Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair faces possible courts-martial on charges that include forced sex, pornography, violating an order, alcohol use, engaging in inappropriate relationships, misusing a government travel charge card, and conduct unbecoming an officer. (Army)
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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — On paper, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was the perfect commander — a trained paratrooper in the Army for 27 years, a Ranger and the 82nd Airborne Division's deputy commanding general for support.
But Sinclair, 50 and married, was leading a secret life.
Prosecutors say Sinclair engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior that began in 2007, involving four subordinates and a civilian, and took place in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, as well as Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Hood, Texas.
In emotional, often-tearful testimony at his Article 32 hearing here in early November, one female captain who worked for Sinclair described their three-year sexual relationship, saying he once threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about it.
The captain described her deeply conflicted feelings about the relationship with Sinclair, whom she admitted she still loved in spite of his abusive and demeaning treatment of her. She testified about his controlling ways; he told her how much water to drink and when she could use the bathroom.
"In a [expletive]-up way, I still love him, and I don't want him to be mad at me," said the woman, whom Army Times is not identifying by name because she is an alleged sexual assault victim.
In addition, two former subordinates testified that Sinclair asked them for nude photos of themselves via email. One sent photos of herself, after she received breast augmentation surgery, and an explicit video, and the other sent photos she found on a pornographic website and passed off as herself. Both testified that they were never physically intimate with Sinclair, but that the relationships were deeply personal.
The women testified at the Fort Bragg hearing, which will help determine whether Sinclair will be court-martialed.
"Gen. Sinclair has engaged in a deliberate, degrading course of conduct where he targets his subordinates to satisfy his abhorrent desires," said Lt. Col. William Helixon, the lead prosecutor.
Defense lawyer Maj. Elizabeth Ramsey said the woman accusing him of a sexual relationship was a scorned lover trying to ruin the life of an outstanding warrior and patriot.
"Her lies are her fury," Ramsey said. "And these charges are Jeff Sinclair's hell."
Sinclair is charged with 26 specifications of violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Although the Army refuses to release the details of the charges against Sinclair, an Army statement said the charges include:
• Forcible sodomy.
• Wrongful sexual contact.
• Indecent acts with subordinates.
• Maintaining inappropriate relationship with female subordinates.
• Maltreatment of subordinates.
• Wrongful use of his government-issued travel card.
• Obstruction of justice.
The hearing officer will collect the findings and recommend whether to proceed to the convening authority, who in this case is Lt. Gen. Daniel Allyn, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps.
If the case proceeds and the charges remain in their current form, Sinclair could be discharged from the Army and sentenced to life in prison under the toughest punishment. Because there are no minimum sentences in the military justice system, Sinclair could be convicted but not punished.
Risking her career
The main witness against Sinclair was a female captain under his command who detailed a relationship in which the two had cavorted in Iraq, Germany, near Fort Hood, and Fort Huachuca, Ariz. They traded explicit text messages and had trysts in hotels, parking garages and their shared office space.
The female captain said she repeatedly tried to end the relationship and, while they were stationed in Afghanistan, she asked Sinclair to transfer her out of his command.
Sinclair, she said, told her at first that he had permission from his wife to sleep with other women. However, when the woman suggested she might meet Sinclair's wife one day, Sinclair grew angry.
Crying in court, the captain said Sinclair threatened to kill her and her family if she revealed their relationship to his wife. She said she believed that because of his combat skills, "he would not hesitate to kill someone … he had killed people in combat.
"He said he would kill my family, and he would do it in a way that nobody would know it was him," she said.
In two instances, she testified Sinclair ended such conversations by exposing himself and physically forcing her to perform oral sex.
When a prosecutor asked if Sinclair should have been able to tell that she did not want to participate, the captain responded: "Yes, I was crying."
Sinclair's former commanding officer, Maj. Gen. James Huggins, testified that he launched the criminal investigation March 19 after the captain came to his office at the division's headquarters in Afghanistan late at night and in tears to say she had been involved in an affair with Sinclair.
Huggins was then the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Huggins said the captain understood that adultery is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and that making such a report could end her military career. After making her report, her security clearance was suspended, she was relieved of her duties and she was referred for a mental health assessment.
According to The Associated Press, she is under investigation for adultery and fraternization, but the status of that investigation is unclear. She said she was not granted immunity for her testimony against Sinclair.
She admitted to coming forward only after she uncovered emails between Sinclair and another female subordinate that suggested the other subordinate and Sinclair were intimate.
"I felt like I knew he didn't care about me, that I couldn't lie to myself anymore, that I couldn't do it anymore," she said.
She said she wants to take responsibility for her actions.
"I felt like a horrible person and a still feel like a horrible person now," she said.
‘I wanted to believe'
The woman testified she fell in love with Sinclair while working for him in Iraq in 2008-09, when he was a colonel and the commander of the 172nd Heavy Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The two began sleeping together. She described herself as feeling "incredibly honored" by Sinclair's affections because she respected him deeply.
"I felt like a silly schoolgirl, really fascinated and extremely attracted to him," she said.
She described his behavior as at times warm, loving and nurturing to her career, and alternately cold, distant and demeaning — particularly if he did not get his way.
In Iraq, she cautioned him after she heard him using vulgar language to describe a female officer, and he replied, "I'm a general, I'll do what the [expletive] I want."
After they redeployed from Iraq to Germany, she confronted Sinclair, saying he was ignoring her and that it was hurting her at work. He told her, she said, that he had been angry she had left him and that he was in a loveless, sexless marriage.
She said this allowed her to hope with a clear conscience that he would divorce his wife.
However, he claimed at first that he could not leave his wife because it would damage his career, and later that it would be harmful to his children to end his marriage.
Eventually, he told her he planned to file the divorce papers during their Afghanistan deployment in 2011-12.
"Part of me [believed him]. Part of me didn't," she said. "I wanted to believe he loved me and wanted to be with me."
Meanwhile in Germany, the two met for sex at her home, and when that became inconvenient for Sinclair, in hotels and a parking garage.
When she went on a temporary assignment to Fort Huachuca, he concocted an official reason to have the Army pay for him to visit. But the visit went sour, she said, when she accused him of using her for sex — a frequent argument for them — and attempted to break up with him.
Sinclair told her he would not permit her to leave him, and that because of his rank and influence, he could ruin her career with a phone call.
"He told me I didn't have a choice, that I belonged to him," she said.
A turn for the worse
During their Nov. 6 cross-examination of the female captain, defense lawyers for the general worked to paint her as a jilted lover seeking revenge.
Defense attorney Ramsey suggested in her questioning that the woman was obsessed with Sinclair and determined to break up his marriage.
"You wanted to be the general's wife, didn't you?" Ramsey asked.
"Absolutely not, ma'am," the woman responded.
Ramsey also confronted the captain with explicit text messages in which she referred the general as "Mr. Sexy Pants." His pet name for her was Panda. The captain also expressed her love and admiration for Sinclair in writing, comparing him in a birthday card to George Washington, a general he greatly admired.
In an effort to demonstrate that their sexual relationship was consensual, Ramsey repeatedly questioned the woman about her attraction and sexual desire for Sinclair, reading from the messages.
The woman reacted in humiliation and several times broke down crying. Just before the hearing officer called a recess, Helixon objected, saying, "She's answered every conceivable question."
Under the questioning, the woman conceded that she had enjoyed sex with Sinclair at one time, but that toward the end of their relationship, it became demeaning.
"At certain points in time, yes, it was very pleasing" she said.
In particular, by the time they deployed together to Afghanistan in 2011, she said the sex had become abrupt and their relationship less affectionate.
Sinclair, she said, made a practice of brazenly groping her, and she wanted badly for it to stop. He would walk into her office and expose himself so that she could furtively perform oral sex, she said.
She described how in one instance, in the midst of arguing, as she was in tears, Sinclair pressed her head toward his exposed crotch.
Ramsey had the captain show with her hands how Sinclair pressed down with one hand on her neck and the other on her shoulder, as the captain tried to pull back.
"I just remember being completely miserable at that point," she said.
The woman said she reached her lowest point emotionally while on leave in January, and had a text message exchange with Sinclair threatening suicide and to inform Huggins.
Sinclair responded with texts alternately urging her to toughen up, demanding that she not threaten him and saying he would hit her if she talked about killing herself again.
The two eventually reached a sort of detente. She said he assured her he would behave respectfully and professionally toward her and she would continue to work for him.
She reported the relationship, she said, after finding the affectionate emails between Sinclair and the other subordinate. She said she decided she needed to get out.
"When I saw those … all my worst fears came true, and I knew he didn't love me," she said.
She did not intend to see Sinclair charged with any crime or for him to go to prison. She said it was her Army attorney who told her she had described Sinclair committing a sex crime against her.
"To be clear, I didn't want to them to bring charges of sexual assault against him," she said.
Looking for affirmation
The two female officers who testified that Sinclair asked them for nude photos each said separately that she met Sinclair professionally, and he became her friend and mentor, sharing a relationship marked by personal confidences, warmth and flirtation-mostly over email and the telephone.
Sinclair's personal charisma and power as a senior officer played a role, as the women asked him at various points to provide direct intervention to help their careers.
Each said she has since been punished for her relationship with Sinclair, a married man, but that she had never been physically intimate with him.
One of them testified that at Sinclair's request, she sent him a photo of herself earlier this year, showing off new breast augmentation surgery. When she told him she planned to get the surgery, he emailed her saying, "Why are you modifying that little body that I love?" She said he later requested "before and after pictures."
Later, she sent a video of herself in an unspecified "indecent act."
Each time, Sinclair never forced her, she said, and that she had been looking for affirmation. The two had often discussed difficulties in her love life. Sinclair responded to the video in an email saying, "Nice. If I were single, I'd tear that [expletive] up."
She met Sinclair while working for him as a company commander during their 2008 Iraq deployment, when he was a colonel and the commander of the 172nd Heavy Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The relationship then was strictly professional, but when she followed up in 2010 and the two established a personal friendship, Sinclair expressed a sexual interest in her.
"He pretty much put it out there that if I wanted to anything beyond the professional, it would happen," she said.
In 2010, she questioned Sinclair about rumors he was having an affair, which he confirmed.
"I'm telling you this situation is not going to end in your favor," she said she told him.
The other woman who sent him photos testified that over the course of a nine-year friendship with Sinclair, he at various points expressed a desire to sleep with her, but she rebuffed him. Their friendship was marked by professions of love from both sides and periodic quarrels, she said.
"I really cared about him as a friend," she said. "He fulfilled an emotional need, and I thought he was a great person."
In emails, he called her "my hot little girl." In one email, she told him, "If you didn't have kids, I'd try to take you away."
The two met in 2003, when she was a soldier in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Sinclair, then a lieutenant colonel, approved her leave from Iraq so she could resolve an immigration matter.
The two established a friendship and met in person only three times.
Earlier this year, while he was in Afghanistan, he also asked her for nude photos of herself. She said the request made her uncomfortable and she instead copied an "obscene" photo of a woman from a pornographic website, cropped out the woman's head, and sent it to him.
"Because of who it was from, I thought it was OK," she said of Sinclair's request.
Sinclair responded with a lengthy email that closed, "OK, got to go enjoy these." Later, he wrote that he wanted more pictures.
She said she was embarrassed by her actions, but she said she did not want to lose Sinclair as a friend.
"I thought he was amazing person and military officer. He was really amazing, and I didn't want to lose that," she said.
At the time, she was stationed in South Korea, and she asked for Sinclair's intervention to get a transfer to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade in Hawaii. She was ultimately transferred to Fort Lee, Va.
She said she was investigated for adultery and fraternization, and given a letter of reprimand — since placed on hold — and ordered to testify.
She is married and said her husband felt betrayed, and she felt she betrayed him.
"There's probably no marriage now," she said.
Under questioning, she agreed it was the government that showed the photos or emails to her husband.
A fourth woman testified about Sinclair's behavior toward her. While not overtly sexual, she testified that in the course of his mentorship of her, they often exchanged text messages and emails.
Earlier this year, while Sinclair was at Fort Bragg, on leave from Afghanistan, the two made plans to have brunch together and discuss her career. She had to cancel because she had duty that day.
Sinclair sent her an email, frustrated about the cancellation. In the email, he said he had planned to take her to a horse farm, that he wanted to impress her and that he was "smitten by her."
She testified she did not respond to the comment.
Testimony from others
Ramsey, the defense lawyer, suggested in her closing argument that the general was guilty only of adultery and fraternization, punishable by a written reprimand. She said Sinclair had passed a polygraph test, during which he denied ever forcing the captain to have oral sex with him.
She said Sinclair had suffered for months through the unjust public humiliation of his family by media reports and that allowing the charges to go forward would cause "actual sexual assault victims to suffer."
Without any witnesses to the alleged assault or physical evidence, it has been the primary mission of the three military lawyers assigned to defend Sinclair to destroy the female captain's credibility. They characterized her as a "crazy" and manipulative "back-stabber" who blamed others for her mistakes.
"She wanted to take everything from him — his wife, his family, his career," Ramsey said. "She is adding lies in a desperate attempt to get someone to believe that Gen. Sinclair forced her to be with him."
As the hearing entered its fourth day Nov. 8, the defense called to the witness stand Chief Warrant Officer Jose Serbia. He was a co-worker and workout buddy of the female captain. He said she first tearfully confided about the affair March 19, the day she found messages from another woman in the general's military email account, which she checked as part of her job.
Serbia testified that the woman told him how Sinclair had threatened to kill her. But when Serbia asked the captain if Sinclair had raped her, he said she replied that he had not. It wasn't until she later made a formal complaint that she alleged Sinclair forced her to perform oral sex.
The defense also produced a series of male officers who praised Sinclair while describing the female captain as a liar and loose cannon.
Capt. Joseph D'Elia, who served as Sinclair's executive officer in Afghanistan, described the accuser as "volatile" and her moods as erratic. However, he later agreed with lead prosecutor Helixon that the secret affair with the general might explain her emotional swings.
First Lt. Michael Piccini, an aide to Sinclair, described the accuser as "not truthful" and characterized Sinclair as a "great leader" and mentor whom he had never seen act inappropriately.
Helixon pounced, asking the young lieutenant if a "great leader" carried on a three-year extramarital affair with a direct subordinate or asked other female officers to provide him with nude photos of themselves.
"No," Piccini agreed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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