The first soldier to have his false arrest record expunged in connection with a now-defunct National Guard recruiting program known as G-RAP said the fight for accountability for Army leaders is not over.
“I feel a sense of accomplishment because now they’re hearing what we’ve been trying to say for over a decade,” captain Gilberto De Leon told Fox News in an exclusive interview. “There is some justice, but what they are doing is not enough.”
ARMY INJUSTICE: THOUSANDS OF SOLDIERS, SLAPED VETERANS WITH MISLEADING CRIMINAL RECORDS
De León is among nearly 2,000 soldiers slapped with a false arrest record due to their involvement in a National Guard recruiting program known as G-RAP and its Army reserve counterpart. G-RAP ended in 2012 amid allegations of fraud and mismanagement, and the army launched Task Force Raptor to investigate more than 106,000 people paid by the program.
Only 137 soldiers were prosecuted, but the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) “titled” 2,580 soldiers, creating a permanent military record showing they were the subject of an investigation, according to the Army. CID submitted approximately 1,900 trooper records to an FBI database where the information shows up as one arrest on a background check, even though the troopers were never arrested, and lists serious charges as wire fraud.
CID Director Gregory D. Ford announced Nov. 3 that his agency had reviewed hundreds of G-RAP cases and found that “most of them require some form of correction.” CID is now reviewing the roughly 1,900 cases submitted to the FBI to determine if the soldiers should be removed from the database, Ford said.
“The people who have been thrown out of the service without their retirement or their pensions, what happens to them?” asked Liz Ullman, who launched the website Let’s defend our protectors in 2015 to advocate for service members attacked by Task Force Raptor.
THE ARMY INVESTIGATES IF THE TROOPS ARE INCORRECTLY IN THE BONUS SCANDAL
Ullman said he received hundreds of calls, emails and Facebook messages from soldiers and veterans who never thought they would see progress in the fight to have their records erased. But many of them wonder what comes next.
“People who haven’t been able to get jobs because their records have been so tarnished, what’s wrong with them?” she asked.
De León was one of the first soldiers whose case was reviewed by Army CID last spring, after he wrote an opinion piece in the Army Times highlighting the plight of G-RAP participants. On July 6, investigators closed his case, upholding their original determination that there was probable cause that De Leon committed larceny, identity theft and wire fraud. Around the same time, CID announced that it would review about 900 cases in which recruiting assistants were titled.
SERVICE MEMBERS SAY G-RAP RUINED THEIR CAREERS IN AND OUT OF THE MILITARY:
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For this reason, De León was surprised when, on November 3, CID personnel called him to tell him that he was the first G-RAP participant who had not had his title removed and his criminal record expunged. After years of struggling to hear those words, he told Fox News that he felt “neutral” because he knew there was still a “battle ahead.”
Army officials said during a call with reporters that soldiers can contact the army if they believe G-RAP has affected their careers. Many of the soldiers who were denied promotions because of the flag on their records expect their rank to be corrected and back pay.
“The Army admitted that labeling me a criminal was totally wrong, but then they want to fix it by forcing me to go through another exhaustive bureaucratic process to get my rank and pay,” De Leon said. “That’s just more trauma. Something unnecessary after admitting guilt.”
Attorney and retired Green Beret Doug O’Connell said the board that corrects military records is notoriously slow.
“I’m familiar with other cases where the petition has been pending for three years and 10 months with no response,” O’Connell said.
De León wants the Army to “completely annul the appeals process.”
“Give us our rank, give us our payment immediately, and make sure future untitled victims don’t go through more extensive bureaucratic appeals,” he said, adding that he wants Army Secretary Christine Wormuth to hold his promotion ceremony. and issue a public apology to the “victims who have been titled without due process.”
O’Connell, who has represented hundreds of G-RAP participants, said CID had removed five of his clients from criminal databases as of last week. CID officials said they expect to complete their review by the end of this year.
He is also asking the Army to ensure that fingerprints and DNA samples collected during Task Force Raptor are removed from federal databases and destroyed.
“Our clients no longer trust the government,” he said. “They don’t feel it’s in their best interest for any reason for the government to keep a sample of their DNA.”
NATIONAL GUARD FIGHTS WHILE TROOPS LEAVE AT A FASTER PACE
The Army’s acknowledgment that many G-RAP participants were wrongly stuck with criminal records comes as the National Guard Bureau appears to be drawing up a similar referral bonus scheme as a way to combat the current recruitment shortage. De Leon said he suspects the service is trying to bow to the G-RAP review before a new program launches.
“They want to revive the recruiting program,” De Leon said. “How could anyone who has gone through the G-RAP investigation suggest anyone join the military? From now on, I would never recommend anyone join the military.”
Ullman hopes that “Congress will finally take an interest” in the G-RAP investigations and hold hearings in the near future.
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“Especially if the National Guard wants to start another recruitment program similar to G-RAP,” he said. “Plunging the depths of how many ways G-RAP went wrong before it was all blamed on the soldiers.”
After a 17-year military career, De León is preparing to leave the Army on active duty for the Reserves. He saw himself as a “perpetual” in the military, but now looks forward to a civilian career in agriculture.
“I could never go back to an organization that has been so reckless with the well-being of my family,” De Leon said.