1st ID GI sentenced for deserting unit, writing bad checks
WüRZBURG, Germany — Absent without leave from his deployed unit and desperate for money, Pvt. 2 James Silva hit up the guys he knew he could trust the most: his fellow soldiers.
At Bamberg’s Warner Barracks, Silva approached nine soldiers between Feb. 13 and March 5, telling them he was on leave from his unit and asking if they could cash a check for $100, $500 or $900 worth of euros. He paid them as much as $50 extra for their trouble.
The checks ended up being worthless.
At a court-martial Wednesday, Silva pleaded guilty to two charges of absence without leave, one charge each of missing a troop movement and breaking a restriction to base, and 13 counts of writing bad checks totaling more than $5,000.
As part of a plea bargain, he pleaded innocent to a charge of desertion.
The military judge, Lt. Col. Robin Hall, ordered him to serve a year in jail and then to be discharged from the Army.
“I don’t have any ill will toward him right now,” Pfc. Mohamed Wehelie, of the Bamberg-based 317th Maintenance Company and one of Silva’s victims, said at the court-martial, “but it was kind of messed up.”
Silva, 22, of the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, left his base in Schweinfurt, Germany, on Jan. 13, prosecutors said. Members of his platoon spotted him on Jan. 18, but he fled again five days later. His unit deployed to Iraq Feb. 10.
Silva moved to Bamberg, about 25 miles away, where he lived in an off-base hotel and posed as a vacationing soldier, he admitted. His $1,337 monthly salary didn’t cover his expenses, so after his mother refused to wire him money, he said he turned to fleecing other soldiers. One victim turned him in March 5, and he has been in jail ever since.
Silva’s attorney, Capt. Clinton Campion, said the soldier left his base after months of verbal abuse from several members of his unit while assigned to work in the mailroom for most of 2003.
One of his co-workers, Spc. Brian Arnold, said Silva was tormented by members of his unit — particularly by one staff sergeant, who visited the mailroom several times a week and threatened to rape and kill him.
“I would see him literally crouch down, run in the back and hide,” Arnold said. “One day they came in, he broke down and cried. He said he couldn’t take it anymore.”
In early January, Silva was returned to 1/4 Cavalry in preparation for the deployment. His squad leader, Sgt. Rene Amador, testified that the soldier told him after his first AWOL he was afraid to go to Iraq because his mailroom duties had prevented him from training with his unit.
Noting that Silva had apologized and made restitution to his victims, Campion pleaded that the soldier be allowed to remain in the Army.
But the prosecutor, Capt. Jaime Tijerina, said his betrayal was too great.
“He left at the most critical time his unit needed him,” Tijerina said. “He doesn’t deserve to be in the Army.”
After 45 minutes of deliberation, Hall agreed with the prosecutors. Besides jail time and the bad-conduct discharge, she ordered him to forfeit all pay and be reduced to the lowest enlisted rank.