SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Military officials say the initial flirtations that Staff Sgt. Luis Walker directed at the women he trained at a Texas Air Force base grew into something more sinister: threats and intimidation that eventually led to rape.
Walker is among 12 instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio who are being investigated in a widening sex scandal that has rocked one of the nation's busiest military training centers.
"We haven't had a case of this magnitude, certainly in recent memory," said Brent Boller, a spokesman for Joint Base San Antonio, which operates Lackland.
Walker faces the most serious charges in the case — 28 counts, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. He could get up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted.
His court-martial began Monday morning with a discussion of procedural issues. Opening statements were expected by afternoon. Walker's father and two other family members were in the courtroom at the base.
The 10 female recruits Walker is accused of either sexually assaulting or engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with are expected to testify during the court-martial at Lackland. A seven-member jury made up of military personnel will decide the case.
At least 31 female trainees have been identified as victims in the sex scandal.
Officials at Lackland are calling Walker's court-martial the "cornerstone case" in the ongoing investigation.
Walker's civilian attorney, Joseph Esparza, declined to comment.
A two-star general, Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, has also launched a separate, independent investigation that military prosecutors say could sweep up more airmen.
Advocates for female service members and members of Congress have started taking notice.
"It's a pretty big scandal the Air Force is having to deal with at this point," Greg Jacob, a former Marine infantry officer and policy director of the Service Women's Action Network, said last month. "It's pretty substantial in its scope."
The sexual misconduct at the base apparently began in 2009, but the first woman didn't come forward until last year. The first allegations were levied against Walker, who is accused of crimes that allegedly took place between October 2010 and January 2011.
According to the Air Force charge sheet, Walker had sexual intercourse with 4 of the 10 female recruits. He also is accused of making flirtatious or sexually suggestive comments, sending inappropriate text messages and sometimes groping his recruits.
Walker also is accused of telling one recruit to "get naked" and that she "turned him on," forcing five recruits to engage in sexual acts by threatening their military careers and intimidating two of the women into lying about his alleged misconduct, according to the charge sheet.
Walker was a trainer for about 18 months, until he was removed from his position in June 2011. He joined the Air Force in 2004 and previously was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and at facilities in Montana and Korea. The Air Force is withholding his age and hometown.
Lackland is where every American airman reports for basic training — about 35,000 a year. About one in five is female, pushed through eight weeks of basic training by a flight of instructors that are about 90 percent male.
Six of the 12 instructors under investigation for misconduct face charges ranging from rape to adultery. Officials say nine of those instructors were in the same squadron.
The first court-martial in the case resulted in a plea agreement in June, when Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado admitted to having sex with a female trainee. He struck a plea deal for 90 days confinement. He later acknowledged being involved with a total of 10 trainees — a number previously unknown to investigators.
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