Academy thefts alleged

December 26, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

The Navy's inspector general has opened a probe into allegations of mismanagement and theft of government property from the U.S. Naval Academy's public works department.

Vice Admiral D. M. Bennett, the Navy's inspector general, told Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, in a Nov. 26 letter obtained by The Sun, that he had opened the inquiry and expected to issue a final report within 90 days.

Bill Toohey, a spokesman for Ms. Mikulski, said he would await the admiral's report before commenting.

The alleged thefts have gone on for years and involve equipment worth thousands of dollars, said a Defense Department police source, who complained that the academy administration has done little to deal with the problem.

"You name it, tools, motors, furnaces, all kinds of stuff," said the source, who requested anonymity. "It goes on and on." The alleged thefts have occurred at the Perry Center public works complex and a nearby warehouse, defense and Naval Academy sources said.

Asked about the investigation, Capt. Julian Sabbatini, the officer in charge of public works, said: "I don't know what you're talking about." He said he has been on leave and referred all questions to the academy's public affairs office.

Academy officials released a statement on the probe: "The Naval Academy has inquired into the hot line complaint of mismanagement within the Public Works Department, and has presented its findings and conclusions for review by the Navy's inspector general. Until the review is complete, it would be inappropriate to comment on the inquiry."

Department of Defense police and academy sources said one case of alleged theft involved eight of nine oil and gas furnaces, each the size of a large file cabinet. They arrived at the academy this spring as surplus property from another Navy base.

The furnaces were missing soon after they arrived, said the sources, although there was no paperwork to determine their whereabouts. "No one knows where they are," said the police source.

dTC Another case investigators are looking into involves an electric motor taken from the academy and installed at a public works supervisor's home last summer, the sources said. It was retrieved by Navy investigators, but no disciplinary action was taken against the supervisor.

In a third case, a radiator was taken from a government van. In another case, public works equipment and employees allegedly were used to repair property owned by public works officials, including a clothes dryer, the sources said.

"It's been going on up there quite some time," said the police source.

At the same time, the sources said, low-level employees are disciplined severely for the smallest infraction, while supervisors and other officials go unpunished for alleged theft and other offenses.

Employees at the public works department said that workers have become cynical about the situation.

"Morale's at rock bottom," said one employee. "If you're liked and a 'yes man' you get along, regardless if you're right or wrong."

This summer, an anonymous note tacked up in Perry Center read: "We at the deckplate level, respectfully request action be taken against those at the highest levels of Public Works. . . . Falsifying records, stealing materials, running a personal business on government time, and other improprieties . . . tarnishes the reputation of Public Works as a whole." It was signed "All Decent Employees."

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