A Navy panel recommended yesterday that 29 senior midshipmen be expelled for their part in the largest cheating scandal in the 149-year history of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Forty-two others were recommended for punishments short of expulsion, while another 35 were exonerated of violating the academy's strict honor concept, which states: "Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They do not lie, cheat or steal."
In a related move, the Pentagon will recommend today that the White House appoint Adm. Charles R. Larson, commander in chief of U.S. Pacific Forces and a former academy superintendent, as the next superintendent, replacing Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, who is to complete his tour of duty this summer, a Defense Department source said.
Admiral Larson would be the first four-star admiral to serve as academy superintendent.
A total of 134 midshipmen were accused of cheating in December 1992 on the final exam for Electrical Engineering 311, nicknamed "wires" and considered one of the toughest required courses. Eighty-one of those midshipmen admitted to investigators that they cheated.
Before making the recommendations about the midshipmen, the panel of five officers headed by Vice Adm. Richard C. Allen reviewed the files of those 106 cases considered the most serious. Those midshipmen whose cases were not heard by the Allen panel either resigned, received punishment short of expulsion or were found innocent by another panel of officers headed by retired Adm. Leon "Bud" Edney.
The scandal, widely known as "the Double E problem," has enveloped the academy for a year and a half, leading to several investigations, sharp criticism of the way the school leadership handled the scandal and an overhaul in the administration of the strict honor concept.
But the results of the investigation left some wondering why more were not recommended for expulsion.
"I think most of the brigade is upset about it. More than 29 should be thrown out," said one senior midshipman who requested anonymity.
At the same time, most of the estimated 17 football players implicated either were exonerated or received punishment short expulsion, according to team members and others familiar with the cases.
Ever since the scandal broke, midshipmen and others have charged that Navy football players received special treatment or were shielded from the probe.
Football co-captain Jason Van Matre was exonerated, but Javier Zuluaga, the other co-captain, was recommended for expulsion. He resigned from the academy last week.
Mr. Van Matre, 23, of Pensacola, Fla., dismissed suggestions the team received special treatment. "It's a burden we all carried," he said.
"I'm very happy. I've been going through this a long time."
Among other players, Lewis B. Sims, a strong safety, was recommended for expulsion and Duncan N. Ingraham was found not guilty.
"Almost all of them were exonerated," said Mr. Sims, 23, of Pascagoula, Miss. "In a world where everyone was pointing fingers at everyone else, we were among the few in the brigade not pointing fingers."
A Navy spokeswoman, Lt. Cate Mueller, also disputed claims of favoritism. "The [Allen panel] had no agenda. They had no one to please at the Naval Academy," she said. "They made those decisions on the evidence."
In a statement, Admiral Allen said the panel "dismissed charges if there was not a preponderance of evidence that a violation had occurred."
When a violation was found, the admiral said, the officers considered the "degree of involvement" and also "the timing and circumstances of any admission of involvement."
The seniors recommended for expulsion have five days in which to prepare letters of defense for Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, the chief of naval operations, who could reverse the recommendation.
Should Admiral Kelso recommend expulsion, a midshipman would have an additional three days to prepare a letter of defense before his case is reviewed by other Navy officials.
The fate of the midshipmen ultimately would rest with Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, a 1964 academy graduate.
It also is up to Mr. Dalton to decide how those expelled might be required to pay for their taxpayer-funded education: either three years of service as an enlisted seaman or paybacks up to $80,000. Mr. Dalton also could waive those penalties.
Navy officials privately speculated that those expelled will be allowed to repay the government.
The midshipmen recommended for expulsion can remain in the dormitory and continue taking classes or they can ask for administrative leave, said Lieutenant Mueller.
Punishments for the 42 not recommended for expulsion could include restriction to academy grounds, retaking the engineering course, additional honor training and late graduation.
Meanwhile, Charles W. Gittins, the Washington lawyer who represents 48 of the midshipmen, could renew his legal challenge to the entire investigation.