Over the past year, we've been following the case of Colonel Scott Carlson, the Army officer who tried to fake a paternity test, to avoid paying child support.
Carlson attempted his stunt in the spring of 2007, while a student at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. His "partner in crime" was another student, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Adkins. Facing an increase in child support payments, Carlson claimed he wasn't the father of his former girlfriend's child.
To make his case, the Colonel requested a paternity test. And that's when the scam began. On the appointed day, Adkins showed up with Carlson's military identification card, and offered to take the test. Officials immediately saw through the charade, and launched an investigation. But, by the time the probe was completed, the two officers had graduated from the war college, and moved on to new assignments.
Still, they couldn't evade the long arm of the law. By the end of last year, both were in a Pennsylvania courtroom, facing a host of charges relating to the paternity test scheme. As in many criminal cases, there was legal maneuvering and delays. A proposed trial date in the early spring was pushed back into the summer.
With little fanfare, Scott Carlson finally went on trial earlier this month, on multiple counts of conspiracy, attempted theft by deception and solicitation to tamper with public records. A jury in Cumberland County (where Carlisle Barracks is located) found him guilty. Carlson will be sentenced in December; his fellow conspirator, Lieutenant Colonel Adkins, goes on trial next month.
But there's an interesting little nugget in this account of the trial. The Somerset County (PA) Daily American identifies Carlson as a retired Colonel. Over the summer, he left active duty, grabbing his pension benefits and avoiding a potential date with military justice. Had he remained in uniform, Carlson could have received additional punishment from the Army, regardless of what happened in the civilian courtroom.
Now we know why the Colonel's attorneys wanted to delay the trial. While the court date was pushed back, someone in the Army personnel system was doing Carlson a major favor, approving his request to retire. That's why he strolled into the court room as a former officer, rather than an active duty Colonel.
Carlson's "retiree" status is rather stunning, since it contradicts normal military protocols. As we've noted in other posts, the armed forces typically freeze personnel actions when a military member is under investigation, or facing criminal charges. That means no promotion, change-of-station assignment, or retirement until the matter is resolved in most cases.
Obviously, the Carlson episode is atypical. In fact, someone ought to ask the Army brass why a Colonel facing civilian felony charges was allowed to retire just months before his trial, and (presumably) never faced military justice for his actions--that assuming that Carlson didn't receive an administrative slap on the wrist before leaving active duty. In any case, the Army let an accused felon off the hook.
Pennsylvania prosecutors are seeking a prison term for Colonel Carlson, and that raises another issue for the Army. Normally, a felony conviction and imprisonment is sufficient reason to stop a retiree's pension payments, particularly if the crimes in question occurred while the member was on active duty.
But, since Carlson retired before his trial, that gives the Army a little wiggle room to keep paying his pension while the retired Colonel serves his jail sentence. We should note that the interruption of pension payments for convicted felons is not automatic. As part of a plea deal, the Air Force agreed to keep paying the pension of Brian Reagan, a former Master Sergeant who tried to spy for Libya (and other countries) after retiring from active duty. Reagan pleaded guilty to the charges against him, and the service keeps paying his pension to the convicted spy's family.
The rationale behind the Army's handling of the Carlson case is abundantly clear. The paternity scam was enormously embarrassing for the service, particularly since the crime was committed by two of its "best and brightest," students at the prestigious Army War College. In hopes of minimizing future public relations damage, the Army was content to let Carlson retire and face trial as a former Colonel.
It's also obvious that Carlson had his own connections. Selection for the war college identifies as an officer as an up-and-comer, someone destined for more important jobs and higher rank. Virtually all war college students have mentors and sponsors in the flag ranks, senior officers who can pull strings and get things done for their protege.
It would be interesting to know who went to bat for Scott Carlson and arranged his "retirement" before the trial in Pennsylvania. As with other cases involving high-ranking officers, this one stinks, too.
One final note: the child at the center of the case is a daughter Carlson fathered with his girlfriend, who was an enlisted solider in his unit at the time. As you might have guessed, the Colonel was never punished for fraternization under the UCMJ, either.