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Prosecutors allege five women involved in Sinclair case

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The lead investigator in the Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Allen Sinclair case testified Monday how she and prosecutors obtained thousands of emails that the defense argues contained confidential correspondence with the general's lawyers.

Allegations revealed during Sinclair's Article 32 hearing this morning accuse him of having sexual encounters with five women since 2008 and using his position as a one-star general to coerce one of them into continuing the relationship.

Sinclair, 50, faces several charges including forcible sodomy and fraud following his relief from duty in Afghanistan in the spring.

As the hearing began, the defense made an issue over 16,000 emails that military investigators and prosecutors obtained from his military and personal accounts. The defense says the emails are confidential under attorney-client privilege and were marked as such in the subject line. The lawyers asked the hearing officer to dismiss the charges, or remove the prosecutors and investigators from the case.

The hearing officer, Maj. Gen. Perry L. Wiggins of Fort Hood, Texas, consulted with legal advisors over the matter. Testimony began this afternoon with the Army Criminal Investigation Command agent who was questioned over the emails and her investigation.

The hearing was recessed again until 4 p.m. while Wiggins weighs testimony about the emails.

Two members of the prosecution team testified this afternoon about how they came across the emails. Both said they did not look at the correspondence. One said as soon as he saw the subject line, he closed the email.

The defense has asked Wiggins to either remove or disqualify the prosecutors and continue the hearing without them, or dismiss the charges. They argued that the rules for the Article 32 hearing do not explicitly state that there has to be a prosecutor, just that the defendant, his lawyers and the hearing officer be present.

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Otherwise, the defense team argued, the case could be thrown out on appeal if it gets that far.

Prosecutors argued that no harm has been done to Sinclair's case and that the hearing officer does not have the authority to remove a prosecutor. The hearing officer can only make recommendations to the convening authority, they said.

Earlier in the day, the CID agent testified that a third-party investigator or lawyer was supposed to review the subpoenaed emails and remove those that were protected. The CID agent was the special agent in charge of the field office in Kandahar, Afghanistan. But no one was available to do that, she said.

The agent said she went through the emails and tried her best to pull out relevant ones. The defense is offering evidence that all of the emails were made available to prosecutors, including those in which Sinclair discussed defense strategies with his lawyers.

Under defense questioning, the CID agent said she didn't have enough resources to conduct a proper investigation of Sinclair. She said she asked for help one time and wasn't able to get it.

The investigation started, she said, as an adultery probe. She was told by her superiors that she would be working the Sinclair case. She said she was almost immediately contacted by military prosecutors who briefed her on the case.

Details of the charges read this morning accuse Sinclair of brazen sexual misconduct with two female captains, a major, a lieutenant and another woman at Fort Bragg, at an Army base in Germany, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The encounters were in a parking lot, in his office in Afghanistan with the door open, on an exposed balcony at a hotel and on a plane, where he allegedly groped a woman, the charges say. At least two of the women were members of his staff, the charges say.

Sinclair, who is married, had the women send him sexually explicit photos and videos of them, prosecutors said. He made frequent derogatory comments toward women, they said. When confronted about those comments, Sinclair is accused of replying, "I'm a general, I'll do whatever the (expletive) I want."

Sinclair is accused of lying about travel reimbursements when he made two trips, to Arizona and to Texas. He reported they were to observe training and to attend a conference, but both were personal trips, the government says.

A source who described himself as close to the Sinclair family, speaking on their behalf, said this morning the general is innocent and remains confident in the judicial process. The source said Sinclair doesn't blame the Army for the accusations; the Army, he said, has come under fire for its handling of sexual abuse crimes, and this is a case of an overzealous prosecutor.

Sinclair believes the emails in question were the result of an illegal "fishing expedition," showing how prosecutors didn't have evidence to back up the charges, the source said.

The Article 32 hearing is similar to a civilian grand jury. Prosecutors present evidence against Sinclair, and his lawyers can cross-examine witnesses against him. The hearing officer will collect the findings and make a suggestion on whether to proceed with the case to the convening authority, the 18th Airborne Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn.

Sinclair was charged in September, four months after being relieved from duty in southern Afghanistan, where he served as deputy commanding general for support for the 82nd Airborne Division and Regional Command-South in Kandahar.

The list of charges include wrongful sexual conduct, attempted violation of an order, wrongfully engaging in inappropriate relationships, misuse of a government travel charge card, possessing alcohol and pornography while deployed, maltreatment of subordinates and fraud.

Wiggins, the hearing officer, is a former commander of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. He currently commands the First Army, Division West based at Fort Hood.

If the case against Sinclair proceeds and the charges remain in their current form, the general could be dismissed from the Army and sentenced to life in prison, under the toughest punishment.

There is no minimum punishment or sentencing guidelines in the military court system, meaning Sinclair could be convicted but not punished. Experts familiar with the military justice system said that it is unlikely Sinclair will receive considerable prison time if convicted.

brooksd@fayobserver.com
 

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