Ex-Naval Academy official denies he rigged contracts Weston denies wrongdoing in academy deals.

May 02, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Capt. James E. Weston has insisted to a federal jury that he never steered construction jobs to favored contractors while he was the U.S. Naval Academy's public works officer.

Weston also insisted that he paid Annapolis contractor Carroll R. Dunton in cash for numerous appliances Dunton bought for him at reduced prices.

"I would never break the law," Weston testified yesterday at his contract corruption trial in U.S. District Court here.

But the now-retired captain admitted during several hours on the witness stand that he:

* Repeatedly solicited favors from Dunton, who did a steady stream of business with the academy during Weston's tenure.

* Filed false income tax returns.

* Did not report his Amway business income on Defense Department financial disclosure statements.

* Violated the Navy's Standards of Conduct by selling Amway products to junior officers and civilian subordinates.

* Sold thousands of dollars worth of Amway products to contractors with whom he conducted academy business, in an apparent conflict of interest specifically forbidden by the standards.

* Received a "non-punitive letter of caution" -- a reprimand -- from the academy superintendent that cited him for numerous abuses of his position of public trust. The letter was given to him when he retired in 1989.

Weston testified as the final defense witness at his trial on conspiracy, bribery and obstruction of justice charges. The case is likely to go to the jury for deliberation late today, after final arguments by prosecutors and the captain's defense lawyer.

The government contends that Weston steered academy construction jobs to favored contractors, from whom he received gifts and to whom he sold Amway products in what amounted to a shakedown in return for his influence on Navy contract awards.

The defense contends that Weston had no authority to award many of the contracts mentioned by the prosecution, and that he exercised good business judgment in seeking experienced contractors who could work quickly and well on academy jobs.

Throughout his testimony, Weston coolly and repeatedly denied ordering subordinates to justify contract awards to certain contractors, and said several contracts awarded during his tenure were for high-priority jobs pressed by his superiors.

Several of his subordinates testified last week that Weston told them to falsify documents and award certain contracts in increments, in apparent violation of federal laws.

Defense attorney William M. Ferris asked Weston yesterday, over and over, if he made such demands.

Each time the captain replied, "No, I never did," or simply, "No, never."

Weston freely admitted, however, that he asked Dunton to purchase a washer and dryer, air conditioners, lawn mowers, a trash compactor and a dishwasher for his home on the academy grounds at contractors' discount prices.

Weston said he "didn't want Mr. Dunton to feel obligated" and "always paid Mr. Dunton in cash, because that's what he always wanted. He said, 'I like to play the ponies.' "

On cross-examination, prosecutor Jane F. Barrett ridiculed Weston's purported habit of carrying thousands of dollars in cash with him in a leather-bound "day-timer" notebook, from which he said he paid Dunton for the merchandise.

At one point, Barrett asked whether Dunton's discount purchases constituted an "economic benefit" for the captain.

"That's pretty good," Weston replied, sidestepping the question.

Barrett also elicited Weston's admission that he parked his motor home at Dunton's farm for free instead of keeping it at a Navy facility, where he would have had to pay $75 a month rent.

Then Barrett showed Weston a list, in his handwriting, of commercial business prospects for his Amway products. The list contained the names of many contractors who did business with him at the academy.

Next, the prosecutor handed Weston several Amway receipts that the FBI seized during a search of his home last summer, after he provided some business records under a grand jury subpoena.

"So it's just happenstance that these Amway receipts, which deal with contractors who did business with the Naval Academy, were found in your closet?" Barrett asked.

"No, ma'am, I don't think so," Weston replied.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.