Convicted Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair Could Still Walk Away with a Big Pension

Convicted Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair Could Still Walk Away with a Big Pension

Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair was reprimanded and sentenced last week to pay a $20,000 fine for carrying on an adulterous affair with a female captain, having improper relationships with two other women, and abusing a government credit card. The female captain maintains he sexually assaulted her, but those charges were dropped as part of a plea bargain. It was assumed that Sinclair would have to retire at a lower rank because of his indiscretions, but USA Today reports on Tuesday that may not be the case. At stake is $832,000 in retirement benefits. 

Sinclair's lawyer, Richard Scheff, is pushing the Army to let Sinclair retire as a general, not a lieutenant colonel. Scheff acknowledges the ask is a big one, as it's hard to argue Sinclair "served honorably" while he was a general. Sinclair's affair with the captain began while he was a lieutenant colonel. Typically, the "grade determination" review board will allow offending officers to retire at the last rank they served "satisfactorily," which would not be a general in Sinclair's case. But this kind of panel is somewhat arcane and rarely used, so even military law experts can't predict what decision they'll reach. Sinclair could luck out. 

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Update, 3:05 pm: Secretary of the Army John McHugh tells the House Armed Services Committee that he actually has the final say about Sinclair's rank. "The process is still ongoing. I have to make final certifications about rank and retirement," he said. 

Original: Retiring as a general would afford Sinclair $832,000 more in benefits if he lives to be 82. That sounds like a lot, but military retirement benefits are famously generous, especially for high-ranking officers. A fix in the 2007 Defense Authorization Act actually allows some three- and four-star generals to make more in retirement than they did while working. Many servicemembers are able to retire earlier than their civilian counterparts. 

It's not clear how much Scheff will be able to influence the review board. But since Sinclair was first accused of sexual assault two years ago, Scheff has played up Sinclair's role as a family man. His wife, Rebecca, has defended him to the last — she's penned Washington Post op-eds and done morning show interviews suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cause servicemen to cheat. At Sinclair's sentencing hearing, she referred to her 10- and 12-year-old sons and asked the judge to sentence her husband in a way that "doesn't punish us any further."

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Sinclair got a slap on the wrist and a $20,000 fine (to pay back the government funds he used to secretly visit the captain while on duty). Now, he could walk away with way more money in benefits — for his family, of course. 

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