Then-Gen. Arthur Lichte is shown here addressing the men and women of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing during a town hall meeting Oct. 9, 2009. (Tech. Sgt. Charles Larkin Sr./Air Force)

The Air Force has taken the extraordinary step of reducing the rank of a retired four-star general after finding he engaged in “inappropriate sexual acts” with a lower-ranking female officer before he retired in 2010, the service announced Wednesday.

Retired Gen. Arthur J. Lichte was reduced to major general following a probe by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations after a female officer alleged last summer that Lichte assaulted her twice in 2007 and once in 2009. The service did not substantiate the sexual-assault allegations, but found that the general engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with her.

“The Air Force takes all allegations of inappropriate conduct very seriously,” said acting Air Force secretary Lisa Disbrow. “We expect our leaders to uphold the highest standards of behavior. These standards and rules underpin good order and discipline.”

An attorney for Lichte, Larry Youngner, said in a statement that Lichte “did not commit a sexual assault and vehemently denies the unsworn allegations made against him.” The general is not proud of what transpired but cooperated fully and provided statements under oath to defend against the allegations against him, Youngner said.

“General (Ret.) Arthur Lichte has continually asserted that he is deeply sorry for the pain he has caused his family, especially his strong and loving wife,” the statement said. “He is regretful of the decisions he made that allowed him to find himself in this predicament. My client and his family ask for privacy to work through this difficult time. We will continue to appeal the Air Force’s wrong decision concerning this unsworn accusation and the grade determination through the proper channels.”

Then-Air Force Secretary Deborah James, who left her job last month after President Trump’s election, issued Lichte a letter of reprimand after reviewing the results of the investigation, said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. The decision to reduce Lichte in rank was made Tuesday by Disbrow, after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis withdrew a Defense Department certification that Lichte had served satisfactorily as a four-star general.

A 50-page report of the investigation released by the Air Force said that the investigation was launched Aug. 24 after the female officer, who has not been identified, made the allegations. During the first two incidents, the probe said, Lichte was the three-star vice chief of staff for the Air Force. When the third occurred, it said, he was the four-star commander of U.S. Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

The report, which is heavily redacted, said that the woman alleged that Lichte told her that if she told anyone what happened “he would deny it until the day he died.” The general made sexual advances on her, and she believed she had no choice but to engage because of his rank and position within the service, she alleged.

The Air Force report recounts an unidentified witness overhearing a conversation between Lichte and the woman a day after she made the assault allegations in which he said the allegations were a surprise and apologized “if that’s how it was to you.” Lichte noted that when the incidents occurred, alcohol was involved, the witness told investigators.

It marks the second time in a year that an Air Force general has been disciplined for an inappropriate relationship. Last May, the service ended the career of Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, the assistant vice chief of staff, after finding he had exchanged “sexually suggestive” emails with a married woman in the service. Hesterman, who also was married, denied that he had a sexual relationship with the woman, but the emails led to his early departure from the service. He was allowed to keep his three-star rank in retirement.

A Pentagon report released last May said there were 6,083 reports of sexual assault in fiscal 2015.

Related content:
‘Sexually suggestive’ relationship ends career of Air Force general who ran the ISIS air war

Fired general who sent ‘sexually suggestive’ emails allowed to keep rank in retirement