Ex-official at academy found guilty Contractors traded gifts to get work

May 04, 1991|By Sheridan Lyons

A federal jury took less than two hours yesterday to convict a former director of public works at the U.S. Naval Academy of conspiracy for having demanded gifts and Amway purchases from a contractor in return for work.

Capt. James E. Weston, 47, now retired in Henderson, Nev., was convicted on seven counts: conspiracy, five counts of seeking and accepting gifts while serving as a public official and obstructing the 1990 investigation.

He wore a wide smile after the verdict was announced, as he had done Wednesday in cheerfully telling the jury how he repeatedly asked Annapolis contractor Carroll R. Dunton to buy items at a builder's discount for his home on the academy grounds.

Weston, a 1965 graduate of the academy, served as public works officer there between August 1985 and June 1989, with the authority to direct repairs and construction.

He declined to comment on the verdict.

Dunton, who has pleaded guilty to giving Weston a gift, testified for the prosecution that he was asked for -- and gave -- five air conditioners, a washer and a dryer, a lawn mower and a tractor, a dishwasher, a trash-compacter, weekend rental of a Lincoln Continental, and free parking and gasoline for Weston's recreational vehicle.

He said he also bought thousands of dollars in Amway products from Weston that he didn't want -- and in some cases didn't receive.

Still, it paid off when Weston told him that he was on the academy's preferred-bidders list and he subsequently received several big contracts, which led to Dunton's deriving 90 percent of his business from academy jobs.

Weston testified that he repaid Dunton for all the items: the first time with a check, which he lost, and the rest with cash, which he said Dunton insisted on because "he liked to play the ponies."

He said Dunton received all the Amway items he ordered, except for a few that were canceled or returned, and he denied trying to hide from federal investigators the records of his Amway sales to people doing business at the academy.

Weston also was accused in the conspiracy of pressing Amway sales upon his civilian employees and lower-ranking Navy personnel.

Eugene E. Hook, 67, of LaVale, a former civilian director of construction under Weston, testified against him and is to be sentenced Thursday for his guilty plea to the conspiracy..

Soon after Weston received the washer and dryer, Hook and others testified, Dunton received a $961,000 contract for heating, cooling and ventilation of Rickover Hall, even though it was some $342,000 above the Navy's estimate.

Defense attorney William M. Ferris told the jury in closing arguments Thursday that Weston had used poor judgment and deserved the reprimand he got from the Navy, but that he had not committed any crime.

U.S. District Judge John R. Hargrove allowed Weston to remain free without bail until sentencing July 30.

Conspiracy and obstruction are punishable by up to five years in prison, and accepting a gratuity as a public official carries a two-year maximum sentence.

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