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Court-martial set for former 173rd commander accused of fraud

This story has been corrected

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is scheduled to go on trial next month on fraud charges. The court-martial for Col. James Johnson III comes a year after an Army investigation determined that Johnson had had an improper relationship with an Iraqi woman and he was relieved of command.

The court-martial is to begin June 10 in Kaiserslautern, according to the Army’s online court docket. Johnson is charged with fraud – violation of Article 132 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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The trial, before a panel of other officers, is expected to last a week. Johnson, a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has pleaded not guilty. The maximum penalty for proved violations of Article 132 is five years’ confinement, dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

The Army announced Johnson’s dismissal as commander of the Vicenza, Italy- and Germany-based “Sky Soldiers” in March 2011. He had been commander since 2008. According to a 15-6 investigation report, Johnson misused government resources and filed fraudulent travel vouchers while pursuing a relationship with a woman who was the daughter, the report said, of Johnson’s former cultural adviser.

The woman and her husband, whose names were redacted in the report, lived in The Hague, Netherlands, and Johnson made numerous trips there, the report said.

“Col. Johnson misused government resources for his frolic and detour into the Netherlands,” the report’s investigating officer wrote.

Army 15-6 investigations are not criminal investigations but rather a process of fact-finding and analysis. Findings need not be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt” but must be supported by “a greater weight of evidence than supports a contrary conclusion,” according to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.

The investigation found that 18 of 26 travel vouchers Johnson filed were fraudulent, and that improper trips included visits to Paris; Brussels, Belgium; and Jordan.

The report stated Johnson had also misused government vehicles, cellphones, computers and personnel, including a doctor and lawyer.

Johnson’s rebuttal to the investigation findings included his contention that commanding a brigade headquartered in Italy, with battalions in Germany required traveling, including to “allied partner locations.”

“During my command, I made a great effort to be present at and involved in my unit activities in Germany,” Johnson’s rebuttal said. “This required movement and coordination to unit locations, training sites and allied partner locations.”

He also said that the Army had used his estranged wife’s complaints as a “checklist” and that the investigating officer had been biased.

Authorities began investigating Johnson in January 2011 after his estranged wife sent them an email claiming Johnson was having an extramarital affair with an Iraqi woman he met while in Iraq in 2005-06, the investigation report said.

The same month, the dispute between the Johnsons made news in the New York Post. In papers filed in a New York court, where Johnson’s wife was seeking a divorce, Johnson accused his wife of 23 years of acting improperly as adviser to the unit’s Family Readiness Group — and said she had been asked to leave the base in Vicenza and return to the U.S. because of it, the Post reported. He claimed that her taking the couple’s teenage son to the U.S. had amounted to kidnapping.

His wife, however, claimed in court papers that Johnson had used his rank and position to orchestrate her removal and force her return to the U.S. in order to gain custody of their son and move his alleged mistress onto the post, the Army Times reported.

montgomeryn@estripes.osd.mil

Correction

Stories published June 10, 2011, and May 22, 2012, about Col. James H. Johnson III misidentified the Iraqi woman with whom Johnson had an affair. The stories misidentified the woman as the wife of Johnson’s “cultural adviser”; in fact, she is the man’s daughter.
 

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