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Miramar, Grumman Files Vanishing, Bates Charges

Times Staff Writer

Officials at Miramar Naval Air Station, under fire for improprieties which include paying $1,800 for two airplane ashtrays, are purportedly “destroying letters and backdating files” that may show widespread collusion between the Navy and Grumman Corp., Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) charged Monday.

Bates said he has been told by sources close to and within the air base’s purchasing department that pertinent documents have disappeared in recent days while other documents, some with dates months old, have mysteriously appeared in current files.

Bates did not specify what the papers say or who allegedly is destroying them. Both Navy and Grumman officials denied the allegation.

Bates said he is “in the process” of obtaining sworn affidavits from knowledgeable purchasing employees, adding that he is seeking help from other, more powerful members of Congress to expand the investigation of purchasing practices at Miramar.

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“People inside are telling me that the Navy’s been destroying letters and backdating files . . . ,” Bates said. “I think that there may be evidence that shows a form of collusion between the Navy and Grumman that would have broader implications than simply a pricing error on one particular item.”

“If there’s collusion with Grumman . . . it seems to me that it becomes more than a Defense Department issue. It becomes a criminal matter and the U.S. attorney or the U.S. grand jury might be impaneled,” Bates said.

He noted that a present employee of Miramar’s purchasing department is married to a Grumman sales representative.

Grumman Denies Collusion

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Michael Drake, a Grumman spokesman at the company’s headquarters in Long Island, N.Y., challenged Bates’ observations.

“I can tell you that that there’s been no collusion between the Navy and Grumman to do anything,” Drake said.

He said that Grumman is preparing a list of about 6,000 smaller, “low volume” spare parts--including the controversial ashtrays--which the company no longer wishes to manufacture for the Navy. “It will be more cost effective for the Navy to (get) these items from other suppliers,” Drake explained.

Grumman’s list is expected to be turned over this week to the Navy.

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Lt. Cmdr. Bill Harlow, a Navy public affairs officer at the Pentagon, also discounted Bates’ assertion of an improper relationship between Grumman and the Navy.

“I’m not aware of that happening,” Harlow said. “We have an investigation ongoing and would obviously view anyone trying to slant the investigation with great dismay.” On Friday, the Navy appointed an admiral to probe purchasing procedures at the base.

Officers Relieved

After it was disclosed last week that the Navy had paid Grumman for the exorbitantly-priced ashtrays and two other small, aircraft-related items, the Pentagon relieved Miramar’s base commander, Capt. Gary E. Hakanson, of his duties. Also relieved were the base’s supply officer, Cmdr. Jerry L. Fronabarger, and Rear Adm. Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., commander of the Navy’s Fighter Airborne Early Warning Wing in the Pacific, which includes Miramar.

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All three officers have said that they had no knowledge of the specific transactions for which they ultimately were relieved.

In addition to the ashtrays Grumman manufactured for the Navy’s E-2C Hawkeye radar plane, officials at Miramar paid Grumman $800 for two wrench sockets and $2,710 for a device that prevents an F-14 Tomcat’s horizontal stabilizers from moving during maintenance.

Bates said he plans this week to make public details of a recent purchase in which base officials authorized payment of $10,000 for a $5,000 aircraft part with the understanding that the part would be delivered the next day.

The part, Bates said, didn’t arrive for a month.

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