BERLIN (CBSDC/AP) — The former commander of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade was sentenced to a $300,000 fine and issued a formal reprimand Thursday after being found guilty at a court martial of multiple counts of fraud, conduct unbecoming of an officer, bigamy and other charges related to an alleged long-term extra-marital affair he had with a woman he met in Iraq when they both lived in Europe.
As part of the sentence, Col. James Johnson III will have to serve five years in jail if the fine is unpaid, said Army spokeswoman Hilde Patton.
He had faced possible decades in prison and dismissal from the Army as a maximum sentence. The panel of five colonels who presided over the court martial in the city of Kaiserslautern did not explain their decision.
Johnson had pleaded guilty to 13 counts against him and was found guilty of two other counts by the panel of officers hearing the case. Twelve other counts were dismissed as the proceedings opened Sunday.
Johnson used more than $100,000 of government funds and equipment to help support the Iraqi woman and pay to rendezvous at overseas hotels during their relationship, reports WNEW-FM national security correspondent Chas Henry.
Johnson, a West Point graduate, was relieved of his command of the Vicenza, Italy-based, 173rd in March 2011 amid the investigation. The son of retired Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson Jr., who led the Fort Bragg, 82nd Airborne Division during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the junior commander was seen as a rising star in the Army before the charges were levied.
“I hope Col. Johnson was merciful on his soliders when they were accused of similar misconduct,” said attorney Haytham Faraj, a former U.S. Marine who now defends military people facing official charges.
James Johnson was accused of having carried on an affair with an Iraqi woman he met in Iraq in 2005-06, who was the daughter of his cultural adviser, and pleaded guilty to marrying her before being divorced from his own wife in a ceremony that was carried out by proxies for both of the two in Montana in November.
The woman, identified in court documents as Haveen Alladin Muhammed Al-Atar, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Among the charges that Johnson admitted to was the accusation that he made numerous trips to visit the woman in the Netherlands using official vehicles and travel cards, which are government-issued credit cards.
He also acknowledged arranging official transport worth thousands of dollars for the woman and paying tens of thousands of dollars of contracts for her father for things that “were neither produced nor received.” The panel also found him guilty of giving the family an Army cell phone on which they ran up more than $80,000 in charges.
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