Naval Academy probe widening 100 midshipmen questioned in cheating scandal

August 24, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

The Navy's inspector general is questioning more than 100 midshipmen in an ever-broadening investigation into the cheating scandal that rocked the U.S. Naval Academy this spring.

In the last 10 weeks, investigators have been attempting to corroborate allegations that copies of the fall final exam for Electrical Engineering 311 were widely distributed in Bancroft Hall, the dormitory that houses all 4,200 midshipmen.

During their inquiry, the investigators have summoned a handful of midshipmen -- including three seniors who accused classmates of scheming to stonewall honor boards -- from summer training cruises aboard warships.

More than one midshipman was flown by helicopter from a ship at sea, said academy sources familiar with the investigation. Others have given statements to investigators at ports around the world, the same sources said.

In addition, Rodney Walker, the key witness at honor hearings this spring, said he was reinterviewed in depth this month.

Mr. Walker, one of six midshipmen convicted of cheating and now facing expulsion, said in a telephone interview that an investigator showed him a flow chart on a sheet of legal-sized paper that outlined how the exam was distributed. Dozens of names on the chart were those of students whose involvement in the scandal he was unaware of, he said.

"There were so many names on the piece of paper that I couldn't even read it," he said.

In a sworn statement that became the linchpin of the academy's investigation, Mr. Walker admitted selling four copies of the final exam for Midshipman 1st Class Chris Rounds. Mr. Rounds pleaded not guilty and was cleared of all charges.

Mr. Walker also outlined how the exam was passed on through a network of friends, including a number of varsity football players. The 23-year-old from Atlanta said that after making his statement Jan. 8, he was pressured by other students to keep quiet and even offered a $15,000 bribe to resign from the academy.

His statement is being reconsidered, confirmed a senior Navy official close to the investigation. The inspector general also is "actively looking into" how the master copy was stolen before the exam was given Dec. 14 to about 700 juniors, the official said yesterday.

The continuing investigation by the Office of the Naval Inspector General was sought in early June by a Senate Armed Services subcommittee. In the course of their inquiry, Navy investigators have shifted their focus from reviewing how the scandal was handled to trying to unravel how the final exam was bought and sold in Bancroft Hall.

"As [the inspector general] conducted the first part of the investigation, there were some leads that there may be some other people involved," the Navy official said. But he cautioned that "none of it is complete" and "none of it denotes guilt."

Twenty-eight students were accused in February of passing around copies of the exam for one of the school's toughest required courses. Honor boards made up of midshipmen convicted 11 students of cheating, but five were later exonerated by top academy officials.

When the superintendent, Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, announced in late April that the other six would be expelled, students, faculty members and graduates raised questions about whether justice had been served. Navy Secretary John Dalton has said that he plans to wait for the final report before deciding the fate of those recommended for dismissal.

The superintendent said there was insufficient evidence to convict most of the midshipmen initially accused of cheating. He said the investigation is still open and that he would expel the entire class of 1994 if there was proof that all cheated.

But that did not allay the fears of some faculty members, students and graduates that the school's strict honor system -- midshipmen are required to follow a code that says they do not "lie, cheat or steal" -- is no longer enforced effectively.

Their concerns led the Senate panel to request a thorough examination by the Navy's inspector general, which will be reviewed by the secretary of the Navy, the chief of naval operations and Department of Defense officials.

With the new semester under way this week, the pace of the interviews is quickening. In less than two hours one recent afternoon, five midshipmen were questioned in a roped-off section of offices on the third floor of the library.

Eight months after the test mysteriously wound up in the hands of midshipmen, there are many unanswered questions, the Navy officer said.

Academy officials said the test vanished en route to the central copying center. Dr. Raymond Wasta, the course coordinator, was blamed for failing to follow proper procedures and was suspended for a week. He filed a grievance, and the superintendent later cleared his record and restored the five days of lost pay.

How the exam was obtained and how many midshipmen studied from it is still being investigated.

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