3 midshipmen spared expulsion were among first to admit guilt

April 24, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

The three midshipmen spared from expulsion last week by the Navy's top officer were among the first to come forward and admit their guilt in the Naval Academy's largest cheating scandal -- although they found themselves among the first to be expelled last year.

Midshipmen Leonard Milliken, David Bassett and Eric Jilson, all on "leave pending separation [expulsion]" status since last April, will now receive punishment and the chance to complete their studies at the academy, Navy officials confirmed yesterday.

"It's official. It's just so very wonderful," said Linda Grunder of Pasadena, mother of Mr. Milliken, a 23-year-old varsity lacrosse player.

He was one of six midshipmen originally slated for expulsion for his part in the scandal involving an electrical engineering exam administered on Dec. 14, 1992.

For the past year and a half, the scandal has rocked the academy and struck at the heart of its strict honor concept, which states: "Midshipmen are persons of integrity: they do not lie, cheat or steal."

Mrs. Grunder said the family received a letter Friday from Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the academy's superintendent, instructing her son to report to the Naval Academy on May 27.

Mr. Milliken was working as a bartender at Rumblefish in Glen Burnie on Friday night when he was told of the news, said his mother. "I lost control," she recalled. "He just stood there and teared up."

Neither Mr. Milliken nor the other two midshipmen could be reached for comment yesterday.

But in an interview earlier this year, Mr. Milliken said it wasn't until after taking the exam that they realized they had the actual questions to the final exam for Electrical Engineering 311. "People asked me why I didn't say something. . . . I was scared," he said.

Within three weeks of the test date, the three midshipmen told a company officer about their involvement and turned themselves in to Navy investigators, he said.

Many midshipmen remained silent, however, and urged others to do the same, fearing that admission was a sure way to get expelled.

The three midshipmen were among six who were ordered expelled last April by Admiral Lynch, after a probe by Navy investigators that implicated 28 midshipmen.

Complaints that not all of the guilty were caught in the scandal sparked a new probe two months later by the Navy Inspector General's Office. That probe ended in January, implicated 134 midshipmen and eventually led to recommendations that 29 be expelled.

Last week, Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, the chief of naval operations, reversed the expulsions for the three midshipmen.

"Kelso reviewed all of these [cases] and felt these people, although in violation of the honor concept, were midshipmen who could contribute to the U.S. Navy in the fleet," said a senior Navy official, who requested anonymity.

Navy officials said yesterday that it was uncertain when the three midshipmen would be allowed to graduate. Because they missed their senior year, they may face one more year at the academy.

"The right thing was done. All along, the argument has been what is honor. Lenny turned himself in," said Mrs. Grunder.

Admiral Kelso sent the remaining 26 cases to Navy Secretary John H. Dalton with recommendations for expulsion. Mr. Dalton, who will make the final decisions on those cases, is expected to release the results this week.

Sixty-two of the 134 implicated were recommended for punishment, which includes loss of privileges and leadership posts, restriction to campus, remedial honor training and late graduation. Those found to have cheated on the Electrical Engineering 311 test will have to retake it.

Nearly all those midshipmen not recommended for expulsion or punishment were exonerated.

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