Convicted of unlawful sex with girl, 17, recruiter was kept for years in National Guard

08/22/2011 12:00 AM

11/08/2011 6:04 PM

Second of two parts

She was a 17-year-old student in Fresno, curious about joining the California National Guard. He was a recruiter looking to meet his quota, with an eye for opportunity.

Sgt. Ruben Fuentesramos, then 35, drove the girl to an enlistment exam in Visalia. On the way home, they talked about partying. Later, he sent her texts from his Guard cellphone, and arranged to pick her up the next day at high school in his Guard van. He took her to the Quality Inn motel, billing the room to his Guard credit card.

"Upon entering the room (Fuentesramos) brought out a bottle of tequila, pouring Victim and himself each a shot," according to the April 2008 police report. "Victim consumed the alcohol and had two more shots of tequila with (Fuentesramos) matching each shot."

Then the recruiter – called Ruben Ramos Fuentes in court records – "proceeded to remove her clothing and they engaged in sexual intercourse," the police report noted.

After leaving for a brief time they returned to the hotel, where the drinking resumed, as did the sex, the report noted.

The next day the girl and her father contacted Fresno police, according to a Guard investigative report and court records from the 2008 case. Fuentesramos was later arrested. In June that year he pleaded no contest to two felony charges of unlawful sex with the minor girl, who was not named. He was sentenced that July to three years on probation and was required to register as a sex offender.

A Bee investigation found that for years Fuentesramos suffered no ill effects on his Guard career – and for a time was retained as a recruiter – despite full knowledge of his crime by top Guard leaders. Proceedings finally were initiated earlier this year to remove Fuentesramos from the Guard. He finally was discharged from the Guard in an administrative action on Aug. 12.

Adjutant General David S. Baldwin, appointed in April as the state's top military leader, said he first learned of Fuentesramos when contacted by The Bee, and has directed an informal inquiry into the matter.

Elizabeth Hillman, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law who formerly taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, called the incident "especially shocking" because "recruiters are the face of the (military) to the communities in which they operate."

Guard officials had been alerted about the case in a memo issued shortly after the arrest. Just after sentencing, six top officers were copied on a detailed final report written by their own military police investigators. It included records of the victim's sexual assault kit from the medical center that treated her and a sworn statement by a Guard officer that Fuentesramos knew the victim was underage. It also included a police report in which the victim said she was told by Fuentesramos to keep quiet about their sexual encounters.

Fuentesramos declined to comment.

Leaders who received the report included now-retired Brig. Gen. Louis J. Antonetti, then commander of the Army National Guard; and Col. Matthew L. Dana (then a lieutenant colonel), a staff attorney who now leads the Guard's legal office.

The criminal investigators attached a "Serious Incident Report" about the crimes, authored by Col. Diana L. Bodner, top officer of the Recruiting and Retention Command – and Fuentesramos' boss. She was also on the list of top officers who were sent the report from the criminal investigators.

Such a crime typically would trigger procedures to initiate administrative removal from the Guard, if not court-martial.

Instead, Bodner retained Fuentesramos as a recruiter.

Later he transferred to a Fresno aviation depot and deployed to Iraq for a year. More than three years after his crime, Fuentesramos remains a member of the Guard working part time at the depot.

Whether the soldier was shielded by Guard commanders or somehow fell through the cracks, "there were multiple points of failure," said Michelle Lindo McCluer, former executive director of the National Institute of Military Justice.

Incentives investigated

The apparent protection of a sex offender fit a climate rife with recklessness and illegality inside the Guard's Recruiting and Retention Command.

As reported Sunday, a former leader of the command, Brig. Gen. Charlotte L. Miller, created a bonus pool that let recruiters game the system, netting them tens of thousands of dollars. Baldwin recently removed Miller from the Guard.

Last fall The Bee revealed that an estimated $100 million in recruitment incentives – cash benefits meant to entice recruits or get experienced Guard members to re-enlist – were paid improperly or illegally. The abuses were overlooked or ignored by numerous leaders – including Bodner, who led the command during some of the worst misconduct. That episode is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation.

Money seemed to be the universal motivator in recruiting corruption. In 2008, The Bee reported that more than two dozen recruiters had broken laws or military rules, such as enlisting a recruit who had a criminal record for domestic violence, and fabricating pre-enlistment physicals. Such transgressions allowed them to meet quotas and earn performance bonuses.

A few were demoted or received reprimands, but Guard officials recently declined to say if they were still working in recruiting, due to an ongoing investigation.

At the time, Bodner said she would correct the problems with a "command philosophy of intolerance" for misconduct.

She recently denied wrongdoing in the Fuentesramos case and other problems that occurred under her command, but otherwise declined to comment.

In addition to Bodner, Dana and Antonetti, who was then Bodner's boss, the Fuentesramos report was sent to Miller, then a top headquarters official with the Army National Guard; then-colonel and now Brig. Gen. Donald J. Currier, who currently heads the Army Guard and works as a supervising Superior Court judge in Sacramento; and Lt. Col. David L. Kauffman, another Guard attorney.

Antonetti, Dana, Miller and Kauffman declined to comment.

McCluer, a former U.S. Air Force attorney, said that while Dana and Kauffman had no command authority to remove Fuentesramos, they would be expected to advise the commanders on such cases.

Currier, who in 2008 supervised the Guard's criminal investigators, said in an interview, "I can think of no scenario that would justify retaining a felon and someone who was a registered sex offender – especially as a recruiter."

But Currier said he didn't recall seeing the report or hearing about the case until recently. He recently appointed a provost marshal – a top cop for the Army Guard, who he hopes will help head off similar problems in the future.

"The people of the state of California deserve only trustworthy soldiers and airmen," Baldwin said, adding that he has ordered "a review of our policy regarding known felons."

Slow justice

In February this year, Col. Robert A. Spano, the Guard's current chief of staff, learned of the Fuentesramos case.

Through a spokesman, he would say only that "upon discovering that Sgt. Ruben Fuentesramos was a convicted felon I immediately directed my staff to start the discharge process."

Fuentesramos appealed his dismissal, and due process required representation by a Guard defense attorney.

That's where his case bogged down, Baldwin said. Due to incentive fraud cases and other recently uncovered improprieties, defense services have faced unusual demand. Baldwin recently asked attorneys to make Fuentesramos a top priority, leading to his recent discharge.

Even so, Hillman said, the failure to remove the soldier by now "shows that the system they are working in was failing."

Editor's note: This story and headline were changed Aug. 22 to correct information provided by the California National Guard, indicating that efforts to discharge Fuentesramos were still in process. Actually, that process recently was completed, leading to his Aug. 12 discharge.

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