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Recruiter disputes report of fraud

BALTIMORE -- The lone soldier being kicked out of the Maryland Army National Guard after a two-month investigation into recruiting improprieties says he did nothing wrong and that investigators disregarded him when he tried to defend himself against false accusations.

The Guard disputed Sgt. Jeffrey R. Tucker's assertions and released an investigative report that detailed his involvement in the fraudulent enlistment of one recruit and the attempted fraudulent enlistment of two others.

"We had a soldier who had gone off the reservation, and that is completely unacceptable," said Col. Robert L. Gould, a Guard spokesman. "It was a very thorough investigation, and the facts as they were presented were overwhelming, from multiple sources."

Sgt. Tucker, 34, is being discharged from the Guard for fraudulent enlistment and conduct unbecoming an officer, according to a document he received on Feb. 22 and shared with the Associated Press. He is appealing the action and has retained a military attorney.

The Guard has not revealed the names of the soldiers who were disciplined after the probe into its recruiting and retention battalion, except for Maj. Travis Rambert, who was removed from command of the battalion. The Guard took action against 13 other soldiers as a result of the investigation, which began in December and concluded in February.

In response to questions about the soldier who was ordered discharged, the Guard provided an investigative report that detailed the accusations against him. Sgt. Tucker's name was blacked out, as were the names of the other soldiers involved.

Sgt. Tucker said that other recruiters on his team, without his knowledge, carried out the fraudulent enlistment and attempted fraudulent enlistments detailed in the report.

"I'm very competent in my duties. I take great pride in the people I helped get into the Maryland National Guard," Sgt. Tucker said. "I haven't lost an ounce of sleep since I've been a recruiter, because I've always done the right thing."

He added: "I will not take the fall for something that I didn't do."

While Sgt. Tucker staunchly defended Maj. Rambert's leadership, he described a dysfunctional environment within the recruiting battalion in which improprieties were tolerated because the Guard was eager to sign up recruits. Those sentiments were echoed by another former recruiter, Spc. Sue-Ellen Thomas, whose disputes with Sgt. Tucker are at the center of the accusations against him.

"I can't stand the guy," Spc. Thomas said. "But in his defense ... of all the people that were investigated for wrongdoing, Sgt. Tucker is the only one they're trying to kick out. Why is he the only one?"

Spc. Thomas and Sgt. Tucker said other recruiters who abused their positions were simply transferred out of the battalion and will be allowed to retire -- unlike Sgt. Tucker, who has 14 years of service in the Guard.

The Guard maintains that the soldier who is being discharged committed more serious offenses than any other recruiter, and that the punishment received by other recruiters was appropriate. The investigative report concludes that Sgt. Tucker went too far in his zeal to sign up soldiers, frequently cutting corners as part of an " 'enlistments by any means necessary' approach."

Sgt. Tucker acknowledged that his nephew, Joey Tucker, took an entrance exam in the place of a recruit who had not passed the test, but he said the scheme was hatched by Spc. Thomas without his knowledge.

Sgt. Tucker said he confronted his nephew after Spc. Thomas accused Sgt. Tucker of enlisting her recruit fraudulently, and his nephew told him that Spc. Thomas had paid him $50 to take the test.

Spc. Thomas denies having anything to do with the payment. "Sgt. Tucker took my recruit aside and said, 'Don't worry about the test. I'll take care of it,' " she said.

The investigative report concludes that Sgt. Tucker paid his nephew and "orchestrated the entire episode." The report says Sgt. Tucker's brother told investigators that his son was telling "half-truths" to try to cover for his uncle.

Col. Gould said the fact that the soldier's brother implicated him in the scheme indicated that the Guard was not manufacturing the accusations against the soldier.

"To suggest a scapegoating, that would portend that even relatives were trying to conspire against him, which was simply not the case," Col. Gould said.

Sgt. Tucker said that when he sat down to be interviewed by Col. Drew Sullins, the officer investigating the accusations against him, he got the feeling that Col. Sullins already had made up his mind.

"He had a pad of questions that he had to ask me," Sgt. Tucker said. "He didn't ask me for my side of the story. He kept looking at his watch."

The Guard did not make Col. Sullins available for comment, but Col. Gould said Col. Sullins conducted a thorough interview with the soldier in question that lasted more than 90 minutes.

"To suggest that this was not done in a prudent fashion simply would not be true," Col. Gould said.

Sgt. Tucker was named "Rookie of the Year" in the recruiting battalion in 2005, and he received a series of positive evaluations. A report card covering the period between October 2005 and March 2006 noted that Sgt. Tucker had "exceptional recruiting skills."

The investigative report, however, concluded that Sgt. Tucker ignored the rules in order to enlist people who weren't qualified to serve.

"To skirt the system and bring somebody in that does not meet the minimum qualifications is just flat-out unacceptable," Col. Gould said. "People can complain all they want and suggest that they were treated unfairly, but the facts speak for themselves."

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