U.S. News

Second Air Force trainer guilty in sex scandal

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A second Air Force trainer has been convicted in connection with the widening sexual misconduct scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Technical Sergeant Christopher Smith, 33, was found guilty late Wednesday on charges of having unprofessional relationships with two female basic trainees and faces up to a year in prison.

Seven Lackland training instructors have been charged with sexual misconduct at the Army’s Ordnance Center and School in Aberdeen, Maryland, in the largest sex scandal to hit the U.S. military since the 1990s. The seventh, Staff Sergeant Jason Manko, was charged on Thursday, Air Force officials said.

Smith’s conviction comes less than two weeks after another trainer was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the rape or sexual assault of 10 female recruits.

A third training instructor pleaded guilty, admitting he had sex with a female trainee, and sentenced to 90 days confinement.

A total of 38 women have come forward to claim they were victims of inappropriate conduct at the hands of their basic training instructors.

In a mixed verdict, a jury found Smith guilty of seeking to develop an intimate relationship with a teenage trainee, but cleared him of charges of making sexual advances. Smith was found guilty of having a personal social relationship with a second female trainee.

Smith was convicted by a ‘special’ court martial, a streamlined process allowed in cases where the maximum penalty is no more than a year in prison. The sentencing phase of the trial begins Thursday.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn, who had blocked the nomination of the proposed Air Force chief of staff over concerns about Lackland, said on Thursday he has lifted his hold on the appointment of General Mark Welsh.

The Texas Republican said he asked Welsh to conduct a formal review of current Air Force policy and training on sexual assault prevention and inappropriate relationships.

U.S. Representative Jackie Speier has called for hearings in the House, saying the problem of women in the military being sexually harassed and raped by men in command positions is far more widespread than officials have been willing to believe.

Pressure is mounting from the public as well.

Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, the former Navy helicopter pilot who exposed the 1991 Tailhook scandal involving allegations of sexual abuse by military pilots, on Thursday presented petitions signed by more than 10,000 people to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, demanding public hearings into the Lackland case.

Editing by Paul Thomasch, Corrie MacLaggan, Vicki Allen and Jackie Frank