By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - An Air Force recruiter was sentenced on Friday to 27 years in prison for sexually assaulting women who went to his Houston-area recruiting station to ask about joining the military, a Lackland Air Force Base spokesman said.
Technical Sergeant Jaime Rodriguez, 34, also was reduced in rank to airman basic, the lowest rank in the Air Force, and will be dishonorably discharged when he completes his prison sentence, Lackland Air Force Base spokesman Brent Boller said.
The sentence was the longest prison term yet given in an Air Force scandal involving 21 training sergeants and one recruiter, Rodriguez, accused of offenses ranging from inappropriate sexual relationships with female recruits to rape. One female sergeant was convicted of having inappropriate relationships with male recruits.
The jury convicted Rodriguez on Thursday of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, wrongful sexual contact and indecent exposure, Boller said. Jurors acquitted him on rape and forcible sodomy charges.
Rodriguez had pleaded guilty during his trial to engaging in or attempting to engage in unprofessional relationships, as well as adultery, which is a felony under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The jury sentenced Rodriguez, a 13-year Air Force veteran, to two more years in prison than prosecutors had asked for, Boller said. He faced up to 116 years in prison, he said.
The scandal has prompted hearings in the U.S. Congress and major changes in the way men and women receive basic training in the Air Force. It has also left top military commanders across the U.S. armed forces under congressional scrutiny because of their handling of sexual predators in their ranks.
(Editing by David Bailey, Tim Gaynor and Bill Trott)