2012: Year in review
Prosecution of 2 high-ranking officers tarnishes military’s image
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 27, 2012
The courts-martial of two high-ranking officers in Europe were part of a tarnishing of the image of the U.S. military in 2012 after years of laurels bestowed on the institution during a decade of war.
The two, one an Army colonel and one an Air Force lieutenant colonel, were found guilty. One was dismissed, losing all retirement benefits and sentenced to a year in jail. The other was fined and reprimanded. In both cases, wives, children and others were collateral damage.
In June, Col. James H. Johnson III went to trial on more than 20 counts of fraud, bigamy, adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman. All of the charges involved his actions in wooing an Iraqi woman and trying to financially reward her father, who years before, when Johnson was a battalion commander in northern Iraq, had advised him about the insurgency and warned him of attacks.
Johnson’s downfall began in 2008 after he’d been given command of the storied 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat in Vicenza, Italy.
He began visiting the Iraqi family in the Netherlands, where they had fled as refugees, falsifying travel receipts, he told the court, to prevent his wife from finding out.
She found out, and she turned in her estranged husband.
By March 2011, Johnson, an honor graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the son of retired lieutenant general, had been relieved of command. Some months later he was criminally charged.
Among fraud charges were contracts Johnson had given to the Iraqi man as his Afghanistan “cultural adviser,” although the man had never been to Afghanistan.
About that time, Johnson, whose divorce was not yet final, married the Iraqi woman by double proxy in Montana.
Johnson pled guilty to many of the charges. He explained himself to the five-colonel jury, saying that he’d erred in allowing his personal life to become entangled in his professional decisions and in not divorcing his wife years earlier.
The panel’s punishment was a reprimand and a $300,000 fine, about twice the amount he had defrauded the government.
Johnson retired in September, after an administrative board reduced him in rank to lieutenant colonel.
He was still believed to be with the Iraqi woman, whom he told the jury was “the center” of his life.
In October, a fighter pilot and inspector general for Aviano Air Base, Italy, was tried on charges of aggravated sexual assault.
Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson had in March slipped into the bed of a houseguest after an impromptu party at his home and groped her as she slept, prosecutors said. The assault ended when Wilkerson’s wife turned on the light, saw her husband in the woman’s bed, thought it was consensual and ordered the woman out of the house, shoeless, at 3 a.m., prosecutors said.
The woman was a physician’s assistant, one of three women who had met Wilkerson and three men he was with, including the air wing’s vice-commander, the day before at the base club after a concert. The woman and Wilkerson had not been previously acquainted. She stayed overnight because her friends had left without her.
The woman testified at trial. Wilkerson did not.
Instead, his wife took the stand to refute the woman’s story. Wilkerson’s wife said that her husband had slept undisturbed in his own bed throughout the night, and that she had ejected the woman because she was being noisy.
Wilkerson’s lawyer argued that the woman had imagined the assault.
The all-male jury found Wilkerson guilty and sentenced him to a year in jail, dismissal from the service and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.