Airman gets 3½ years, dishonorable discharge for role in cheating ring
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — An Air Force master sergeant who admitted to taking part in a promotion test cheating scandal has been kicked out of the military and will go to jail for his part in the scheme.
Air Force Judge (Maj.) Adam Oler sentenced Master Sgt. Abdur-Rahim Saafir at a general court-martial Friday to a dishonorable discharge, a reduction to the lowest pay grade and 42 months in jail.
Saafir, who pleaded guilty Thursday to multiple charges of possessing and sharing test information, had hoped to continue his career in the Air Force.
Oler issued his decision Friday night after hearing several hours of testimony from witnesses and closing arguments from the defense and prosecution.
Saafir, a 37-year-old with more than 19 years of service, apologized numerous times during a statement he gave at the end of the court-martial. Before giving his speech, the skilled public speaker who serves as a member of Toastmasters said it would be one of the most difficult he had ever given.
He choked back tears as he detailed his rise from Chicago’s West Side to Air Force master sergeant and his fall from award-winning noncommissioned officer to an admitted test cheater.
“I made some very, very poor decisions,” he said, standing behind a podium before Oler.
Saafir, a former mission support flight superintendent for the 469th Air Base Group at Rhein-Main Air Base, faced 58 years in prison, but his lawyer argued for a lighter sentence that would allow him to keep his pension.
Maj. Patrick Dolan said giving his client a dishonorable discharge would not be inappropriate.
Saafir, who in 2004 was named the top personnel manager for all Air Force bases in Europe, regretted what he did, Dolan said. He added that Saafir would have a difficult time providing for his family as a black man with a dishonorable discharge on his record.
The Air Force prosecutor, Capt. Jack Spencer, argued that Saafir took responsibility for his actions only after Air Force special agents caught him. He said Saafir and other airmen perfected a plan in which they would share material on the tests, which are crucial to advancement in the Air Force. Policy prohibits airmen to even study with other airmen prior to the tests.
He added that Saafir helped airmen get promoted who shouldn’t have been, costing the Air Force money and robbing other airmen — who didn’t cheat — the chance to get the promotion they deserved.
Spencer said Saafir did not earn the pay grade of master sergeant fairly, but “he has earned his dishonorable discharge.” He also argued that Saafir should receive a four-year jail term.
Investigations into a number of airmen allegedly involved in the test cheating scandal at several bases are ongoing. The Air Force administers more than 220,000 tests to more than 100,000 airmen annually.
Saafir worked out a pretrial agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to 30 counts of conspiracy and failure to obey a lawful general regulation. As part of the agreement, he has agreed to cooperate in the investigation of other airmen.