Marine Corps poolees conduct exercises at Skyline High School in Mesa, Arizona, in April 2022.

Marine Corps poolees conduct exercises at Skyline High School in Mesa, Arizona, in April 2022. (Brennan J. Beauton/U.S. Marine Corps)

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas teenager who said a Marine Corps recruiter sexually abused her while she was high school senior eager to enlist filed a $5 million claim Thursday against the service because officials had been warned the recruiter posed a threat.

In an 11-page complaint filed through the Federal Tort Claims Act, the teenager described how Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Champagne, who oversaw her pre-enlistment program in Decatur, Texas, coerced her into a sexual relationship, isolated her from her peers and tried to control her life.

During much of the recruiter’s months-long pursuit of her that began in September 2022, she was a 17-year-old who had recently moved to Texas and was looking to be part of a community, according to the complaint. Stars and Stripes does not name victims of sexual assault.

“My client was looking forward to spending her life serving her country as a Marine. But her faith in the Marines has been shattered because she was sexually abused by her recruiter — someone she thought she could trust,” said Christine Dunn, the woman’s attorney.

The filing is a first step toward a lawsuit against the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Defense Department, Dunn said. Law requires that claims against a federal agency must first go through an administrative process that affords the agency six months to investigate. Then a lawsuit can be filed in court.

Champagne in October self-published a memoir about his actions toward the “poolee,” a Marine Corps term for people who intend to enlist but have not yet become a recruit or attended basic training. In the book, he described his immediate attraction to the young woman and referred to her arrival in his office as a “gift,” according to the complaint. He also wrote he “exercised plenty of risky behavior” throughout his career.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service confirmed Thursday that it is conducting a thorough investigation into Champagne.

“Out of respect for the investigative process, NCIS will not comment further while the investigation remains ongoing,” the agency said in a statement.

The Marine Corps did not immediately respond Thursday with information on Champagne’s status in the service. Officials previously told media outlets that he was under investigation and had been removed from his position following publication of the memoir, which is no longer available for purchase online.

As a poolee, the woman attended workouts at the recruiting stations where other Marines in the office saw Champagne’s inappropriate and controlling behavior toward her but did nothing, according to the complaint. Other Marines also knew Champagne hired the poolee to babysit his daughter, which is not allowed.

When the woman tried to separate herself from Champagne, he began to show up at her home, where she lived with her parents, send her messages threatening to harm himself if she didn’t respond and created fake social media accounts to try and talk to her, according to the complaint.

She and her family notified Marine Corps recruiting officials, NCIS and local law enforcement of his behavior. Military investigators did not take her seriously, she said.

“During this time, I was contacted by NCIS personnel who each time asked me if I felt ‘safe with my spouse.’ I told each person that I was not married, nor did I live with Mr. Champagne, yet they continued to be confused and incorrect about the facts of my case,” the woman wrote in the complaint.

Dunn said she is not aware of any criminal proceedings against Champagne from military or civilian officials.

author picture
Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now