The Army has demoted Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair two levels in rank for sexual misconduct following his guilty pleas at a court-martial earlier this year, the Army secretary announced Friday.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh said Sinclair, once a rising star in the Army, will be forced to retire as a lieutenant colonel. Sinclair, who pleaded guilty to adultery, improper relationships with female officers and other crimes, was fined $20,000 at his court-martial in March but avoided jail.
In tumultuous proceedings at Ft. Bragg, N.C., that embarrassed both Sinclair and the Army, the general admitted an illegal three-year affair with a junior female officer and engaging in inappropriate relationships with two others. He also pleaded guilty to conduct unbecoming an officer, possessing pornography, and misusing a government charge card.
The 27-year veteran of five combat tours had faced up to life in prison if convicted of the original charges against him.
Sinclair was allowed to retire and retain benefits, rather than being dismissed from the service for his behavior.
McHugh said it was the first time in a decade that the Army has reduced a retiring general officer two ranks. The demotion will slash Sinclair's retirement pay.
"Sinclair displayed a pattern of inappropriate and at times illegal behavior both while serving as a brigadier general and a colonel," McHugh said in a statement. "I therefore decided there was sufficient evidence and cause to deny him those benefits."
McHugh said he was prevented by law from taking further action and did what was "legally sustainable."
McHugh noted that Sinclair, 51, was entitled to a pension despite being convicted of crimes. He suggest that Congress consider changing the law "to allow greater flexibility and accountability."
The government's case against Sinclair was undercut by allegations that Sinclair’s accuser, an Army captain, had lied on the stand. And the military judge concluded that the case may have been tainted by political considerations.
Under terms of a plea deal, the government dropped charges that Sinclair threatened to kill his lover and her family if she reported the affair; forced her to perform oral sex; and engaged in "open and notorious" sex with the captain.
In a statement Friday, Sinclair's civilian lawyer, Richard Scheff, said that until Sinclair retires in several weeks, he remains a one-star general. He said Sinclair has taken responsibility for his mistakes and agreed to a reduction in retirement benefits.
"He is a highly decorated war hero ... and it's right that he be permitted to retire honorably," Scheff said. "Other senior military leaders who committed the same indiscretions, and worse, have faced far fewer consequences."
Sinclair's sentencing in March was criticized as too lenient by some members of Congress and by advocacy groups that have accused the military of protecting senior commanders accused of sexual misconduct.