Former 173rd commander paid $300,000 fine; faces final disposition
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 20, 2012
HEIDELBERG, Germany — A disgraced 173rd Airborne Brigade colonel who was convicted in June on bigamy and fraud charges has paid his court-imposed $300,000 fine and is now trying to leave the Army.
Col. James H. Johnson III paid the fine in July rather than face a five-year prison term, but his attorney said that Johnson has asked the Army for clemency in hopes of having some of the money returned to him.
Johnson's attorney, Lt. Col. Charles Kuhfahl, declined to specify how much of a reduction was asked for, but said the basis for the request was that $300,000 was more than Johnson defrauded from the government — and that Johnson was certain to be reduced in rank and benefits upon his imminent retirement.
“We sent in clemency matters on Monday afternoon,” Kuhfahl said Thursday.
U.S. Army Africa commander Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue II, the convening authority in the case, is expected to decide the matter and finalize Johnson’s court-martial verdict and sentence soon.
Paying the fine might have saved Johnson from incarceration, but it didn’t necessarily end his punishment.
Johnson put in retirement paperwork shortly after his trial ended in June, Kuhfahl said, and is waiting for it to be approved.
His rank and pay grade upon retirement are an open question — to be decided by an Army Grade Determination Review Board, which has the authority to reduce the rank and pay grade of all retiring officers against whom misconduct allegations have been made.
The board can reduce to the last rank at which that officer served honorably, up to two ranks and pay grades.
Johnson’s felony convictions would seem to prove that he had not served honorably as a colonel.
His actions also resulted in his being fired from command of one of the Army’s most illustrious units, having his security clearance taken away, and receiving a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand — each one of them possibly sufficient for a rank reduction.
A reduction in rank would significantly affect Johnson’s retirement pay and benefits, half of which by law go to Kris Johnson, his wife of more than 20 years.
If Johnson does not retire, he could face administrative action — a “show cause” hearing — to put him out of the Army. In those actions, officers who’ve committed misconduct have 30 days to decide to either retire or fight the action and show cause why they should not be separated.
Johnson’s misdeeds came to light after his wife sent an email detailing his affair with Haveen Al Atar, an Iraqi woman 20 years his junior, and his misuse of government cars and travel vouchers to woo her. Additionally, a criminal investigation had been started in Afghanistan, after a contracting officer noticed irregular contracts Johnson had initiated with Al Atar’s father.
At his trial, Johnson said although U.S. Army Europe officials had banned Haveen Al Atar, from its bases and otherwise “tried to strip her from me,” that she remained “the center of my life.”
Johnson’s sentence at court-martial — a reprimand, a fine and a suspended sentence — was widely viewed as insufficient punishment.
After Johnson's trial ended in mid-June, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, USAREUR commander, issued a statement cited by the Army Times saying that many people were “surprised with the sentence, especially given the guilty plea provided by Col. Johnson on the majority of the counts.”
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story failed to attribute to the Army Times a statement from Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling saying many people were “surprised” by the court-martial sentence of a fine and a reprimand.