Probe gets wider at academy Other mids' role in distributing test being studied

September 27, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

Naval investigators probing the largest cheating scandal in the history of the U.S. Naval Academy are trying to determine whether more than one midshipman helped distribute an electrical engineering exam last December, a source familiar with the investigation said.

"The Navy IG [inspector general] is looking at other conduits," a senior Navy official said. "That's what they believe, and that's the avenue they're pursuing."

When the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) completed its initial probe last spring, it was believed that Midshipman 1st Class Christopher Rounds obtained the exam and passed it on to his classmate, Midshipman 2nd Class Rodney Walker, who then distributed it to others.

But since the inspector general's office took over the probe in June -- after news reports that not all of the guilty had been caught -- investigators have been looking at the likelihood of a wider distribution network.

According to sources, at least 125 midshipmen have been implicated in the growing scandal involving the exam, which was taken Dec. 14, 1992, by more than 700 juniors.

"There are an awful lot of leads bearing fruit," said the Navy source, cautioning that neither the final number of disciplinary cases nor the original source of the exam has been determined. "We're not there yet," the source said.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Mr. Rounds distributed the exam to others or whether additional midshipmen received the exam at the same time Mr. Rounds did, the Navy source said.

Moreover, Mr. Walker said he was told by investigators from the IG's office last month that other midshipmen had the exam before he received it.

"They said that people got it several days before I did," said Mr. Walker, who was interviewed by the investigators for about five hours. "They just said a couple of people; they never said how many."

Mr. Walker, who admitted selling four copies of the exam for Mr. Rounds and faces expulsion, said he was surprised by that news. He said Mr. Rounds told him he was the only midshipman who received copies of the exam.

He was not surprised, however, to hear that so many more midshipmen have been implicated.

"I was saying half to three-quarters [of the class] had it," said Mr. Walker, an Atlanta native who has begun coaching football at his old high school. "I think it's about time they got some of the people who are involved in it."

The inspector general's office is expected to wrap up its investigation in early November, sources said.

In addition to naming midshipmen for disciplinary action, the report is expected to recommend better security for the examination process and changes in the 42-year-old honor code, which says simply that midshipmen do not "lie, cheat or steal."

Initially, 28 juniors were accused of cheating with advance copies of the fall-semester final in EE311, nicknamed "wires" and considered one of the toughest required courses at the academy. Eleven were convicted by honor boards made up of midshipmen, but senior academy officials cleared five of them in April.

Navy officials have said that the NCIS apparently uncovered only one branch in the distribution network. The criminal nature of that initial probe -- including the reading of rights -- led some midshipmen to clam up, sources said.

In addition to Mr. Walker, the five other midshipmen who face expulsion also pleaded guilty. Navy Secretary John H. Dalton is awaiting the IG's report before deciding the fate of the six midshipmen.

Mr. Rounds pleaded not guilty and was cleared of all charges in March after Mr. Walker refused to speak before an honor board, saying that his statement to the NCIS implicating Mr. Rounds was taken under duress.

Mr. Rounds declined to comment last week.

IG investigators are looking anew at that statement by Mr. Walker, a key witness in the scandal who also contends that a half-dozen football players received copies of the exam.

At the same time, investigators are reviewing statements of other midshipmen who came forward after Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the academy's superintendent, announced on April 22 that six students would be expelled and promised to follow up any new substantive leads.

Those midshipmen said they heard three football players collaborate on alibis before their honor board hearings and knew two other students who had cheated on the exam.

Five varsity football players were among the 28 initially implicated. All were exonerated.

Reports in The Sun and other publications citing charges that other midshipmen were involved spurred a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee to call for an investigation by the Navy inspector general.

The administration of the honor code failed in the cheating scandal, some midshipmen and faculty have said. Those who admitted guilt were punished, and those who lied or stonewalled went free, they said.

In his June 4 memorandum to the inspector general, Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, the chief of naval operations, said the investigation should examine "any disparities" in the resolution of individual cases, "the process" by which individual cases were resolved, "consistencies and inconsistencies" in the evidence, the application of the honor code and the procedures designed to maintain the integrity of the exam process.

The Naval Academy has started a review of the honor code fTC through a committee of midshipmen, officers, and military and civilian faculty members. A report is expected in December.

Meanwhile, the academy's Board of Visitors, made up of 15 presidential and congressional appointees, is expected to announce its review of the honor code when it meets today in Washington.

Both reviews are expected to work in concert and share information, board and academy officials said.

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