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July 5, 20172min245

Here’s a recap from last week:

On Friday, the second day of testimony in the corruption trial of ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, defense attorneys challenged witnesses over the 2013 firing of a woman who had drawn his ire.

At issue is whether the embattled former lawman committed extortion when he told top officials of a jail health care contractor that he would yank a $5 million medical services contract unless they terminated Wendy Habert.

“It threw us into a bit of a tailspin and we didn’t know how to respond to it,” said Carl Anderson, a former administrator at Nashville, Tenn.-based Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc.

Habert, a CHC employee who worked at the jail and oversaw the lucrative contract, was fired soon after.

In testimony that drew fireworks on Thursday, Habert framed her termination as an act of revenge by Maketa – partly because she accused a top-ranking sheriff’s commander of sexual harassment and partly because she refused to help Undersheriff Paula Presley, a close Maketa ally, run to succeed Maketa.

The defense, which described Habert as a “problem employee” during opening statements, hammered on what they portrayed as Habert’s checkered job performance, including episodes in which she used obscene language during tense confrontations with Maketa and Presley.

On Friday, Maketa attorney David Kaplan repeatedly invoked Habert’s insult to Presley, in which she admitted calling the undersheriff a “train wreck bitch.”

He also asked about a phone call she placed to Maketa in which she used an obscenity before hanging up.

Anderson, who said he wasn’t aware of those claims at the time, agreed both incidents would raise concerns from CHC’s perspective.


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July 2, 201711min500

A Miami-based correctional health care provider found a fresh start in El Paso County, winning a jail contract potentially worth up to $40 million eight months after it was banned from jails and prisons in New York state following a string of inmate deaths.

Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., a defendant in dozens of pending lawsuits nationwide over prisoners’ civil rights and allegations of substandard care, will provide medical services to the jail’s average daily population of roughly 1,500 inmates beginning July 15.

It will replace a similarly controversial provider, Correct Care Solutions of Nashville, Tenn., in a transition that illustrates what one criminal justice expert calls the “pingpong” effect: In the world of for-profit correctional health care, one embattled provider is often cut loose only to clear the way for another.
“Due to the contract violations or inadequate care that’s being provided, they’ll get rid of (one) company,” said Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Center. “Then they’ll bring someone else in and they’ll find that – unfortunately, because all of the companies have the same business model – they tend to have the same problems.”

An Armor spokeswoman defended the company’s track record, saying the physician-owned operation focuses squarely on patient care. “Negative outcomes” are inevitable when a health care provider is responsible for tens of thousands of patients nationwide, many of them suffering from opiate addictions and other onerous health challenges, Yeleny Suarez said in a written statement. These complex medical problems, dumped on the doorsteps of jails and their privatized providers, often cut into staffing and resources that could otherwise be used to administer day-to-day health care to an already “vulnerable population,” she said.

Suarez declined to comment on lawsuits over inmate deaths filed against Armor in at least four of the eight states where it operates, saying the company doesn’t discuss legal matters.

County officials said the switch in contractors was not a result of problems with Correct Care Solutions, but, instead, an attempt to get taxpayers the best bang for their buck.

The contract will be prorated for the first six months, not to exceed $3.7 million, after which it can be renewed annually for up to five years.

Under Armor’s contract, the county will pay nearly 40 percent more for inmate medical services than it had been paying Correct Care Solutions, but the amount also would have increased if the county stuck with Correct Care, said county procurement specialist Ron Neely. County spokesman Dave Rose attributes the escalation to rising health care costs, better-defined standards for quality of medical services and a jail population that continues to inch upward.

Despite rising health care costs, Armor remains a financial juggernaut, with revenues of more than $540 million from 2010 to 2013, pocketing a yearly average of more than $88 million in profit, according to tax returns provided by Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attorney Greg Lauer, who is litigating a case against the company.

Critics say correctional health care companies have a simple strategy for remaining profitable: cut services.

“They know all the tricks. They make it so they can skimp here and skimp there and ultimately provide less effective health care,” said Dr. Jody Rich, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University. “To relegate a basic function of a state to an entity that’s focused on making profit really doesn’t smell right to me.”

Lawsuits and payouts

Armor faces more than 100 pending lawsuits filed in state and federal courts nationwide – many of them alleging negligence, medical malpractice or violations of inmates’ civil rights.

In October, it was barred from contracting with jails in New York under the terms of a settlement with the state attorney general, who sued the company for failing to provide adequate care. The company also agreed to a $350,000 payout – a small fraction of the millions of dollars the company has been ordered to shell out or agreed to pay in lawsuits stemming from similar claims. In April, a federal jury ordered Armor to pay more than $7 million to the family of an inmate – a combat veteran who suffered from PTSD and addiction issues – who hanged himself at a jail in Nassau County in New York five years earlier.

The company agreed in 2015 to a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed over the death of Tommie Lee Jones, who died at a jail in New York’s Niagara County, according to Newsday.

In 2013, it ponied up $800,000 to the family of Allen Hicks Sr., who died in a jail in Hillsborough County in Florida a year earlier after suffering a stroke that went untreated for roughly 36 hours, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Armor was also involved in a 2015 settlement with the family of Raleigh Priester, a mentally ill man who shed 120 pounds before starving to death while in custody in Broward County three years earlier. Terms of the settlement are confidential.

But Lauer, who represented Priester’s family, said the payouts are small compared with the company’s bottom line.

“It’s cheaper to pay off the lawsuits and the liability then actually do things the right way and take care of people,” Lauer said.

Moving into Colorado

Armor is part of a small group of big companies that are capable of providing medical services for hundreds of inmates at a time, experts in privatization and correctional health care say. It’s not quite the size of industry titans Corizon Correctional Health and Correct Care Solutions, both of which provide care to hundreds of thousands of inmates in dozens of states, according to In the Public Interest, a research and policy organization that tracks privatization in various industries.

The newly chosen provider was founded in 2004 in Broward County by Dr. Jose Armas, who is also the sole shareholder, according to tax returns Lauer provided. It has since expanded to eight states, providing care to roughly 40,000 inmates in jails and prisons. Its largest presence is in its home state, where it has roughly 1,300 employees working at 19 jails, company spokesman Suarez said.
El Paso County will be Armor’s third client in Colorado, where it has contracts with Weld and Larimer county jails. Both counties also made the switch from Correct Care Solutions to Armor this year, although officials say the shift wasn’t related to complaints over performance.

Weld County and Correct Care Solutions are facing a lawsuit over the death of Barton Grubbs, an inmate who downed two bottles of pills shortly after his arrest in 2014.

Some counties have chosen Armor after facing lawsuits over subpar care, according to media reports. Lee County in Florida selected Armor in 2014 – roughly three years after the county and its then-contractor, Corizon, were sued by the sister of an inmate who suffered permanent brain damage trying to hang himself in the shower, reported the Naples Daily News.

Profits vs. care

Inmate defense attorneys, medical experts and privatization specialists acknowledge that there are problems across the board with correctional health care, whether it’s administered by a private company or public entity. But some agree that the issues are exacerbated by the corporate profit incentive, and the outcome often isn’t worth the lower costs contractors sometimes offer.

“You can get cheap private care, but the quality and quantity suffer,” said Roland Zullo, a researcher at the University of Michigan who specializes in privatization. “If you instead look at the value of it, which is what you get for what you pay for, privatization does not work – certainly not for this service.”

It’s a struggle that is seldom short-lived. Public agencies are typically reluctant to hire their medical staff after they’ve put health care out for private bid, added Zullo, who has studied private and public correctional health care models in Michigan.

“Once a political body makes a decision to privatize, it becomes very difficult for them politically to admit that it was a mistake. So when it fails, the usual response from them is, ‘We’ll give it another try,'” he said.

Not all industry experts concur that the money motive is an inherent flaw in privatized correctional health care systems.

Dr. Marc Stern, former health services director for the Washington state Department of Corrections, believes pinning the blame on for-profit providers is unfair. Issues with privatized health care often arise from a lack of oversight, he said.

No federal agencies monitor jails to ensure that health care is adequately provided. Some states, such as New York, have formed boards or commissions to oversee conditions at correctional institutions, but Colorado has no such regulatory body.

“If we focus on private companies being the problem, I think we’re focusing on the wrong problem,” said Stern, who now teaches at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health. “We just, as a community, don’t put enough money into correctional health care.”


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June 30, 20174min233

Attorneys at the public corruption trial of ex-Sheriff Terry Maketa on Friday clashed over circumstances behind the 2013 firing of a woman who had crossed him.

At issue is whether the embattled lawman committed extortion when he told top officials at a jail healthcare contractor that he would yank a $5 million medical services contract unless they terminated Wendy Habert.

“It threw us into a bit of a tailspin and we didn’t know how to respond to it,” Carl Anderson, a former a former administrator at Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc., said during the second day of testimony in the case.

Habert, a CHC employee who worked at the jail, was fired soon after.

During testimony Thursday, Habert framed her termination as act of revenge by Maketa – partly because she accused a top-ranking sheriff’s commander of sexual harassment and partly because she refused to help Undersheriff Paula Presley, a close Maketa ally, mount a political run to succeed him as the county’s elected sheriff.

The defense, which described her as a “problem employee” during opening statements, hammered on what they portrayed as grave performance problems, including episodes in which she used obscene language during tense confrontations with both Maketa and Presley.

On Thursday, Maketa attorney David Kaplan repeatedly invoked Habert’s insult to Presley, in which she admitted calling the undersheriff a “train wreck bitch.”

He also asked about a phone call she placed to Maketa in which she said “F— you” before hanging up.

Anderson, who said he wasn’t aware of those claims at the time, agreed both incidents would raise concerns from CHC’s perspective.

But he and a second CHC official told the jury they had no reasonable grounds to terminate Habert prior to Maketa’s threat – except to save the multimillion dollar contract. Then-CHC Vice President Richard Hegstad said that even as he was notifying Habert she would be fired, he was also asking her for clues as to why.

Hegstad said he personally called Maketa for an explanation. Maketa didn’t provide one, but issued a second ultimatum, he said.

“(Maketa) stated that he wanted her fired and that we needed to do it in 48 hours.”

During cross-examination, Maketa’s attorneys suggested other explanations, including problems with accreditation at the jail and gaps in how medications were administered in the sheriff’s detoxification facility, also run by CHC.

The jury also heard from a witness who described circumstances behind the disappearance of the so-called Elder file – an internal affairs file said to contain a record of misdeeds of then-sheriff’s candidate Bill Elder during his earlier stint with the sheriff’s office.

The file was discovered missing from a file cabinet in a locked room at the Sheriff’s Office, leading Maketa to order an investigation in who took it.

Authorities allege that Presley had the file all along and that the hunt for the file was a pretext to derail Elder’s candidacy and tar his supporters inside the office.

Testimony continues this afternoon.


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June 30, 20179min253

Wendy Habert once thought of Terry Maketa as family – the man who walked her down the aisle when she got married, whose wife quit a job to be nanny to her first child.

But by September 2013, the love was gone, and a different side of the sheriff emerged.

Habert took the stand Thursday as the first witness in the former El Paso County sheriff’s corruption trial in 4th Judicial District Court, telling a jury she was fired and subjected to a criminal investigation after a dust-up with then-Undersheriff Paula Presley, a close Maketa ally.

Events she described formed the basis of all four felony counts against Maketa, making Habert a ripe target for Maketa’s prominent attorney, Pamela Mackey of Denver, who launched a slashing cross-examination – supplying early fireworks in a trial poised to expose shifting alliances and simmering feuds during Maketa’s turbulent third term in the Sheriff’s Office.

Habert, who helped direct three of Maketa’s successful campaigns for sheriff, said her relationship with Maketa transformed when she refused Presley’s request to be her campaign manager at a time Presley was mulling a run to succeed Maketa as sheriff.

Soon Habert was out of a job – fired by her jail contractor employer, Correctional Healthcare Companies. Two human resources representatives told her in a candid talk that her termination was decreed by their clients, for “politically driven” reasons, Habert said.

She also told jurors she was questioned about her conversations with a jail nurse under her supervision who had accused a then-deputy of domestic violence – a deputy authorities say rode dirt bikes with Maketa during off-hours.

Prosecutors say Habert’s sudden fall from favor was the result of a retaliation campaign by a man who used his authority as a cudgel. During opening statements, special prosecutor Chris Wilcox said Maketa went so far as to threaten the jail contractor that he would terminate a $5 million contract unless Habert was fired – the basis for charges of extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion.

The criminal investigation into Habert focused on whether she had coached the jail nurse who had accused Maketa’s friend of domestic violence, she told the jury. In reality, prosecutors alleged during opening statements, Maketa wanted simply to stamp out the domestic violence allegations that ended up claiming his friend’s career as a deputy.

Maketa is also accused of coercing that woman, Kelli Trull, now McMahan, to recant her story – allegations that give rise to two counts of witness tampering, both felonies. McMahan, who authorities say agreed to change her story and claim she was the aggressor, was ultimately jailed on suspicion of harassment and drunken driving.

During the defense’s opening statement, Mackey described Habert as a “problem employee” who clashed with colleagues and routinely overstepped her bounds at the jail, inserting herself into issues above her pay grade.

On cross-examination, Mackey wasted no time in teasing out an alternate explanation for why Habert ended up on Maketa’s bad side, spurring Habert to recount the salty language she used in turning down Presley’s request.

“You called her a bitch, correct?” Mackey said.

“I called her a train wreck bitch,” Habert said.

“And you’re saying this to the undersheriff of El Paso County, correct?” went Mackey’s response.

During a different exchange, Habert described a tense phone call with Maketa over her refusal to help Presley. When Maketa hung up on her, Habert called back and told him, “F— you.”

“You called him for 1 minute – just long enough to say ‘F— you’? Mackey pressed.

“It only takes a second,” Habert shot back.

Habert was made to read from an employment complaint filed against her by a sheriff’s supervisor at the jail, and confronted with transcripts of an interview with a sheriff’s detective in which she made no mention of claims that Maketa had coerced McMahan to drop her allegations.

Mackey even raked her for refusing to accept an apology from a jail commander whom Habert had accused of sexual harassment – another breaking point with Maketa.

Mackey in her opening remarks said Maketa contacted Correctional Healthcare Companies demanding only that she be transferred elsewhere, not fired. Mackey said Maketa routinely threatened to nix the company’s multimillion dollar contract when they failed to correct problems at the jail. That contract was at-will and could be terminated at any time, for any reason, Mackey said.

As for the episode involving domestic violence allegations against Maketa’s friend, Mackey said Maketa received a phone call from the woman asking for a third interview. He approved the additional interview, and that was the end of his involvement.

Maketa was initially charged with second-degree kidnapping and false imprisonment related to McMahan’s arrest, but prosecutors dropped those counts before trial, saying they didn’t have enough evidence to prove them.

The defense effort to blunt accusations against Maketa continued with exhaustive questioning of McMahan in which Mackey detailed her evolving accounts of why she recanted her abuse allegations.

McMahan told jurors that Maketa told her over a phone call that she could help get her boyfriend, Travis Garretson, out of trouble if she changed her story and told detectives she was the aggressor.

She said Maketa assured her she wouldn’t get in trouble.

Armed with sheriff’s reports and CBI interview transcripts, Mackey pointed to one later interview in which McMahan said it was Presley who pressured her, not Maketa. She referred to another version that minimized Maketa’s role.

Only in May 2016 did McMahan finally report to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation her story that Maketa had coerced her, Mackey said, drawing a protest from the witness.

“”That wouldn’t be the first time I said that at all,” she said. McMahan said she told friends about Maketa’s overture on the day it occurred.

But McMahan, who now lives in Alabama, admitted omitting the allegation in some interviews, partly because her boyfriend was around at the time and partly because she said Maketa warned her not to tell anybody.

Mackey questioned why cellphone records couldn’t be found to prove her claim that Garretson and Maketa frequently talked on the phone, handing prosecutors another potential inconsistency to combat.

Joe Briester, a bureau chief under Maketa, told the panel that Maketa ordered him to drop plans to open an Internal Affairs investigation against Garretson. Breister, now El Paso County undersheriff, said he complied.

The final witness of the day, former jail health care contract employee Carl Anderson, described being summoned to a meeting at which Maketa threatened to cancel the jail contract unless Habert was fired.

His testimony is expected to continue when the proceedings resume at 9 a.m. Friday.

The trial officially began Tuesday, with two days of jury selection, and is expected to last at least two weeks.


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June 29, 20174min200

Opening statements and testimony in the corruption trial of ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa will begin Thursday following two days of jury selection.

Proceedings are scheduled to get under way at 8:30 a.m.

A panel of seven men and seven women, including two alternates, was seated late Wednesday afternoon, winnowed from a pool of 90 people.

After roughly an hour of opening remarks by both sides, prosecutors will begin calling witnesses for what’s expected to be two weeks of testimony. The witness list involves a who’s who of El Paso County sheriff’s brass, including Sheriff Bill Elder.

Initially charged with nine counts, Maketa will face a pared-down case.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz on Wednesday said he granted a request by prosecutors to dismiss two felony counts against the former lawman – second-degree kidnapping and false imprisonment, both felonies – after authorities reassessed their case before trial.

“We have two witnesses who are very certain that two very different things happened,” special prosecutor Mark Hurlbert told the court Wednesday during a discussion held outside the presence of the jury.

Although prosecutors had probable cause to file the counts, they would be unlikely to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

The abandoned counts stemmed from allegations that Maketa pressured a then-jail nurse, Kelli McMahan, to drop a domestic violence case against her boyfriend, a former deputy. When she agreed, authorities said she was arrested for making a false report and jailed for a night. Maketa still is accused of witness tampering in the episode.

The former three-term sheriff stands accused of a range of crimes, all involving allegations he abused his authority for personal and political benefit. He remains charged with extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, witness tampering and conspiracy to commit witness tampering – all felonies – as well as three misdemeanor counts of official misconduct.

The extortion charges allege that Maketa threatened to terminate a $5.3 million jail health care contract unless the contractor agreed to fire a woman who had crossed him.

The official misconduct alleges that he maneuvered to impose sanctions against three deputies as part of the search for a missing file said to contain a record of misdeeds by Elder, then a candidate for sheriff running against Maketa’s pick, former Undersheriff Paula Presley.

Presley, 52, and former sheriff’s Cmdr. Juan “John” San Agustin, 47, are also charged in the case. They will be tried separately.

Elder is expected to testify that he was never the subject of a disciplinary file.

That could put him at odds with the prosecution, which alleges that Maketa and Presley concocted a story about the file going missing from a locked room at the Sheriff’s Office in a bid to damage Elder’s political prospects and to punish his supporters inside the office.

The case is being tried by special prosecutors from the 18th Judicial District Attorneys Office. El Paso County District Attorney Dan May recused his office from handling the grand jury investigation that led to charges, saying he wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Maketa has maintained his innocence, and his attorneys have attacked his indictment as baseless.


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June 1, 20176min236
Tri-State Power and Generation coal-fired power plant
More coal-fired power plants will be shutting down in Colorado, even without Gov. Hickenlooper signing a draft climate-change order that parallels the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (Tri-State Power and Generation photo)

From dismay to nonchalance, local reactions on the Paris climate accord withdrawal appeared split along ideological lines.

For environmentalists and progressives, President Trump’s long-awaited announcement on Thursday registered like a gut punch, raising questions not only about the United States’ place in the global order but for the future of the planet.

“It’s putting America first, as if there are no other concerns on a global scale,” said Anjuli Kapoor of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. “The lack of cooperation with other countries is concerning.”

To those who doubt climate science, and to business groups that keep a focus on the bottom line in the Pikes Peak region, reactions were muted.

“The overall consensus here is because we truly don’t have a robust clean tech industry in our area, we don’t see it as influencing local business,” said Patrice Lehermeier of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC.

Several groups contacted by The Gazette noted that rising temperatures have already been blamed for an uptick in the kind of natural disasters that have pummeled the region.

“If we have more wildfires, or more severe floods, that would certainly be a concern of ours for our parks and open space,” said Susan Davies of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. The nonpartisan group took no position on the issue but represents constituents with ongoing concerns over climate change, Davies said.

Rising carbon levels have already translated to air quality concerns in Colorado, the Colorado Sierra Club of Colorado said in a statement, citing a recent American Lung Association study that put Denver and Fort Collins in the top 20 cities with the worst air quality (At 11th and 15th places respectively).

“This president and his administration are on the wrong side of history with this remarkably short-sighted decision,” said Jim Alexee of the Colorado Sierra Club. “Global climate change is an issue that requires moral and political leadership from the U.S. and energy-rich states like Colorado.”

One local political leader might dismiss such talk. While El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said he doesn’t know much about the Paris climate accord, he said he is suspicious about climate deals.

“They are usually connected to an agenda and not the real issues,” VanderWerf said. VanderWerf cited the 2008 Kyoto Protocol as an example. He said the fact that China did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, a 1992 international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, was unfair.

Meanwhile, the city’s publicly owned utility said it would stay its present course.

The exit from the Paris Accord “has no impact on our continued efforts to improve our community’s air quality and add more renewable energy to our generation mix,” said Colorado Springs Utlities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad. “We take being a responsible environmental steward very seriously.”

CSU is on track to decommission the Martin Drake Power Plant no later than 2035, and the oldest and smallest generating unit at the plant was retired at the end of last year, she said.

Trinidad also said emissions from the city’s two coal-fired power plants have “decreased significantly over the past decade.”

A CSU critic who has disputed the utility’s representations about emissions took a different position.

Leslie Weise, who is involved in a lawsuit against CSU involving allegations that the Drake plant is pumping “poison” into the air, characterized Trump’s decision as a blow to progress.

“Withdrawal from the Paris accord is in disregard to the scientific consensus, the majority of Americans and pretty much the entire world,” she said. “A fossil-free future is already the path the world is taking. It is to America’s peril to forgo a leadership role.”

Amy Gray, local team leader for environmental organization 350 Colorado Springs, called Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the agreement “atrocious.”

The task of spurring movement toward clean energy sources and limiting carbon emissions now falls on state and local leaders, who must push for eco-friendly policies and legislation, she said.

“What we’re hoping is that state and local leaders decide to hold to the Paris climate accord regardless of the administrations’ decision today,” she said.

Gazette reporters Debbie Kelley, Seth Bodine and Rachel Riley contributed to this story.


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June 1, 20175min227
Air Force Academy cadets (The Gazette)

A transgender Air Force Academy graduate is being withheld lieutenant’s bars because of what the academy calls a gap in Pentagon rules for transgender military recruits.

Although the Defense Department began allowing military service by transgender people last year, the change applied to those who were active duty, not recruits, Air Force Academy spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage said in a written statement.

As a result, a recent graduate has been barred from receiving a commission, Heritage confirmed, declining to name the cadet.

Policies for recruits — or “accessions” in military jargon — were under review by the Pentagon and revised guidelines were expected by July 16, Herritage said.

“However, we are strongly recommending this individual for Air Force civil service as an option for continued service after the Academy,” the statement said. “The more than 140,000 Air Force civilians who serve along aside our uniformed Airmen everyday are essential to our mission to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.”

The civil service is a name for the federal’s government’s civilian workforce. Civil servants hold no rank and are not considered military personnel.

News of the cadet’s limbo was reported May 10 by USA Today and again Thursday by The New York Times.

The unidentified cadet was one of two transgender service academy graduates caught up in an apparent loophole, the newspapers reported.

The Times quoted Brad Carson, former acting undersecretary of defense and architect of the change in transgender rules, saying that the authors “envisioned that the same rules that apply to active-duty service members today would also apply to service academy personnel, because they’re already in the military.”

Herritage declined to say how long Air Force Academy brass had been on notice about the cadet’s gender identity and impending issues surrounding graduation.

Academy graduates agree to serve as a commissioned officer for at least eight years after graduation, five of which must be active duty, with more stringent requirements for pilots, according to the academy’s website.

Those who fail to meet their obligations can be made to repay costs of their education. An academy admissions website estimated that value at more than $400,000.

Whether a career in civil service satisfies those obligations is unclear. However, Herritage said, “if the civil service option was approved, the cadet would not incur any costs to pay back.”

Responding to a question by The Gazette, Herritage said the academy’s move endorsing the cadet for the civil service shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that it believes transgender recruits will be barred when rules are clarified in July.

“We’re awaiting policy and in the absence of policy we’re going to use our best judgment on a case by case basis,” he said.

He couldn’t say if the Air Force Academy has previously accepted civil service as a substitute for eight years of service as an officer.

The Air Force Academy has a multidisciplinary Transgender Working Group that has been working with Air Force brass to assist in crafting a policy specific to the Air Force Academy, the statement said.

Herritage said he couldn’t speak to the working group’s recommendations thus far, and declined the newspaper’s request for an interview with a member. He referred further questions to the Defense Department.