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WASHINGTON — An HIV-positive Navy chaplain pleaded guilty Thursday to a host of sex crimes, including forcing a male midshipman into sex while he served as a counselor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Lt. Cmdr. John Thomas Lee, a 19-year sailor and ordained Catholic priest, was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a military judge, but under terms of a plea agreement will serve only two years in prison. In exchange for the plea, Lee’s attorneys offered little defense during trial.

He could have faced life in prison without parole for the most serious charge, forcible sodomy on the 20-year-old midshipman. Prosecutors described Lee as a classic sexual predator, so bold he posted his military e-mail address on Craigslist and ignored doctors warnings that he could expose others to HIV infection.

Lee, stationed at Marine Corps Station Quantico, was with U.S. Naval Forces Europe in Gaeta, Italy, from April 16, 2001, to Sept. 5, 2003, his only overseas posting.

In one case, while he was chaplain at the Naval Academy, Lee invited an underage plebe back to his apartment, served him alcohol and forced him into oral sex. Two years later, after learning he was infected with HIV, Lee began a sexual relationship with a male Air Force lieutenant colonel and lied about his health issues.

Quantico officials said none of the victims are known to have contracted HIV from Lee. He was also charged with intimidating other sailors into sexual encounters, e-mailing sexual pictures of himself in uniform, and abusing his role as a military chaplain.

Military authorities began investigating Lee earlier this year after a Marine corporal who visited his office at Quantico for counseling complained he was being propositioned by the priest.

In testimony Thursday, the corporal said he was disgusted and betrayed by Lee.

“He’s the chaplain,” he told the court. “He’s the person you go to talk to when you can’t talk to anyone else.”

He said he avoided reporting the acts initially because “saying the chaplain was doing something like that seemed outlandish.”

The midshipman Lee forced into sex testified that he is still “deeply troubled” by the violation at the hands of a man he considered his mentor.

“I didn’t know how to respond,” he said tearfully. “Looking back, I’m a big guy and people might think I could have done something. But I was terrified.

“This was my priest. This was someone I talked to, and knew everything about me.”

Lee listened to that testimony with his eyes closed, and answered only with short sentences for most of the hearing.

But he did offer a short statement before sentencing, offering an apology to his victims, the service and the chaplains corps.

“[They] do such an honorable job, and I brought dishonor to them,” he said. “I sincerely apologize for all the pain I have caused.”

None of the acts Lee pleaded guilty to occurred while he was stationed overseas. He was suspended by the Catholic military archdiocese in June, after allegations of sexual misconduct arose.

On Wednesday, the archdiocese issued a statement saying they had no prior knowledge of any problems with Lee.

“Our responsibility to the spiritual welfare of the men and women in our armed services is fundamental to our mission as a Church,” the statement said. “Any misconduct violates human dignity, ministerial commitment, and that mission.”


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