Midshipman is expelled after being found guilty

Senior's relationships with three women are deemed inappropriate

December 23, 2003|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

A Naval Academy senior found guilty of inappropriate contact with at least three women, including a former freshman who had accused him of rape, has been expelled from the military college.

Robert A. Curcio, 24, whose case drew unflattering attention to the academy's handling of reports of sexual misconduct, will likely be required to pay the Navy about $120,000 or serve three years as an enlisted sailor as reimbursement for his taxpayer-funded tuition.

His mother, Lourdes Curcio, said in an interview that her son returned to his hometown of Antioch, Calif., yesterday, after learning his fate Wednesday in a meeting with the academy superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt.

Rempt's decision will undergo a routine review by Navy Secretary Gordon R. England, though reversals are rare. England's spokesman, Capt. Kevin M. Wensing, said yesterday that the secretary's office received Rempt's recommendation for expulsion late last week and that a final decision could take several weeks.

At a disciplinary hearing last month, senior academy officials found Curcio guilty of administrative charges of fraternization, meaning he had unduly familiar relationships with midshipmen of lesser rank, his family said.

A week later, the academy abruptly withdrew the fraternization ruling and instead found him guilty of what Lourdes Curcio said were other administrative charges involving inappropriate behavior with at least three women, including the former freshman and her roommate. The third woman, she said, was a civilian who had been aboard a training craft with Curcio in the summer of last year.

The Naval Academy issued a statement yesterday saying only that Curcio was found guilty of multiple violations of the student conduct code.

"Furthermore," academy spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons said in the statement, "the Academy determined that this midshipman's demonstrated conduct, physical performance and academic motivation were not consistent with standards expected of midshipmen and future naval officers."

A Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Curcio has been placed on unpaid leave pending England's review.

The dismissal is the latest turn of events in a complex case that left both Curcio and his original accuser feeling wronged by a school they once saw as a launching pad for careers as Navy aviators.

The woman, 19, left the academy in the spring, writing in a resignation letter that she had "become unable to further my development in this institution ... for I no longer feel safe within its walls."

She told The Sun in September that she felt betrayed when the academy abruptly dropped rape charges against Curcio that month after she refused a military judge's order to answer questions about sexual abuse she says she suffered as a child. She feared that her answers would destroy her family. But Curcio's lawyer had convinced the judge that they might raise critical questions about her credibility.

Curcio's family has accused the academy of a witch hunt against an innocent man meant to display its toughness on sexual assault after a sweeping scandal at the Air Force Academy earlier this year.

"Every mother who has a male Mid at the [Naval] academy really has to be afraid of what can happen," said Lourdes Curcio, who said her family has spent close to $50,000 in legal fees on her son's defense. "The honorable thing for the academy to have done was to acknowledge they had made a mistake [in charging Curcio], and they didn't."

The former freshman who first accused Curcio now attends a civilian college in another state and did not return a phone call yesterday. She had wanted to see Curcio face rape charges at a court-martial, but said last month that the academy's pursuit of lesser charges through its disciplinary system was "better than nothing."

The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

The woman had accused Curcio of raping her in his dorm room in November last year, after he allegedly stalked her for a month after what she said was a one-time consensual sexual encounter. Curcio has denied all of the allegations.

The academy charged him with rape in February but allowed him to stay on campus. The woman alleged that Curcio attacked her again in March in a dormitory bathroom.

The academy lodged new charges in April but dropped them after three midshipmen said Curcio was at a roommate's family's house in Crofton at the time of the second alleged attack.

Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore Jr., then the acting superintendent, concurred with Naval investigators that the woman's other allegations were credible enough to proceed with a criminal prosecution. Moore court-martialed Curcio in July on charges of rape, conduct unbecoming an officer, violating orders, unlawful entry, indecent assault and sodomy.

But on Sept. 12, about a week before the scheduled court-martial, his successor, Rempt, withdrew all the charges. The move drew criticism from advocates for sexual assault victims. The next week, an academy official said that Rempt would try to find other ways to hold Curcio accountable.

The academy's disciplinary case was built not on the rape accusation but on an ensuing investigation that turned up other allegations of improper conduct.

Curcio wrote a letter to England on Friday asking that he be given his diploma and that he be freed from the tuition reimbursement requirement on the grounds that he is innocent, his mother said. She said he was considering a legal challenge charging the school with violating his civil rights.

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