$32,000 added to debt owed by Mid expelled for failing running test

February 13, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

A former midshipman who was expelled from the Naval Academy for failing a running test by 20 seconds has met with a new hurdle in repaying the $127,000 cost of his education: an additional $38,000 in late fees and penalties.

Frank Shannon racked up the charges while waiting for the secretary of the Navy to decide his fate, including the three months that the office misplaced his appeal letter.

The latest bill, sent last week by the U.S. Treasury Department, has outraged Shannon and his family.

"The letter was sent. I put the ball in their court," Shannon said, noting that the certified letter was signed for at the Pentagon. "How can I be held financially accountable for them losing the letter?"

Military officials said yesterday that an appeal does not stop the debt collection unless its status is overruled, but a lawyer familiar with the process said Shannon can have the collection suspended temporarily while he takes the last available step to fight the government.

No lawyer retained

Shannon could argue that "his debt is not legitimately owed" to the Board for Correction of Naval Records, said Frederick Klepp, a New Jersey attorney who represents an expelled former West Point cadet. Shannon has not retained a lawyer.

"As far as the Department of the Navy is concerned, this debt has legitimacy until someone steps in and rescinds or revokes his status," he said. While the board considers Shannon's case, no interest or penalties would be applied, he said.

Shannon, a star football player in high school, turned down several scholarship offers to enlist in the Navy after he was turned down at the academy. He spent two years as a sailor and another year at the academy's preparatory school before arriving in Annapolis.

20 seconds short

Six weeks before graduation, the culmination of a seven-year odyssey in the Navy that was about to lead him to Norfolk, Va., as a newly minted surface warfare officer, he came up 20 seconds short on the 1.5-mile run, finishing it in 10 minutes, 50 seconds.

It was the third consecutive time he had failed the physical readiness test, which is given twice a year to midshipmen and includes sit-ups and pushups.

The former offensive lineman had always passed those parts of the test but had consistently had a hard time with the distance run, usually failing it once before going into remedial training and passing it on the second try. By the time he was expelled, he had failed 12 of 18 physical fitness tests.

Even so, he strongly believed that the academy would give him another chance because he was running every morning to improve his time. But when he faced a board of senior school officials in April, they expelled him without a diploma, saddled him with a bill for his education and denied him an opportunity to repay it by returning to the enlisted ranks, where he would have passed physical fitness tests easily.

After the Navy secretary lost his first letter, a second appeal was denied last month.

"Based on the evidence, the U.S. Naval Academy provided you ample opportunity to meet the minimum physical fitness standards required of each midshipman," Navy Assistant Secretary William Navas wrote in a Jan. 4 letter. "Your multiple physical fitness failures over your U.S. Naval Academy career, including the last one, justified your disenrollment."

The onus of the huge and growing debt prompted him to set up the Frank Shannon Fund with a Provident Bank branch in Perry Hall, hoping that help from the community and academy alumni would enable him to hire a lawyer or repay the money.

"We can't really afford a lawyer," said Shannon, who is an apprentice engineer with Siemens Building Technologies. "But hopefully, we can come up with enough donation money to fight this thing through to the end."

He says he was fortunate to get a job as an engineer without completing an undergraduate degree but that it isn't enough to pay the rising debt that he and his wife, Gloria, face, especially because they recently bought a house in Nottingham. His wife works for the Maryland Lottery.

"I've just reached a state of numbness about this," Gloria Shannon said. "I think we both feel worried because we're almost out of options."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

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