Marine Officer to Plead Guilty to Lying About Sex with Midshipmen

FILE -- The 1,192 members of the U.S. Naval Academy’s incoming Class of 2019 gather in Tecumseh Court for the Induction Day Oath of Office Ceremony. (Navy Photo)
FILE -- The 1,192 members of the U.S. Naval Academy’s incoming Class of 2019 gather in Tecumseh Court for the Induction Day Oath of Office Ceremony. (Navy Photo)

A Marine Corps major accused of lying under oath about having sexual relationships with two female midshipmen while serving as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy will enter a guilty plea for his upcoming court-martial, according to the public court docket.

Maj. Mark Thompson is set to face trial Thursday on charges of false official statement and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. The charges stem in part from an explosive Washington Post investigative story published last year, in which Thompson claimed he was unjustly punished in a previous court-martial for the alleged sexual misconduct, which included a threesome with one of the midshipmen and a fellow Marine officer.

But the Post also unearthed a cell phone belonging to one of the women that contained text messages appearing to contradict Thompson's denials. According to a charge sheet obtained by Military.com last year, Thompson is now accused of lying to officers at a 2014 board of inquiry in which he asserted his innocence and was allowed to stay in the Marine Corps; and lying to Post reporter John Woodrow Cox about his involvement with the women.

A key witness who emerged early in this case is Maj. Mike Pretus, another former Naval Academy instructor who confessed to investigators that he participated in the threesome with Thompson and the midshipman while at the school as a visiting lecturer in 2011. Pretus was removed from his post as an instructor in April 2016 when an investigation into his own misconduct came to light.

Granted a waiver of immunity, Pretus confessed to lying in Thompson's defense in previous testimony and provided a detailed description of his own illicit encounter. His testimony was played in full at a May 2016 pretrial hearing attended by Military.com.

Pretus also testified that Thompson had been obsessive about trying to clear his name after the 2013 court-martial, in which he received a short brig sentence and a $60,000 fine. It was Thompson who reached out to Cox, asking that the Post publish a story setting the record straight.

"In his mind, he is innocent. One hundred percent innocent," Pretus said of Thompson at the hearing last year.

Thompson's charge specifications include advising and pressuring Pretus to make false statements on his behalf, both at the court-martial and in interviews with Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

At the pretrial hearing, attorneys for the prosecution asked that Thompson be punished for his alleged perjury with 32 months' confinement, dismissal from the Marine Corps, and a $200,000 fine. The sentence, they said, would represent a day in confinement for every day he served in uniform following the alleged 2011 incidents, and all the military pay he has earned since then.

The expected guilty plea is an unexpected twist in the case.

Thompson's attorney, Kevin McDermott, has previously said in court appearances that comments and statements made to Cox, the Post reporter, were taken out of context. He also questioned the authenticity of the text messages unearthed by the Post in motions hearings and endeavored, unsuccessfully, to require the Post to turn over notes and recordings from Cox's interviews with Thompson.

"I don't know how [the prosecution will] make the case without being able to authenticate any statement made by my client," McDermott told Military.com last August. "They can't just throw newspaper articles in front of a jury."

McDermott also filed an ethics complaint against Navy Cmdr. Aaron Rugh, a military judge who, as an attorney at Thompson's board of inquiry, said the prosecution in the court-martial had interviewed the family of one of the midshipmen, publicly identified as Sarah Stadler. Stadler would later tell the Post that was not the case. Rugh was ultimately cleared after an investigation, though the Navy made no additional details public.

Calls and emails to McDermott were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Thompson's court-martial is expected to begin Thursday morning at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia and to last one day, Marine Corps Installations Command spokesman Rex Runyon said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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