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17 Oct, 2014 01:50

Alaska National Guard condoned ‘weapons smuggling, rape, and drug trafficking’

Alaska National Guard condoned ‘weapons smuggling, rape, and drug trafficking’

Several leaked documents show that the Alaska National Guard's leadership supported a culture of sexual assault, theft and smuggling. The released reports coincide with the state's contentious gubernatorial election.

The May 3 Army Regulation 15-6 (AR) report obtained by The Anchorage Press alleges that Lt. Col. Joseph Lawendowski, who joined the Alaska National Guard (ANG) in 2003, promoted steroid use by recruiters, used government vehicles for strip club outings, and possibly used government-issued credit cards for improper purchases when he led the command from 2008-2009. He also created a workplace environment where three male officers – Jarret Carson, John Nieves and Shannon Tallent – repeatedly violated regulations by having consensual sex with women while working.

The papers show that Lawendowski, the leader of the ANG Recruiting and Retention command at the time, created a climate of fear and intimidation. They also reveal that he and a command sergeant allowed three officers to carry out sexual assaults, retaliate against soldiers who filed complaints, and generally feel above the law, the AR report says.

The three came to be known as the “Three Headed Monster” because of their large sizes – all over six feet tall and over 250 pounds – and intimidating behavior. Nieves is alleged to have raped the 19-year-old sister of a solider he had recruited into the guard, threatening to ruin the soldier’s career if she didn’t have sex with him. Tallent bragged of having sex with high school students, and possibly raping several women.

MSG Nieves, MSG Carson and SFC Tallent used their rank and large statures to abuse their authority and threaten their subordinates,” according the investigators in the report. “These three recruiters were seemingly untouchable and attempts to report their misconduct were either ignored or resulted in negative repercussions for the recruiter reporting the misconduct.

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There is also a political dimension to the scandal, since the state governor exercises control the National Guard through the adjunct general. Starting in November 2010, head chaplain Lt. Col. Rick Koch and at least five other active and retired officers approached Republican Governor Sean Parnell on several occasions with detailed allegations about fraud and sexual assault cover-ups, asking him to investigate Lawendowski and his associates. It is unclear what, if anything, Parnell did to respond.

Wind patterns are left in the ice pack that covers the Arctic Ocean north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (Reuters / Lucas Jackson)

The culture of fear is so predominant throughout the entire organization that persons of influence and power have retreated in the shadows and feel helpless to assist these women,” State Command Chaplain Lt. Col. Rick Koch told The Anchorage Press.

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There were 37 reports of sexual assault and widespread unethical behavior, according to a separate internal investigation by the National Guard Bureau of Office of Complex Investigations that was released in September. The National Guard leadership decided to pursue administration action in only one case.

In notes taken by Koch of his exchanges with the governor, Parnell initially asked if the sexual assault complaints involved the adjunct general, Major General Tom Katkus. Lawendowski was a neighbor and friend of Katkus and reported directly to him, which was a deviation from the normal chain of command. Lawendowski’s men also boasted of their close relationship with superior officers like Katkus.

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Katkus was forced to resign by Governor Parnell in September 2014, possibly because of Parnell’s concern about the upcoming election. Parnell is not popular in the state because of a new law he introduced last year changing the way oil and gas taxes are structured; opponents fear it will leave the state with massive revenue shortfalls. Parnell became governor of Alaska after Sarah Palin resigned in 2009.

Lawendowski, however, remains in the Guard. He was promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Training in June 2012, despite multiple alleged criminal complaints against him.

The former ANG leader also has a checkered past. He formed a corporation – Kodiak Entertainment Group – that operated seven porn websites and belonged to the Christian fundamentalist Berean Watchmen organization.