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Air Force colonel to face trial on rape charge

WICHITA FALLS -- A military trial is set for June for an Air Force colonel accused of making sexual advances toward two civilian workers at a Texas base and raping one of the women, officials said Thursday.

Col. Samuel Lofton III, former 82nd Training Group commander at Sheppard Air Force Base, faces up to life in a military prison if convicted.

The decision to proceed with a court-martial was made after testimony in February during a two-day Article 32 hearing held to determine, much like a civilian grand jury, whether there was enough evidence, Sheppard spokesman George Woodward said.

Lofton is charged with rape, being absent without leave, 19 counts of larceny, four counts of indecent assault, two counts of dereliction of duty and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

Lofton's attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. After the February hearing, his lead attorney, Maj. Mark Etheridge, said his client maintains his innocence.

Lofton was removed a year ago from his post, which he held about three years, after evidence of financial wrongdoing. Since then he has worked at another job at the base, near the Oklahoma border.

Allegations against Lofton include running up about $10,000 in unauthorized expenses on his government travel card, including his children's school lunches, a utility bill, airline tickets for relatives and restaurant meals in town.

He is also accused of being reimbursed for trips he never took that were scheduled while he flew to other cities to see his girlfriend, children or a friend.