Finding a job is hard enough, and now, 33-year-old Mario Manago, a soon-to-be Air Force veteran, may find it even harder after he was convicted back in March of a federal crime—the federal crime of being six minutes late to a meeting.
According to NJ.com, the airman, who has served in the Air Force for 12 years, was convicted at court-martial March 9 for failing to go to his “appointed place of duty.” Manago was late to a meeting that he had originally requested with his commander to discuss his concerns that he was being unfairly treated by supervisors at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County, N.J.
“When he said I was guilty, it didn’t hit me until after I sat down and thought about it,” Manago told the news site, recalling that he realized he now had a conviction to deal with “for being six minutes late to a meeting I requested, that was about wrongdoing. Something is wrong.”
And if that were not bad enough, before the judge could even hand down a punishment, Manago found out that he was out of the Air Force anyway because his commander had demoted him, and as NJ.com notes, Air Force rules put a cap on the number of years that someone can serve as a senior airman. Manago is now over that cap, and as a result, he will be honorably discharged Saturday.
“I wanted to retire from the Air Force,” he lamented.
Now he’s on the job market with a criminal record to navigate.
Manago told NJ.com that his military career began to fall apart in 2016, when he voiced complaints to his superiors about issues that he perceived with a mission, as well as the way he was being treated. He believes that his memos about his concerns annoyed his superiors to the point that they lashed back.
“It was not about punctuality. It was about this commander sending a message to Mario and punishing him for complaining,” Manago’s attorney, Douglas Cody, said.
Of course, Manago’s whistleblower complaint was dismissed by the base’s inspector general, “but I think a fair observer looking from the outside can see the connection,” Cody, a retired Marine judge advocate, added. “If the system or command decides they’re against you, with the military being a hyperregulated organization, it’s easy to bring to bear against someone they don’t like.”
A spokesperson for the joint base said that Manago’s complaints were fully investigated and found to be unsubstantiated, also confirming that Mango was convicted for being late to a meeting.
“The U.S. Air Force, out of mission necessity, expects discipline from our military members and for airmen to conduct themselves in accordance to Air Force standards and core values,” spokesperson Shaun Eagan told NJ.com in a statement. “Accordingly, it is a commander’s responsibility to hold the members of the unit accountable for misconduct.”
However, Cody said that Manago was late because he was unable to abandon his post elsewhere on the base. Manago had also reportedly called to reschedule the meeting but was told he could not.
“Leaving to go to a personal meeting I requested would have been dereliction of duty,” Manago said. So he stayed.
“The idea that you can charge someone with a criminal offense for being six minutes late without any aggravating circumstance is very draconian,” Cody said.
When the airman did get to the meeting, he said his commander, Lt. Col. Eric B. Quidley, was “not impressed” with him, mocking his memos and making him read aloud from them.
Manago’s story comes at a time when a study has recently been released, showing that black troops are more likely to be punished by commanders and courts across every service branch.
“Over the past decade, racial disparities have persisted in the military justice system without indications of improvement,” the report, by advocacy organization Protect Our Defenders, states. “These disparities are particularly striking for black service members, who face military justice or disciplinary action at much higher rates than white service members in every service branch. In fact, the size of the disparity between white and black service members’ military justices involvement has remained consistent over the years, and, in the case of the Air Force and Marine Corps, has increased.”
The study noted, among other particulars, that black airmen were 71 percent more likely than white airmen to face court-martial or nonjudicial punishment.
However, Manago is not sure that his race played a huge part in his case. But in the meantime, he is appealing his demotion. He requested clemency regarding his conviction, but that was not granted.
In the meantime, he can only hope that other places of employment are open to hiring someone convicted of a federal crime, especially when he has to check the box on the job application that often asks about prior convictions.
“It’s going to be weird, trying to explain it,” he said. “They might think I’m joking.”
Read more at NJ.com.