Final decision made: 24 Mids to be expelled

April 29, 1994|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Taking final action in the largest cheating scandal in the 149-year history of the Naval Academy, Navy Secretary John H. Dalton ordered the expulsion of 24 midshipmen yesterday, an action that Navy officials say puts to rest a major embarrassment.

Mr. Dalton spared two of the 26 seniors who had been recommended for expulsion by Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, then chief of naval operations, saying they "have the potential to demonstrate the sense of honor required of a naval officer," a Navy spokeswoman said.

In a surprising move, Mr. Dalton waived a requirement that expelled midshipmen pay back the $57,450 cost of their education or serve three years as enlisted seamen.

"This has been a very difficult decision to make," Mr. Dalton said in a statement, "but in my judgment it is both fair and just. We must strive to maintain a spirit of honor and integrity within the naval service."

The Navy secretary, a 1964 graduate of the academy, plans to drive home the message of integrity and honor with a speech to midshipmen today in Annapolis.

"He's taking a personal approach to this," said Rear Adm. Kendell Pease, chief of Navy information, "to make sure everybody understands . . . what's right and what's wrong."

One expelled midshipman, 23-year-old Justin Jones-Lantzy of Erie, Pa., said he had been treated unfairly and should not have been kicked out. "That's going to taint me the rest of my life, wherever I go," he said.

Before he leaves the academy in the next few days, he must turn in his military pass and library card.

The scandal centered on an electrical engineering examination that 663 juniors took on Dec. 14, 1992. Some midshipmen received pirated advance copies of the exam in what was considered one of the toughest academy courses. Some used the information to cheat, and some lied about their role -- profound violations of the academy's strict honor code, which states, "Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They do not lie, cheat or steal."

Of the 134 midshipmen originally implicated, the cases of 106 were found serious enough to require hearings before an officers' panel. Thirty-five were exonerated, 24 are being expelled and 47 are receiving punishment short of expulsion. That could include loss of privileges and leadership posts, confinement to campus, remedial honor training and late graduation. Those who cheated on the Electrical Engineering 311 test will have to retake it.

Twenty-nine midshipmen were targeted for expulsion at one point, but Admiral Kelso recommended that three receive lesser punishment. The three midshipmen were among the first to admit their guilt.

Navy officials emphasized that Mr. Dalton's decision puts an end to the cheating case -- "It's over," Admiral Pease said -- but said they could not rule out the possibility of lawsuits by unhappy midshipmen.

The academy is acquiring new leadership. This month, President Clinton nominated Adm. Charles R. Larson, commander in chief of U.S. Pacific forces, to be the next superintendent. He must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Navy officials said they would not identify the 26 seniors so that their privacy could be protected. The 24 who were expelled have been given the option of completing the semester that ends in May, but they will not graduate.

The 24 could have been required to pay back the cost of their education, based on a recommendation by Admiral Kelso. But Admiral Pease said Mr. Dalton had decided to waive that requirement because of the "length of time it's taken" to complete the investigation and the "toll it's taken."

"These are kids who did wrong . . . . It's time for them to move on with their lives, and it's time for us to move on," Admiral Pease said, adding that the waiver "should not be looked on as something that will happen again in the future."

The Navy investigation itself was an embarrassment. An initial inquiry ended with complaints that not all of the guilty had been identified. A new investigation by the Navy inspector general's office, which ended in January, implicated 134 midshipmen and led to the recommendation that 29 be expelled, a figure that was reduced to 26 by Admiral Kelso and then to 24 by Mr. Dalton.

But many midshipmen at the academy still think some of the guilty have gotten off, and Mr. Jones-Lantzy said he thinks some of the innocent have been declared guilty.

He acknowledged receiving "information" the night before the exam but said he "perceived it to be just study material," not part of the pirated test. He appealed to Admiral Kelso, then to Mr. Dalton, but learned at 2 p.m. yesterday from his battalion officer that he was to be expelled.

The news came in a one-page letter from Mr. Dalton that Mr. Jones-Lantzy termed a "form letter." It said his conduct had been "unsatisfactory" and that he "did not show genuine remorse for his actions."

"On one side, it's like a big weight is off my shoulders, because it's been a year and a half of absolute hell, wondering day to day if I am going to be here the next day," he said. "To put anyone through that -- that's unfair, that's cruel.

"In another respect it's bittersweet, because I'm not part of the Naval Academy, and I'm not part of the Navy, and that's something I cherish."

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