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Pacific edition, Friday, August 31, 2007

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Navy corpsman accused of forging documents to enroll his child in kindergarten a year early told a jury Wednesday that he was innocent.

Pointing to the chevrons on his sleeves and noting his 15 years of service, the petty officer first class said, “I’ve worked very hard for this, I’m not going to throw it away for a few dollars.”

Prosecutors say the petty officer, of Headquarters Company, 7th Communications Battalion, went to Bechtel Elementary School last August and signed papers stating his daughter was 5 years old, the cut-off age for enrollment. Prosecutors contend he also presented at least one document to the school with an altered birth date. When he came to the school to discuss the discrepancies, prosecutors argued, he got angry and snatched his paperwork out of the hands of a Department of Defense Dependents Schools registrar to cover his tracks.

The petty officer is charged with multiple counts, including making false official statements, larceny, forgery, assault, wrongfully impeding an investigation and obtaining government services under false pretenses.

Prosecutors said he was having financial problems and launched the alleged scheme so he wouldn’t have to spend money on day care. Company 1st Sgt. Johnny Higdon testified about the petty officer’s alleged financial problems. He told the court that his command had received several phone calls from the corpsman’s debtors.

The defendant testified some of the debts were from someone purchasing things in his name.

Bechtel Principal Joe Masters testified he noticed problems with the paperwork, including documents where the birth date of the corpsman’s daughter appeared to have been changed.

Masters said he tried repeatedly to get him to come into his office, and when he did, “he admitted he falsified paperwork.”

Central to the case is the petty officer’s allegation that his daughter was sexually assaulted by an adult in Hawaii. He did not testify in depth about the alleged assault, but he said counselors urged him to place his daughter in an academic environment with other children to “bring her out of her shell,” he said.

He shares custody of his child with his ex-wife, a Marine staff sergeant stationed on the island. The two live together with their daughter and a child from another relationship, he testified.

The staff sergeant testified that when the cost of transportation, meals and school supplies were totaled, having their daughter attend Bechtel was only marginally less expensive than placing her in day care. She also stated that her mother was visiting Okinawa while their daughter was attending kindergarten, eliminating the need for paid child care.

As for the forged date, the petty officer said he got the birth years of his two children mixed up.

Closing arguments in the court-martial were to begin at 8 a.m. Thursday. Stars and Stripes does not identify the families of children who are suspected victims of sexual assault.

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