Former Air Force Cadet Eric Thomas stands outside the cadet dorms Tuesday, May 28, 2013, the day before the Class of 2013 graduates at the Air Force Academy. Thomas, who was a confidential imformant and critical to several convictions, was kicked out of the academy in March, months short of graduating. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Former Air Force Cadet Eric Thomas stands outside the cadet dorms Tuesday, May 28, 2013, the day before the Class of 2013 graduates at the Air Force Academy. Thomas, who was a confidential imformant and critical to several convictions, was kicked out of the academy in March, months short of graduating. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Testimony at a hearing at the Air Force Academy on Friday gave credibility to a former cadet's contention of long-term work as a spy for the Office of Special Investigations and showed that his allegations of cadet wrongdoing were backed up by a polygraph test.

Testimony revealed that former cadet Eric Thomas may have signed initial paperwork to become a confidential informant months earlier than academy officials have admitted and that OSI officials may have lied to top academy brass about the nature of Thomas' work.

The revelations came in a hearing for former cadet Stephan Claxton, who is appealing his 2012 sexual assault conviction at the school because his lawyers were not told that star prosecution witness Thomas was working as an informant. Evidence from the hearing will be used to decide Claxton's claims at the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.

Claxton's lawyer Frank Spinner says by covering up Thomas' status as an informant, prosecutors poisoned the case against his client, who served a six-month sentence. Spinner told Air Force judge Col. Natalie Richardson that Thomas' work as an informant gave him a motive to entrap Claxton.

"Was Thomas intentionally setting up Claxton?" Spinner asked.

Air Force lawyers countered that Thomas wasn't an informant on the Claxton case, but a regular witness. They also say that their case against Claxton was strong enough to win a conviction without Thomas on the stand.

"If there was error, it was absolutely harmless beyond a reasonable doubt," Capt. Richard Schrider said in closing arguments.

On the stand Friday morning was former OSI special agent Brandon Enos, who testified that Thomas provided information on fellow cadets so sweeping that investigators didn't believe it until the informant passed a polygraph test.

"I could never imagine in my wildest dreams that so much information could come in on one day," Enos said of Thomas' disclosures about classmates and members of the academy's football team.

Enos said investigators began to trust Thomas after he passed the polygraph test of the truthfulness of claims, including that cadets may have used drugged liquor on women at a 2011 party.

"Everything he provided turned out to be credible," Enos said.

Thomas gave tips that led to more than a dozen investigations of drug use, drug sales and sexual assault among academy athletes including a core group of football players.

Enos testified that Thomas was the central figure in "Operation Gridiron," which targeted players and was outlined in a 2014 Gazette investigation of athlete misconduct at the school. The agent said OSI's top commander, Brig. Gen. Kevin Jacobsen, issued directives on how Thomas should be used to track athlete misbehavior.

While Thomas was a helpful informant, OSI reports revealed in the hearing that he was also a troubled cadet who hoped helping investigators would help him overcome a pile of misconduct demerits that would later get him expelled.

Thomas on Thursday testified that he was told by OSI agents to tail Claxton, which led to him being a key witness to allegations of unlawful sexual contact and assault.

Testimony and other evidence Friday showed confusion over Thomas' relationship with the OSI. Agents said Thomas made his first contact with OSI in March 2011 and at least began to fill out paperwork required of informants.

Enos said despite that initial contact, Thomas wasn't used as an informant before he filled out more paperwork in December 2011.

At issue is whether Thomas was acting as an informant when Claxton was accused of having unlawful sexual contact with an inebriated woman in Thomas' academy dorm room and during a hallway brawl that followed between Claxton and other cadets, including Thomas.

Thomas earned enough demerits from the incident to spur his expulsion, which OSI agents say they asked officials to "slow-roll" so they could use him as an informant.

Spinner contends that the pending expulsion gave Thomas a motive to manufacture testimony that would please the OSI handlers who could keep him in school.

But, Enos said, a top OSI agent went to academy leaders and refuted some of Thomas' informant tales, telling one commander that Thomas was lying when he claimed to have worn a recording device called a "wire" on some of his informant jobs.

Enos said Thomas was truthful and the OSI lied.

Enos said the OSI lied to Thomas, too.

When a hearing was held to expel Thomas, OSI agents backed away from a pledge to testify on his behalf to show that at least some of his demerits were earned in service of investigators.

That allegation and the informant program were examined in a 2013 Gazette investigation.

Thomas could use evidence from the hearing to sway an Air Force panel for correction of military records, where his case is likely to wind up.

First, though, will be a decision on Claxton's fate.

Judge Richardson has until April 1 to report her findings to the Air Force appeals court. That court will then hear arguments before making a decision.

The appellate panel could uphold the conviction, reverse the verdict or order a new court-martial.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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