Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Carlson File

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.


streiff said...

Carlson should lose his pension. Unlike an enlisted retiree, a commissioned officer is technically on retainer and a felony conviction makes you ineligible to draw it.

You'll recall Oliver North was in danger of losing his retirement after his conviction and was only saved by his timely, and well deserved, pardon.

Mrs. Davis said...

More from the Carlisle Sentinel,

Carlson restricted his admission of guilt to what he said was the one time he broke his marriage vows in 1997, when he fathered the girl for whom the test was intended to establish paternity.

“In my mind all I did was break a marriage vow, which is not a crime,” Carlson said.

Carlson was asked whether, in the military, having a sexual relationship with an enlisted soldier when he was a higher-ranking executive officer at the same fort was a problem. He said he consulted the Army’s legal department about it and the decision was that because of the way it had been handled and because it did not disrupt the organization, it was ruled a private matter.

“I regret that,” Carlson said of his affair. “I dealt with it and took responsibility for that and tried to move on and do the right thing.”

“Did that affect your career in any way?” asked his attorney, Dennis Boyle, of Boyle, Neblett & Wenger in Camp Hill.

“No,” Carlson said, explaining that in the two years following his affair, his commander ranked him highest out of the seven and then nine majors who were there.

I'd agree there's a lot more wrong here than has yet been revealed.

Mrs. Davis said...

There are a couple of other articles at the Sentinel that reveal a bit more about Carlson and that the War College was very cooperative in the investigation. At least the whole army doesn't come out stinky.

RPB said...

Alright, some mention has to be made of what both candidates said about the Ukraine during the debate. Both, very somberily, acknowledged it was a serious issue. Are we being prepared for conflict in the Ukraine? It seems like Washington is starting to turn up the noise with regards to the country. Any thoughts?

Unknown said...

Streiff--Agree completely; not only should the "Convict Colonel" lose his pension, he should have never been allowed to retire. Someone in the Army hierarchy moved mountains for him, and the public deserves to know who it was, since the taxpayer will be on the hook for his $80K annula pension for the next 30-40 years.

Mrs. Davis--In past posts on the Carlson affair (no pun intended), I applauded the Army War College for its assistance. It took authorities in PA a few months to investigate/develop their case, and by that time, Carlson and his buddy had already graduated. The Army did the right thing by getting them back to PA for trial, but the idea of letting Carlson retire is unfathomable, IMO.