WASHINGTON -- An Army major general has been found guilty of sexual misconduct and stripped of both stars, an unusually harsh punishment intended to send a message to the troops, Army officials said yesterday.
Maj. Gen. John J. Maher III, a 51-year-old, married Vietnam combat veteran, is retiring at the lower rank of colonel as punishment for having had sexual relationships with the wives of two subordinate officers and for having sought an improper relationship with a female enlisted soldier.
By losing both stars, Maher will collect $59,000 a year in retirement pay, rather than the $77,000 he would have received as a former major general.
Army officials said they had no memory of a similar reduction in rank -- for any offense. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, two four-star officers in command in Hawaii were reduced two stars for dereliction of duty for having failed to make adequate preparations for an attack.
The stiff punishment imposed on Maher coincides with the Defense Department's heightened sensitivity in recent years to allegations of sexual misconduct.
The Army has been stung by a spate of such charges, which have embroiled its training school at Aberdeen; its top enlisted soldier, Sgt. Major of the Army Gene C. McKinney; a former top NATO commander, Maj. Gen. David Hale; and, last month, the Army's top enlisted soldier in Europe, Sgt. Maj. Riley C. Miller.
Hale's case was particularly embarrassing for the Army because in the midst of the investigation, the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, allowed Hale to retire. At the time, Reimer said, investigators had no solid case against the officer.
Hale was brought back from retirement and was demoted one star in September for having had sexual relationships with the wives of four subordinates.
Referring to Maher's case, an Army official who requested anonymity said: "If you were in the Army right now, you'd be paying attention. This is a very harsh punishment."
The charges against Maher, who was most recently special assistant to the commander of the 1st U.S. Army at Fort Gillem, Ga., spanned from 1991 to 1998. Army officials said an investigation began in February, after one of the victims called the Army's inspector general.
Maher was not court-martialed, in part because some key witnesses declined to come forward and the statute of limitations had run out on some offenses. In September, Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, commander of the 1st U.S. Army, found Maher guilty and imposed an administrative punishment with the maximum penalty -- the loss of half his pay for two months, or $8,632, and a letter of reprimand.
The case then moved to an Army review board, and Army Secretary Louis Caldera ordered that Maher's rank be reduced by two stars. Maher then retired voluntarily, an Army official said.
"The two-grade reduction should send a very clear, strong signal that there is no place in the Army for this behavior," Caldera said in a statement.
Maher's attorney, Lt. Col. Robert D. Teetsel, could not be reached for comment.
During the time of the sexual misconduct, Maher was serving in Georgia, Washington state and Hawaii. When the investigation began, Maher was vice director of operations on the joint staff at the Pentagon. He made a scheduled move to Fort Gillem in October.
Like Hale, Maher sought to retire in the midst of the investigation. Maher's request was denied, an Army official said, adding: "I would say we learned some lessons."
Maher served in Vietnam from June 1972 until February 1973 as an executive officer with the Military Assistance Command. In the 1990s, he served as assistant division commander of the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Infantry Center and School at Fort Stewart, and commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division and U.S. Army Hawaii at Schofield Barracks.
His decorations and badges include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman Badge.