Retired Army Colonel Scott Carlson has been sentenced to at least four months in jail for his role in a rigged paternity test, aimed at ending the former officer's child support obligations.
Carlson, 53, was ordered to serve between four and 23 months in jail and pay a $500 fine for his role in the conspiracy. The sentence was based on Carlson's conviction on felony charges of tampering with public records, and attempted theft by deception.
A judge in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania imposed the prison term today, three months after Carlson was found guilty on the charges. It is unclear if the former Army officer will remain free on bail while attorneys appeal his conviction. During today's proceedings, the judge announced that bail would be set at $75,000. But after sentencing, Carlson was led away in handcuffs and placed in a holding cell. Later, he was spotted in the back of a police van.
It was an ignominious end for a Colonel who was once on the military fast-track. Back in the spring of 2007, Carlson was a student at the Army War College, also located in Cumberland County. The war college is viewed as a plum assignment for officers on the rise; virtually every Army general is a graduate of the school or one of its sister institutions, run by the other services.
But Carlson had a little problem. As a battalion executive officer at Fort Lee, Virginia in 1997, he had an affair with an enlisted, female subordinate. The liaison produced a daughter, who is now 10 years ago. Carlson admitted he was the father, and agreed to pay monthly support for the child.
A decade later, Carlson had apparently grown tired of child support, and hatched a scheme to end the payments. In the spring of 2007, he appeared at the child support enforcement division in Cumberland County, and announced that the girl was not his child. Office personnel informed Carlson that he would have to submit to a DNA test to prove his contention.
Enter Carlson's classmate, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Adkins. On the day of the test, Adkins arrived at the child support office, claiming that he was Carlson. Staffers immediately had their doubts, since Adkins looks nothing like Colonel Carlson. But they went ahead with the test, which confirmed their suspicions--and exposed the scam.
By the time the crime was confirmed, both Carlson and Adkins had graduated from the war college and moved on to new assignments. But, with cooperation from the school and the Army's Criminal Investigative Division, Carlson and Adkins were returned to Pennsylvania to face justice.
After some legal maneuvering by the Colonel's defense team, Carlson finally went to trail in September and was quickly found guilty. Given the failed scam--and the evidence presented against him--Carlson's conviction was hardly a surprise.
But as the September proceedings got underway, the reason for the legal delay became apparent: Colonel Carlson was identified as a retired officer, confirming that he left active duty after his indictment. That revelation stunned many observers; in most cases, the military refuses to let members separate or retire until their legal problems are resolved.
Clearly, someone in the Army hierarchy threw the Colonel a legal lifeline, letting Carlson secure his pension (and other retirement benefits) before that fateful day in court. True, Carlson will indisposed for upwards of two years, but he'll emerge from jail with an annual pension of more than $4,000 a month. Not too bad for a convicted felon.
Prosecutors (and Carlson's ex-girlfriend) announced satisfaction with today's sentence. His partner-in-crime, Lt Col Adkins, goes on trial next month. Adkins cooperated in the prosecution of Colonel Carlson, so he'll likely receive a lighter sentence. The January trial will also answer the other burning question: did Adkins receive the same favor from the Army, allowing him to face justice as a retiree, rather than an active duty officer. It may not sound like much of a distinction, but for a military defendant in civilian court, the difference is huge.
2009 is shaping up as a less-than-happy New Year for Carlson and Adkins, but it could be worse. Thanks to their friends in high places, their jail sentences will be relatively light, and their retirement benefits intact.