Report faults Navy lawyer Pentagon clears ex-superintendent of Naval Academy

July 11, 1998|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon inspector general has concluded that the former top lawyer at the Naval Academy interfered with two criminal investigations but said there was no evidence that the recently retired academy superintendent, Adm. Charles R. Larson, was at fault.

The yearlong inquiry found that the former top lawyer, Capt. Joseph D. Scranton, interfered with investigations of illegal drug use and child molestation at the academy in 1995 and 1996, according to the inspector general's report released yesterday. Scranton, who was the academy's judge advocate general for nearly four years, left the academy in June.

The report recommends that Navy Secretary John Dalton "take appropriate action" against Scranton, who is now director of operations for the Navy's judge advocate general and one of the Navy's highest-ranking lawyers. Dalton has turned the case over to Adm. Jay Johnson, the chief of naval operations, a spokesman said.

The report does not speculate about why Scranton might have interfered with the criminal investigations at the academy. But those investigations were occurring in the wake of other academy scandals, and some officials at the time were intent on avoiding additional negative publicity, according to one Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Scranton "acted improperly" by directing the dismissal of a midshipman who was cooperating with Navy agents in the drug investigation, even though Scranton had been told that the midshipman's dismissal would have an "adverse effect" on the investigation, according to the report released yesterday.

The report also faulted Scranton for dismissing a midshipman and for arranging his arrest with Texas police on child molestation charges there, even though that midshipman was under investigation on similar charges by Navy agents and Annapolis police. Scranton, the report said, never informed the agents or police about his actions.

Despite Scranton's actions, the report said, the midshipman in the drug investigation did cooperate. The midshipman accused of child molestation was convicted in Texas and sentenced to four years in prison.

"I did not violate any rule or regulation," Scranton said yesterday. "I do not believe the opinions or conclusions are supported by the facts in the case."

Navy directive at issue

Pentagon investigators told Scranton that he had run afoul of a Navy directive requiring officers to report any criminal activity to Navy agents. But Scranton argued that the directive says nothing about requiring Navy personnel to inform agents when a service member is discharged.

The inspector general's investigation was requested by Sen. Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, after complaints by Stewart Thompson, a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent based at the academy. Thompson asserted that top academy officials were interfering with or improperly influencing criminal investigations.

"It's important for me to fight for values I believe in: justice and independence," said Thompson, now serving as an NCIS agent in Baltimore. "When a law enforcement agency's independence is threatened, its credibility and integrity are threatened."

Other charges investigated

The inspector general's inquiry also looked into allegations that top academy officials interfered with criminal investigations of an academy car-theft ring and rape charges but found no substance to those allegations.

The report exonerated Larson, saying he "did not improperly influence or impede NCIS investigative efforts."

Larson said recently that both he and Scranton "did the right thing. We handled things properly in each of these cases."

Concerning the drug case, which implicated dozens of midshipmen in September 1995, the report found that Scranton directed the commandant of midshipmen and his lawyer to dismiss a midshipman who was helping Navy agents in an undercover drug operation.

Navy agents were able to persuade the midshipman to stay and cooperate even after his dismissal from the Navy. The resulting DTC undercover operation led to numerous investigations, which developed 64 possible military suspects, the report said.

The molestation case involved Midshipman Patrick Michael Chapman, who once ran the academy's Big Brothers & Big Sisters program. In November 1995, Chapman, who was facing expulsion for failing grades, was handed over to Texas authorities by the academy to face charges of sexually molesting a 13-year-old Texas boy. He was later convicted.

Chapman was also suspected of molesting an Annapolis-area boy, the son of a Navy officer who was stationed at the academy and under Larson's command. Academy officials and Annapolis police suspended an inquiry into that case.

According to the report, Scranton indicated that he knew NCIS ** agents and Annapolis police were investigating Chapman but thought the case was "weak" and failed to notify them of the impending arrest by Texas authorities.

The inspector general's report said while there was no evidence that Scranton "knowingly interfered" with the investigation of Chapman, "it is clear that it had that effect."

Pub Date: 7/11/98

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