133 mids implicated in scandal

January 25, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

A report by the Navy's inspector general says 133 midshipmen -- nearly 14 percent of this year's graduating class -- were involved in the largest cheating scandal in the U.S. Naval Academy's 149-year history.

Eighty-one midshipmen have admitted they cheated on an electrical engineering exam they took more than a year ago, Navy investigators said yesterday.

A source close to the investigation said as many as 100 midshipmen could be expelled.

The report criticizes academy officials for not acting in a timely manner in their initial review of the scandal last spring and when new evidence of wrongdoing surfaced later. Their restriction of information to midshipmen investigators "constituted mismanagement" and hindered the work of midshipmen honor boards.

In addition, the report found a "perception" among midshipmen that the academy's superintendent, Rear Admiral Thomas C. Lynch, lacked an appropriate commitment to the academy's strict honor code and that he gave football players preferential treatment during the investigation. (In 1963, Admiral Lynch captained the academy's football team, playing center for Navy's legendary quarterback Roger Staubach.)

"I'm disappointed that there's a perception. It's just that -- perception. There's no substance for anything," said Admiral Lynch in a brief interview after addressing the senior class. "[The report] did not say there was wrongdoing done here."

The report notes one incident in which the admiral recused himself in the case of one football player -- the son of a longtime friend of the admiral -- who was found guilty by a midshipmen honor board. The case was reversed by the superintendent's second-in-command, the commandant of midshipmen, who said he was aware of the relationship.

The Navy IG report concludes that the perception that any small special interest group is treated preferentially "is detrimental to the functioning of the brigade of midshipmen and detrimental to the sanctity of the position of superintendent."

Admiral Lynch denied that the criticisms pointed to any failure of leadership on his part.

Navy Secretary John Dalton said in a statement, "I have full confidence in Admiral Lynch. His leadership will be vital to addressing the problems at the Naval Academy." A similar statement came from Admiral Frank B. Kelso II, the chief of naval operations.

At least several female Mids and about a dozen football players were among those implicated, said the source. The report says the compromised exam was distributed to midshipmen from 29 of the 36 companies in the brigade.

Midshipmen involved included an Honor Committee member, those in leadership positions, those with stellar academic records and those who were flunking.

More than 800 people were interviewed by investigators, from most of the 663 juniors who took the test to Admiral Lynch and junior civilian employees. Investigators, who took seven months to complete their report, were unable to determine the source of the stolen exam.

Two weeks ago, Admiral Lynch appointed a three-member committee of retired admirals to review each of the cases and determine whether those that involved violations should be handled by a military court, the commandant of midshipmen or an honor board.

But after reading the report -- which recommends that the 133 cases should be taken out of the academy's hands -- Admiral Lynch yesterday substituted a review board of Navy and Marine officers for the midshipmen's honor board.

The panel, headed by Rear Adm. Richard C. Allen, would determine if an honor offense was committed and the punishment.

The scandal involved the final exam for Electrical Engineering 311 -- nicknamed "wires" and reputed to be one of the toughest required courses -- that was administered Dec. 14, 1992. Initially, 28 midshipmen were implicated in the theft and distribution of the test in the probe handled by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Eleven were found guilty by honor boards and recommended for expulsion, although academy officials reduced that number to six.

The 133 cases include those of the six whose cases will be heard again by the officers' panels, as well as the cases of seven midshipmen who already been separated from the academy for VTC other honor violations or for academic failure, and one case against a recent graduate now on active duty. After the initial investigation, some midshipmen, faculty and others were convinced that not all the guilty were caught and that those who lied about their involvement were not punished. The Senate Armed Services Committee urged a new investigation, mounted in June by the Navy inspector general.

With the release of the report, the inspector general has raised new concerns about due process for the midshipmen implicated, leading some officials and lawyers to believe there could be some legal challenges.

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