March 20, 2014 9:38 a.m. EDT
Updated March 20, 2014 6:59 p.m. EDT

— A Fort Bragg general will serve no jail time for breaking military law during improper relationships with three subordinates and other offenses.

Military Judge Col. James Pohl reprimanded Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair and ordered him to forfeit $20,000 in pay. He also ordered Sinclair to reimburse the Army $4,157 for charges he racked up on a government credit card on trips to visit his mistress.

"The system worked. I've always been very proud of my Army," Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said in a brief statement after his sentencing. "All I want to do now is go up north, hug my kids and see my wife."

The 51-year-old general admitted that he mistreated a female captain under his command during a three-year affair and had improper relationships with two other women. He also pleaded guilty to adultery, which is a crime in the military, as well as misuse of the government credit card and other conduct unbecoming an officer.

He had been accused of twice forcing the captain to perform oral sex, but the sexual assault charges were dropped as part of his plea deal.

Sinclair was emotional Wednesday as he apologized for his actions, and he wept when his attorneys read a letter from his wife detailing the impact the criminal case has had on his family and asking Pohl for "a fair sentence."

Under an agreement Sinclair reached with Fort Bragg authorities, he was prepared to retire from the Army and serve up to 18 months in military prison in addition to paying back the charges on the government credit card.

That agreement, called a quantum, was sealed until after Pohl passed sentence based on evidence from a three-day hearing. Under military law, Sinclair was then given the lesser of the two punishments.

Prosecutors on Wednesday asked Pohl to dismiss Sinclair from the Army, which likely would have wiped out his Veterans Administration health care and military retirement benefits. They said he abused his rank by engaging in the affair and promising to help the careers of female officers who sent him nude photos of themselves.

Sinclair's defense argued that depriving his family of the benefits he had accrued during his 27-year Army career would have unfairly punished his wife and two sons. They also maintained that the allegations never amounted to a criminal case.

"In a civilian court, we wouldn't be here at all. This would not be a criminal matter, given the conduct," lead defense attorney Richard Scheff said.

Scheff said it's up to Pentagon officials whether Sinclair also is demoted in rank, but he said that the general plans to retire from the Army.

"He's got new mountains to climb," he said.

The defense painted the captain as a liar who concocted the sex assault allegations only after she found intimate emails to Sinclair from another woman.

Questions about whether she perjured herself during a pre-trial hearing damaged the Army's case against Sinclair. The case was further thrown into jeopardy last week when Pohl said the military may have improperly pressed ahead with the trial to send a message about its determination to curb sexual misconduct in the ranks. Under the military code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely on the evidence, not its broader political implications.

The military and Congress are grappling with how to handle sexual misconduct, but Scheff said the plea agreement and sentence in Sinclair's case are unrelated to the problem.

"What you had here was a very, very isolated instance, a mistake made by an honorable man," he said. "This was not the right case to be brought (to trial). We didn't have victims in this case. The only victim in this case is Gen. Sinclair and his family."

The military needs to look at how sex assault allegations are handled, he said, adding that he supports a proposal by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York to remove prosecution of such cases from the military chain of command and allow lawyers to handle them.

"Politics has no place in this process," Scheff said.