Army Demotes Recruiter of Teen

Sergeant admits 'poor judgment' in pursuing undercover student.

By John Aguilar, Rocky Mountain News | August 31, 2005

An Army recruiter from Golden was demoted Tuesday after admitting he encouraged an Arvada West High School student to create a fake diploma and use a drug detox kit so the student could join the Army.

Sgt. 1st Class Eric Mulero's rank was reduced to staff sergeant, a move that carries a one-grade cut in salary, from around $39,000 to $34,300 a year.

"I know I'm a good soldier," said Mulero after pleading guilty during a summary court-martial at the Military Entrance Processing Station in downtown Denver.

"I used poor judgment. I'm not going to let this bring me down. I'm going to bounce back from this."

The case involved a recruiting sting orchestrated by David McSwane. He was a 17-year-old honors student at Arvada West when, as part of a school project, he decided to see whether he could enlist in the Army while pretending to be a pot addict and a high school dropout.

Starting in January, McSwane secretly recorded Mulero instructing him on how to obtain a phony diploma and high school transcripts from an online diploma mill.

"It can be like Faith Hill Baptist School or something - whatever you choose," the 15-year Army veteran is heard telling McSwane in a taped phone call.

McSwane, with the help of family members, secretly videotaped another recruiter at the Golden recruitment office, Sgt. Tim Pickel, accompanying him to a head shop to help him buy a drug detox kit to flush his system of supposed traces of marijuana.

Pickel was reprimanded last month by the Army through a nonjudicial administrative action.

After CBS 4 News in Denver aired a segment in April on McSwane's investigation, the story was quickly picked up by media outlets around the world.

The Army held a "stand-down" day at all of its domestic recruitment offices in May to address recruitment ethics and review Army values. It stemmed largely from McSwane's investigation and several other recruitment scandals elsewhere.

The Army has largely fallen short of its monthly recruitment goals this year. The Army's chief of staff told Congress earlier this summer that his branch was at "serious risk" of not meeting the goal of 80,000 recruits by Sept. 30.

Mulero's lawyer, David Sheldon, acknowledged that pressure to meet recruitment goals played a significant role in his client's actions.

"The pressures recruiters are facing are enormous," Sheldon said as Mulero stood next to him outside the federal building. "On the other hand, Sgt. Mulero accepted responsibility for what he did."

Mulero, who can still appeal the decision, apologized to the Army and to McSwane just before being sentenced.

"I was wrong," he said. "I'm sorry. I just want to continue to serve in the Army."

McSwane, now a freshman at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said his intention was not to see recruiters lose their jobs, but rather to figure out why some feel the need to break the rules to meet their missions.

"I'm pleased to see (Mulero) still has a career," said McSwane, who was at the hearing. "He's a good soldier who made a mistake.

"There was a mistake made that was clearly the result of incredible pressure put on recruiters to produce, produce, produce at any cost."