The unmaking of a midshipman

May 01, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

It should be resting proudly on his finger: a bulbous, gold ring bordered by the crests of the U.S. Naval Academy and Class of 1994, with the inscribed motto Ex Tridente Pax -- "From Seapower, Peace" -- visible to all.

But there is little peace for Midshipman Justin Jones-Lantzy, whose ring is tucked inside a leather jewelry box in his room.

He is among the 24 members of his class ordered expelled Thursday by Navy Secretary John H. Dalton for their part in the largest cheating scandal in the academy's 149-year history.

"I still cherish it," he says, gazing at the ring with the pale green stone.

He stopped wearing it several months ago, embarrassed by unending questions from outsiders. You go to the academy? What do you think about that cheating scandal?

Mr. Jones-Lantzy, 23, didn't buy or sell the infamous electrical engineering exam. He was part of a study group that investigators say had portions of the stolen test.

He maintains he didn't cheat that December morning in 1992. He says he was unaware that material the group studied was from the exam. When he took the exam, some of the questions were only "similar" to those the group had studied, he says.

He admits he lied, but out of "misguided loyalty" to his classmates and because of the steady intimidation from those more involved in the scandal, including his roommate, a football player also targeted for expulsion who resigned in February. It was nearly a year before Mr. Jones-Lantzy admitted to Navy investigators he was part of the study group in Ricketts Hall the night before the test.

His manner and appearance belie dishonor.

Personable and articulate, with a ready smile, there are flashes of youthful cockiness as he tells of his achievements. That quickly fades when talk turns to "Double E," the electrical engineering exam that was the centerpiece of the scandal. His eyes scan the ground as he ponders an uncertain future.

"I don't feel disgraced. I know what kind of person I am," he says. "I've given five years of dedicated service. I know I'd be a good officer."

But he will never be a "ring-knocker," a service academy graduate who serves aboard ship or at a far-off post, tapping a table top with that massive nugget to remind everyone of his elite status.

Whatever his future, and despite his protests, the Navy now has a twin label for him: liar and cheat.

A panel of officers headed by Vice Adm. Richard C. Allen ruled that Mr. Jones-Lantzy was part of the "Ricketts Hall" study group aided by stolen questions and that he lied about his involvement. At least five of the nine others in the study group will graduate, with some facing restrictions, remedial honor training and other punishments.

"I don't think my punishment fits the crime," he says.

'I don't understand'

Justin Jones-Lantzy, his family and friends are nagged by questions.

Why was he marked for expulsion, while others he studied with will graduate? Other classmates implicated as ringleaders by investigators remain at the academy. Why?

If 134 midshipmen were implicated and 81 admitted they cheated, why were only 24 expelled?

"I don't understand how all those people can be involved and they pick and choose through them," says an angry Philip Lantzy, the midshipman's stepfather. "It just seems to me cruel and unusual punishment."

Ted Miller, his high school track coach and a retired Marine Corps sergeant, has met thousands of students in his 36 years of teaching and coaching. He says Justin Jones-Lantzy is "one of the finest young men I've ever known."

Jennifer Delancy, the daughter of a Navy captain and whose family sponsored Mr. Jones-Lantzy for the past four years, agrees. "He's a very caring person, I think he would have made a good officer. I really, truly believe he didn't know what was going on in the beginning."

Annapolis-area families "adopt" midshipmen and offer them a home away from home during their rigorous years at the academy.

Mrs. Delancy considers Mr. Jones-Lantzy a role model for her three children. He attended their ball games, played catch in the yard, or just sat and talked with the children. Other midshipmen the family sponsored, she recalls, would lounge in front of the television and eat.

During his four years at the academy, Mr. Jones-Lantzy never was accused of an honor violation. But he struggled with his courses, barely maintaining the 2.0 grade point average needed to remain at the academy.

Between his sophomore and junior years, he dipped below that mark and was separated briefly. He appealed and a board headed by the superintendent, Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, decided to reinstate him, citing his high marks in military performance and conduct.

But at the Allen board hearing, Mr. Jones-Lantzy's company officers gave him less than a glowing endorsement. "They were real waffling on him," saying he was "unpredictable," recalls his Navy lawyer, who requested anonymity. The Allen board "relied heavily on that," the lawyer adds.

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