Prosecutors have told a federal jury that defendant Capt. James E. Weston "corrupted the contracting process" at the U.S. Naval Academy for his personal gain by selling Amway products to contractors he dealt with as public works officer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane F. Barrett said Weston is guilty of "influence peddling" because he "took advantage of his position to reward contractors" who plied him with gifts such as major appliances in addition to orders for Amway products that they neither wanted nor needed.
"This case is about a captain in the U.S. Navy walking up to contractors with his hand out," she said.
"He wasn't worried about the law, because he thought he was above it. He was a captain, and nobody says 'No' to a captain."
The jury was beginning deliberations today in U.S. District Court here in Weston's trial on charges of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The panel heard closing arguments yesterday.
Barrett and co-prosecutor Richard C. Kay argued that Weston conspired with Annapolis contractor Carroll R. Dunton and academy subordinate Eugene E. Hook to obtain thousands of dollars worth of gifts -- lawn mowers, air conditioners, a washer and dryer, and other appliances -- from Dunton in return for favored treatment on contracts.
Weston also is accused of five bribery counts tied to the alleged gifts, or gratuities, and one count of obstructing justice for allegedly hiding Amway records from a grand jury last year.
Defense attorney William M. Ferris attacked the credibility of Dunton and Hook, who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges, but he said Weston "probably exercised poor judgment" in selling Amway goods to contractors.
"Did he violate [Navy] standards of conduct? Did he deserve to get a reprimand? Of course he did," Ferris said. "He's sorry he made those decisions. But he didn't violate the laws in that indictment."
The defense contended throughout the two-week trial, and again yesterday, that Weston did not have authority to award contracts. Ferris said most of the contracts mentioned by prosecutors were awarded by a Navy office in Washington and administered an an academy office over which Weston had no control in the chain of command.
Weston testified Wednesday that he paid Dunton, almost always in cash, for everything the contractor bought him. He admitted soliciting the appliances from Dunton to take advantage of "contractors' discount" prices.
Ferris also described Weston yesterday as "a poor record-keeper" and said the captain had no reason to hide his business records, some of which were seized by the FBI at his home last summer.
Kay said Weston influenced academy contracts by scheduling bid openings to favor certain contractors, creating false documents to justify contract awards, giving advance information to Dunton about future academy jobs and lowering the standards of review to get Dunton a $961,000 contract.
That contract, for work on Rickover Hall, was awarded during a period when Dunton was buying various appliances for the captain, according to trial evidence.
"It's what the contractors thought that's important," Kay told the jury. "He asked for things because he was the public works officer. They gave him things because he was the public works officer."
Barrett sharply disputed Ferris' contentions, arguing that Weston did control contracts because he was the top-ranking construction official at the academy, and that the captain purposely hid Amway records from the grand jury to conceal his private dealings with contractors while he was a Navy official.
She said Weston acted out "a pattern" of misconduct that included "ignoring the standards of conduct, Navy regulations, the rules that governed his existence as a captain."