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Emails accuse former Aviano vice wing commander of protecting Wilkerson

Sep. 10, 2013 - 11:34AM   |  
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The former commander of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, accused his vice commander of trying to protect the base inspector general, who was a friend and fellow pilot, by sitting on an allegation of sex assault against the IG, newly released emails show.

The former vice commander, Col. Dean Ostovich, kept quiet for days about the allegation against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, according to a May 25, 2012, email written by Brig. Gen. Scott Zobrist, the Aviano wing commander at the time.

Ostovich knew an American civilian had accused Wilkerson of sexually assaulting her while she was a guest in his home in March 2012, the documents show.

The Air Force made public late last month hundreds of pages of emails between top Air Force leaders in the case. Wilkerson was convicted in November of sexually assaulting 49-year-old Kimberly Hanks. Three months later, Third Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the verdict.

“Col. Ostovich clearly failed to act as the senior [sexual assault prevention and response/sexual assault response coordinator] rep on the base,” Zobrist wrote in the May 2012 email to Franklin. “I believe he did this to protect his friend, the alleged assailant.”

Zobrist explained that Ostovich was in a relationship with the victim’s friend. Hanks had shared with her friend key details of the assault. Ostovich “potentially obstructed justice by communicating this info to Lt. Col. Wilkerson, although this will be hard to prove,” Zobrist wrote in the email to Franklin.

“I have counseled him multiple times before on the need to behave like a senior leader and he clearly hasn’t gotten the message,” Zobrist wrote.

Zobrist followed up with Franklin in a June 4 email. Ostovich had been interviewed by Air Force officials as part of the sex assault investigation, and was “reportedly very evasive and ‘couldn’t remember’ things that one would almost certainly remember,” Zobrist wrote.

“I believe he is protecting himself as well as Lt. Col. Wilkerson. ... I believe now more than ever he must go,” Zobrist wrote.

Zobrist relieved Ostovich of his position a day later and reported back to Franklin: Ostovich “was very calm,professional and mature in the way he handled it. ... He commented that he served at my discretion and knows that I need to take actions that are best for the wing.”

Ostovich was given immunity to testify at Wilkerson’s court-martial. Ostovich said on the stand that he’d had an unprofessional relationship with a captain in his wing. He denied giving Wilkerson a heads-up about the sex assault allegation.

Ostovich is now assigned to the Pentagon. He declined to comment for this story. ■

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