WICHITA FALLS, Texas – A Sheppard Air Force Base training commander used his government travel card to pay for his children's school lunches, buy airline tickets for relatives, eat at restaurants and pay a utility bill, a witness testified Tuesday during a military hearing.
Col. Samuel Lofton III also tried to buy $410 worth of concert tickets, but that charge was rejected, an Air Force financial service officer testified on the second day of Lofton's Article 32 hearing.
This hearing, similar to civilian grand jury proceedings, will determine if there is enough evidence for a court-martial on numerous charges, including financial wrongdoing and rape. If Lofton goes to trial and is convicted, he faces up to life in a military prison.
Lofton's attorneys declined to comment after the hearing Monday.
The financial service officer, 1st Lt. Clint Cooper, said he didn't have a total for expenses on the card. But military documents indicate at least $10,000, including pay for unauthorized trips and reimbursement for trips he never took.
Testimony Monday included accounts of sexual assault and rape from three alleged victims.
One civilian worker testified Lofton raped and twice assaulted her while they were alone in the building at night. She said he forcibly kissed her and put her hand on his genitals and another time raped her.
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys asked if the alleged rape victim reported the incidents. She said she sometimes saw Lofton afterward and that their interactions were pleasant and professional.
Under cross-examination, she acknowledged signing a card for Lofton after he was removed in May amid evidence of financial wrongdoing. She wrote that Lofton had her "deepest respect" and said she was praying that he would "weather this storm."
The Associated Press does not normally identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
A second woman, a civilian not supervised by Lofton, testified that he forcibly kissed her and put her hand on his genitals in separate incidents in 2006. She said she told him to stop both times, and that she told a superior but nothing was done.
The third woman, who is in the military, testified about Lofton's unbecoming conduct charges, which stem from allegations he made lewd comments and tried to form a relationship with her, according to military court documents. She said Lofton made several sexually suggestive comments and called her at home, but that she was not offended and never felt like a victim.
Lofton is charged with rape, being absent without leave, 20 counts of larceny, four counts of indecent assault, two counts of dereliction of duty and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
Lofton, in the military since 1981, was commander for about three years at Sheppard's 82nd Training Group, which has two squadrons that provide training for head aircraft mechanics. The group's other two squadrons train airmen how to be engine mechanics and how to build and load bombs and other weapons. The training group has about 2,100 students on base at a time.
A Pentagon report issued last year revealed that reports of sexual assaults in the military increased by about 24 percent in 2006. A 2004 report said sexual assault in the Air Force was more widespread than officials first thought.
Air Force teams found that many rapes were not reported because victims feared they would be disciplined, and response programs for victims were inadequate.