Two more Air Force trainers charged in growing sex scandal
By MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE | Los Angeles Times | Published: June 27, 2012
HOUSTON — Two more instructors at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio have been charged in a growing sexual scandal involving trainers and female recruits at one of the nation's busiest military training centers.
The charges come as a dozen boot camp instructors are being investigated for having illicit relationships with trainees at the base, and half face courts-martial.
The scandal began last summer when a trainee reported her suspicions. Staff Sgt. Luis Walker was removed from his job and later charged with having illicit sexual contact with 10 women, allegedly raping one. He goes on trial July 16 and faces a potential life sentence.
The scope of the misconduct proved wider than authorities first suspected. Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado revealed during a recent hearing that he also had illicit contact with 10 women -- not just one, as he had previously admitted under a plea bargain. He was given a brief jail sentence in return for serving as a witness for the prosecution.
Citing the unfolding scandal, an Ohio congressman called for an immediate briefing with Gen. Edward Rice Jr., head of the Air Education and Training Command.
“The nature of their position grants [instructors] a great deal of authority over young and impressionable recruits,” said Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who serves on the House Armed Service Committee, in a statement.
“During this process, recruits should be learning the leadership values requisite to build the finest Air Force in the world,” he said Tuesday. “Instead, it appears that a systemic breakdown led to the creation of an environment that harbored the basest level of criminal activity at an unimaginable scale.”
Earlier this month, California Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) called for a congressional hearing to investigate the scandal at Lackland.
"What is happening at Lackland is systemic and warrants this committee's immediate attention," Speier wrote in a letter to the House Armed Services Committee on June 20. "The fact that these assaults were widespread and took place over many months flies in the face of the 'zero tolerance' policy touted by our military leaders."
The latest charges, which were announced Tuesday, come after Rice ordered an investigation into problems in the training program that potentially contributed to instructor misconduct. A report based on that investigation is expected in two months.
"It's important to look even deeper and wider to identify any systemic issues that may place our youngest Airmen at risk in any basic or technical training environment. If there are, we need to address them," Rice said in a statement.
Master Sgt. Jamey Crawford was charged with having a sexual relationship with a basic trainee, giving her alcohol and committing adultery. Tech. Sgt. Christopher Smith was charged with trying to develop a sexual relationship with a trainee, making advances toward her, having a personal social relationship with a second woman and obstructing justice.
No trial date has been set for the two, who were both instructors in Lackland's 331st Training Squadron.