Clemency Letter Reveals Much About Pentagon’s Eagerness to Convict Military Men on False Sexual Assault Allegations
Michael Silva wrote a letter recently, and it’s being delivered Monday to Brig. Gen. Robert D. LaBrutta, commander of the 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio who served as the convening authority in the court-martial during which Silva was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The content of the letter offers much insight into the lengths to which military prosecutors will go to get a conviction.
Background: According to one news account, Silva’s case was the oldest yet in a scandal at Lackland AFB, Texas, that saw 35 basic training instructors investigated for misconduct with 68 recruits and technical training students over a four-year period. And it pitted the senior noncommissioned officer against victims who had remained silent for years.
Silva’s letter is seven single-spaced pages, contains nearly 4,000 words and stands as a key part of the clemency packet he hopes will convince the general to grant him full clemency for the sexual assault conviction he received Jan. 30 so that he can retire with the rank, pay and benefits of an Air Force senior master sergeant — the rank he earned Feb. 28, 2013, but was never allowed to wear.
Though General Labrutta has 30 days to decide whether or not he’ll grant Silva any form of relief, full or partial, I’m sharing details of the letter so that you can weigh the facts of the case as we wait for an official decision.
Because of the nature of Silva’s letter and some of the names mentioned in it, I’m unable to share it word for word. Instead, I’ll paraphrase on occasion and edit as best I can without clouding the content too much. In addition, I’ll decipher some military lingo and add links and boldface type as I see fit.
Finally, I must emphasize these are Silva’s beliefs and allegations, not mine. And so I begin.
Silva begins the letter by sharing a few details about his current circumstances:
My name is Michael Silva. At the age of 20, I proudly followed in my father’s footsteps by joining the military; in which I honorably served our country for over 24 years. As you can clearly see from my record, my goal was not just to accomplish the status quo; I chose to stay in past 20 years because I lived and breathed the Air Force Core Values. I was not done mentoring our Airmen; there was so much more I wanted to do. On 28 February 2013, I was selected and received my line number for senior master sergeant and aspired to make even more of a difference as a chief master sergeant someday. My plans were cut short by false allegations against me. Now, I sit in a prison cell hoping and praying that, although the military justice system that I once believed in and preached about failed me, the eyes of the blinded will be open and the truth shall set me free.
In the second paragraph of the letter, the 44 year old offers a few details about how he was accused of sexual assault as part of a larger scandal that made the national news:
Before I provide you with a brief synopsis of my military career, I would like to make a statement about my court martial and why the military justice system failed me. I feel that my court martial guilty verdict was decided prior to it even beginning. The fact that I had previously been a Military Training Instructor, resulted in my immediate connection to the current Basic Military Training sexual assault scandal and the political witch hunt began yet again. There were several instances of MTI’s misusing their power and authority to have inappropriate sexual relationships, whether forced or otherwise. This had nothing to do with me and in fact, during my combined 9 years as a MTI both at Lackland BMT and Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, I never once received any negative feedback from either BMT or OTS students or MTIS Leadership, only awards and other accolades. There is so much political pressure to end military sexual assault and prove to Congress that the military is handling these cases. But what they fail to see is there are innocent service members such as myself that are falsely accused and unjustly convicted. I was given a 20-year sentence for crimes I DID NOT COMMIT!
In the third paragraph of the letter, Silva describes his post-conviction state of mind:
For the last 7 months since my conviction, I have sat here in disbelief, waiting to wake up from this horrible nightmare. It is a daily struggle not to lose myself or to be angry at the Air Force and DOD for allowing me to be a statistic, making me a number and throwing me away like a piece of trash. I am just a number now and it’s not my service number or my Social Security Number; I have a prison number that I wear across my chest that replaces the words U.S. Air Force. I was given this number for doing nothing more than serving my country honorably and being the victim of false accusations. Although I have been wronged, I realize I have a choice. I could let this define me by being angry, or I can continue to have faith and believe that God will right this wrong. Even here behind these brick walls, secured doors and barbed wire, I continue to help others who are struggling, by mentoring those who need guidance, physically training those whom need strength, and preaching God’s word to those who are feeling weak. But it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t belong here and I should still be mentoring our great Airmen.
In the fourth paragraph of the letter, he recalls how he reacted upon being charged:
In 2013, when the charges were filed against me I took the advice of my lawyers and did not discuss the case because I thought it would hurt me. For nearly 2 years I lived in hell, constantly worried about what other people were saying or thinking. I was so prideful; more worried about my image, and wondered how I would ever recover to get my career back on track, because mind you, even after these allegations I still wanted to be that chief. I laugh about it now; I was simply worried about not getting senior rater endorsement. I was worried about my reputation as a senior noncommissioned officer. It never crossed my mind that I could ever end up here. But I have lost so much more than my image and my chance to be that motivating chief; I have lost my freedom, my family, my career and my line number for senior master sergeant, all while doing nothing to discredit the United States Air Force. Luckily, I have a huge support team rallying behind me who are continuing to gather more evidence to contradict the allegations.
Silva goes on to write about his chief accuser in the next two paragraphs:
I do not feel I received a fair hearing. To this day, I have no recollection of my accuser, supposedly a student in one of my flights (i.e., groups of basic military trainees). Based on her records, I assume she was in my flight for a couple of days, but I had no significant interaction with her that would make her memorable. I certainly never engaged in sexual activity with her. I have no idea why she chose to make up this story or why she chose me, but when you only fulfill a few days in Basic Training your options at choosing a perpetrator are few.
I am requesting for you to look at this with an open mind regardless of any rumors you may have heard. This trainee’s entire life is a lie and she has no integrity as you will see in other documents provided for your review. As you will see both of the alleged victims had much to gain monetarily.
In the seventh paragraph, he shares some — but, by no means all — of the most-interesting aspects of the case, each of which should, by itself, cause General LaBrutta to pause:
• A basic trainee comes forward 17 years after she was medically separated for migraines in 1995. This basic trainee was only in my squadron for the first 3 nights of basic training. Any enlisted person knows that a member of the same gender sleeps (i.e., “oversees”) the flight the first 2 nights. Therefore, a female MTI sleeps the female flights, I had no access to this trainee, nor would I have. I was a single father with much more to lose than my career; I had a 4 year old son who had only me.
• There were 3 MTI’s, including myself, assigned to the flight. There were 20 other trainees of that flight that were interviewed and none of them had anything negative to say, quite the contrary.
• My accuser couldn’t explain any detail about the BMT process, and everything that came out her mouth contradicted the policies and procedures that were in place at BMT to safeguard them, account for and train our Airman.
• Expert BMT witnesses also contradicted her story of BMT processes not just in my squadron, but also in two others and at the Airman’s Chapel and Wilford Hall Medical Center. From dorm guard procedures, entering and exiting the dormitories, being recycled, movement between squadrons and movement for medical treatment, her lies go on.
• She also stated that she was chosen to be an element leader, but this was not true either. Element leaders’ sleep in the first couple of beds by the MTI office, and she stated her bed was further back toward the rear of the bay, which means she wasn’t an element leader.
In the eighth paragraph, Siilva addresses what he calls his chief accuser’s “motive to lie”:
• It wasn’t until after she remarried an Army Veteran living off VA disability that she began making these false claims and then here comes the “Lackland, BMT Sex Scandal.” Now she has an “in” to tell her made up story in order to continue to receive any VA compensation she was claiming and/or get a higher rating or possibly retroactive pay from 1995. Say she got the max 100% disability, with 6 children (although 5 do not live with her) $3,200.00 a month x 12 months x 20 years = $768K. She had been following the story of Ruth Moore whom first made national news around the time my accuser first told her family she was sexually assaulted and started making VA claims. Mrs. Moore was petitioning for the VA to accept victims stories of assault and provide them treatment, Mrs Moore later sued the VA and won her case and was awarded retroactive pay in the amount of $405K in the Spring of 2014.
• In my accuser’s first statement (Fall 2012), she stated she didn’t tell anyone this happened to her – not even her first husband who was with her at medical hold and gave her five children. She told Air Force Office of Special Investigations that she did not tell her mother, or anyone else in her family, most of whom work in law enforcement.
• At trial, her mother testified that her daughter told her when she returned from Basic Training, but that her daughter must not have remembered. So for 17 years she never asked her daughter how she was doing dealing with this rape? This is completely unbelievable.
• My accuser later claimed to investigators that she told one other person, another Trainee she met at the BMT who died in July 2008. This is too convenient of a story.
• My accuser claimed I showed up at the chapel on base in civilian clothes, like I was stalking her, and introduced myself to her uncle whom is a sheriff in the state of Washington. Her uncle stated in a sworn statement to the AFOSI that the incident never happened; he did not meet a drill instructor nor did one introduce himself to him.
• My accuser also changed her story and stated not only did it happen once, but twice.
• My accuser testified on the stand that the only reason she came forward was to prevent this from happening to anyone else. She waited 17 years to make sure it never happened again? She was already seeking compensation for it over 2 years before she made this allegation against me. If it wasn’t about the money, then why did she go after the money first?
He continues to address the matter of his chief accuser’s motive by informing the general about other issues, including her mental health, publicity surrounding the case, financial issues and family history:
• Unfortunately, this woman (self-proclaimed in social media posts) suffers from a mental health disorder. [NOTE: An accuser’s mental health status played a key role in the case of an Army Green Beret convicted of sexual assault in 2009. Details here.]
• She had clear motive to make up this story. She got the attention of both military and political figures that vowed to ensure her case would be handled effectively. By all the attention she received and the publicity of this case, I did not receive a fair trial.
• Significantly, she lived off Social Security benefits prior to age 30. She had a Habitat for Humanity Home built for her, that she left and forfeited in a last ditch effort to force her ex-husband to once again reconcile with her by relocating out of state with their 5 sons. She also owned and operated a psychic website.
• Her father has a history of fraud. Her biological father was an alcoholic and a drug addict and was in and out of prison before her parents divorced. He is currently serving time in an Oklahoma prison for embezzlement.
In the ninth paragraph of his letter, Silva highlights allegations made against him by an ex-wife who also testified against him during his 2015 trial. Without getting into any of the sordid details, I’ll condense Silva’s description of their relationship: After he asked for a divorce, she objected and allegedly told his mother during a phone call, “I’m going to ruin your son’s career” and hung up. [NOTE: “Ruin” is a word readers of my work have seen used before by a sexual assault accuser. Details here.]
The next thing Silva knew, according to the letter, he was under investigation by the AFOSI for an allegation she had made years earlier and then recanted in the form of a sworn statement. Below is the text of the handwritten sworn statement that appeared on an AF IMT 1168 Form (a.k.a., “Witness Statement Form”) dated May 7, 2007, that is not included in Silva’s clemency letter but is included in the clemency packet:
“I do not feel after reading Article 120 that the situation reported to OSI meets the criteria of this allegation. I consented to intimacy with Michael Silva. I only thought it necessary to report since my leadership advised it was the right steps to take. I had no intention of reporting this, I had wanted to put this behind me. Master Sgt. (last name redacted) asked if Mike was forceful or had aggressive behavior in intimacy. I wasn’t aware this was headed toward rape charges. I didn’t know where this fit. I know Mike has an aggressive and controlling personality, but don’t reel that rape depicts our situation.”
[NOTE: Despite the fact she had recanted her allegation seven years earlier and said Silva had not raped her, she appears to have changed her mind again and testified during the 2015 trial that he did. To wit, Silva explains “my story never changed, but hers did in all the statements she made since 2013 and in her sworn testimony.”]
In the 10th paragraph, Silva focuses on what he believes was his ex-wife’s motive to lie:
She admitted on the stand that she has been collecting VA money since she separated from the AF prior to these charges even being filed against me. She was collecting VA money with a recanted statement. She had no choice but to testify against me or she would likely have lost her VA benefit for it. She was getting out of the military, just had a new baby, and her new husband was not working. She needed the money.
In the 11th and 12th paragraphs, he reflects on many of his personal and professional accomplishments. In the interest of saving space, however, I will not include them here. Instead, I’ll skip forward to the next paragraph:
In early 2009, I received a Red Cross message that my father was in a coma following an accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. I applied for a humanitarian assignment back to Texas to take care of my father who could not talk, walk, feed himself, bathe, or use the restroom. He could not do anything unassisted. He needed around-the-clock care and assistance. I was his sole caregiver and tended to him every evening after work, leaving his care to a medical aide I hired during the day.
He continues in that paragraph, describing the many responsibilities of his assignment in San Antonio, concluding with this statement:
In early 2013, I found out I had been promoted to senior master sergeant; not long after that, I learned I was being investigated for an alleged sexual assault from 1995 and was removed as the Airman Leadership School commandant.
In the next three paragraphs, Silva reflects on his situation before asking the general for clemency:
If I was guilty of the crimes I was accused of, why would I have not dropped my paperwork to retire? We all knew they were investigating BMT. I did not drop my paperwork, because I knew I was innocent. I loved the Military Training Instructor Corps and what I was able to instill in our Airmen and our Air Force. A lot of them still sought guidance from me over the years. I would never have done anything to discredit myself, my professional appearance, or the United States Air Force.
Any person with the slightest connection to the military can now seek and obtain monetary benefits by merely accusing someone of sexual assault, whether it’s true or not. The military and VA have created incentives to fabricate sexual assault and the result is that innocent people are suffering trials and convictions for crimes they never committed. That is what happened to me. I never raped, struck, nor purposely harmed any woman in my life.
I am respectfully requesting that you grant me full clemency for this wrongful conviction and that I am able to retire with the rank I rightfully earned in the grade of senior master sergeant with all my benefits and pay. I honorably served for 24 years, with “Integrity,” putting “Service Before Self” and “Excellence in All We Do.” I applied these Core Values both on and off duty. The only thing I am guilty of, and regret, is putting the Air Force before my son all these years. I could have managed that aspect better. All I want is a chance to put this behind me and move on with my life. I understand that this is political; I understand that you Sir, would be forced to somewhat put your reputation and career on the line for me. But a trainee with a made up story infiltrated our Air Force, BMT and our way of life. All of this for VA money that our taxpayers are now burdened to assume. If this isn’t stopped it will continue to happen to others. At the very least, please grant me another chance at a fair trial, with an unbiased judge and jury. This is my life. My Freedom has been taken from me and I respectfully request that you help me right this wrong.
Silva ended his letter with a quote from Thomas Aquinas: “as a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”
If, based upon the details highlighted above and in the previous article, you believe Silva deserves some form of clemency, I encourage you to reach out to Maj. Gen. Mark A. Brown, 2nd Air Force commander, who is the convening authority (a.k.a., “the decision-maker in the case). All three of the men listed below, however, are worth contacting with your concerns:
BRIGADIER GENERAL ROBERT D. LABRUTTA
c/o 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
2080 Wilson Road
JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, TX 78234-5004
Phone: (210) 671-2907
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