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Fort Hood prostitution ring trial begins

FORT HOOD, Texas — A sexual assault prevention officer recruited young, financially distressed female soldiers to be part of an escort service involving senior noncommissioned officers, according to testimony Monday in the first day of the court-martial of a soldier Army prosecutors say used the service in February.

Master Sgt. Brad Grimes, a 17-year Army veteran who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, faces a year of confinement, a reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge on charges that include adultery and conspiring to pay for sex from a Fort Hood private.

In a case that has helped focus public attention on the problem of sexual assault within the military, Army prosecutors accuse Grimes of taking part in a prostitution ring they say was set up by Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, the sexual assault prevention officer of a battalion within Fort Hood’s III Corps headquarters.

McQueen is also under investigation for the alleged sexual assault of another female private who revealed the scheme to Fort Hood authorities. She told investigators that McQueen touched her inappropriately during what she termed an “interview” to be part of the ring.

That private, whom the Austin American-Statesman is not naming because of the sexual assault allegation, later told a staff sergeant that McQueen “preys on young females who are in bad financial situations and that he keeps their pictures on his cellphone,” according to a sworn statement.

Defense attorney Daniel Conway said prosecutors charged Grimes after he rejected a deal to testify against McQueen.

“It seems clear that their intent (now) is to charge (Grimes) in hopes of a conviction and of using (Grimes) to testify against McQueen,” Conway said.

Conway said Grimes was approached by McQueen about an opportunity to “hook up” with a young private, but that there was never talk of an exchange of money for sex. He said that Grimes ultimately decided against the tryst after meeting her at a La Quinta hotel near the Army post.

“At the end of the day, Master Sgt. Grimes chose to do the right thing and not have sex with that young lady,” Conway said. “This is really a case about sex parties and Master Sgt. Grimes had nothing to do with that.” But the second private, who has been granted immunity from charges related to the incident, told a jury of five men and one woman, all at ranks higher than Grimes, that she did indeed have sex with Grimes and that he paid her $100.

The second private, whose name is being withheld because Fort Hood officials say she might have been taken advantage of by superior officers, said she became part of the operation after she met McQueen in a Fort Hood parking lot. There, she told the noncommissioned officer about her numerous debts and money problems. “I felt I couldn’t turn anywhere else and this was an opportunity to get somewhere on my bills,” she testified.

The second private said McQueen later took nude photos of her that he said he would share with potential clients. She said the encounter with Grimes occurred about a week afterward.

She said she also helped to try to recruit the other private, who later alerted authorities.

On Monday morning, Conway asked military judge Col. Gregory Gross to dismiss the charges, arguing that high-ranking Army and government officials, including President Barack Obama, had exerted unlawful command influence by making comments about the importance of prosecuting military sexual assault around the time Grimes was charged in June. Gross declined to do so.

Allegations about the Fort Hood prostitution ring became public on the heels of several other high-profile incidents. A week earlier, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, who ran the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, was arrested and charged with sexual battery in a Washington, D.C., suburb.

Conway pointed to a statement by Obama a month before Grimes was charged in which he said: “(When) we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable; prosecuted, stripped out of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.” Based on the results of a military survey, about 26,000 service members experienced “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012, but just more than 10 percent of those encounters were reported to authorities.

Congress is currently debating a bill that would remove prosecution of sexual assault cases from the purview of military commanders, which advocates say would result in greater reporting.

The success of the measure, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and attached as an amendment to the defense authorization bill, is uncertain: Military brass have lobbied heavily against it, arguing it would undermine the authority of the chain of command. A vote could come when Congress reconvenes next week.
 

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