Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair — who struck a plea deal after being accused of sexually assaulting his former lover — was sentenced Thursday to pay $24,100 in fines and restitution, but not jailed or demoted.
One congresswoman called the sentence "laughable," but Sinclair was all smiles after learning his fate.
"The system worked. I've always been proud of my Army," he said outside the Fort Bragg, N.C., courthouse. "All I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and my wife."
The most serious charges against Sinclair were dropped as part of the deal he made midway through his high-profile court martial, but he still could have faced prison time.
Instead, a military judge gave him a reprimand, ordered him to pay $5,000 a month for four months, plus $4,100 for improper use of his official credit card, NBC affiliate WNCN reported.
His rank was not reduced, but if it's unclear if he will face a reduced pension when he retires. Sinclair now earns about $12,000 a month.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D. Calif., who has spearheaded efforts to curb military sexual assault, was outraged that Sinclair was not tossed out of the Army and stripped of his benefits, saying plenty of government employees "have been canned for less."
"This sentence is a mockery of military justice, a slap on the wrist nowhere close to being proportional to Sinclair’s offenses," she said in a statement.
"Sinclair himself must be shocked by this laughable punishment, since he pleaded with the court to only be demoted two ranks."
At his sentencing hearing earlier this week, an emotional Sinclair had asked to be allowed to retire with a reduced rank but keep his benefits, so his family would not suffer.
"I have a deep and abounding sense of shame," he said in a statement.
Sinclair was the highest-ranking Army officer to face prosecution for sexual assault after his mistress, a captain who served under him in Afghanistan, alleged he forced her to perform oral sex and threatened to kill her.
"This sentence is a mockery of military justice."
The case faltered amid questions about the accuser's credibility and a judge's finding that military commanders, under pressure to take a hard line on sex assault cases, may have scuttled a possible plea deal before the trial.
Testimony was put on hold so Sinclair could negotiate a new agreement, which had him plead guilty to mistreating the captain, having inappropriate relationships with junior female officers, possessing pornography, misusing the credit card and using derogatory language.
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., whose bill to strip brass of their authority of sexual assault cases failed to pass the Senate two weeks ago, said the Sinclair case shows the military justice system is "in dire need of independence from the chain of command."
"It's not only the right thing to do for our men and women in uniform, but would also mitigate issues of undue command influence that we have seen in many trials over the last year," she said.
"When survivors and defense attorneys both agree we need to reform the system, it should tell us the system needs reform.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published March 20 2014, 7:25 AM