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Wilson Seeks Briefing on Punishing of Navy Officers

Times Staff Writer

Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) announced Monday that he has asked Secretary of the Navy John Lehman for a detailed briefing on Lehman’s decision to relieve three ranking Navy officers at Miramar Naval Air Station over the base’s purchase of $630 airplane ashtrays from Grumman Corp.

Wilson said he wants to ensure that the officers implicated in the case were not deprived of “basic fairness.”

“Traditionally, some proof is required that those being punished either acted or failed to act in such a manner as to have caused or contributed to the fraud or waste,” Wilson said in a written statement.

From what has been disclosed about the Miramar case to date, “such proof may be lacking, Wilson said.”

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Wilson and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), sent a three-paragraph letter Thursday to Lehman requesting the briefing as soon as possible. Warner represents a sizable naval constituency: Norfolk, Va., is the home of the largest Navy base in the United States.

An aide to Lehman, Lt. Patricia O’Neill, said Monday that Lehman probably would not schedule the briefing until next week or later. The secretary, a commander in the Naval Reserve, is currently on active duty in Norfolk, O’Neill said.

Responding chiefly to assertions of widespread overspending raised by Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego), the Pentagon in May relieved Miramar’s commander, Capt. Gary E. Hakanson; the base’s supply officer, Cmdr. Jerry L. Fronabarger, and Rear Adm. Thomas J. Cassidy, Jr., commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fighter Airborne Early Warning Wing.

Lehman authorized the action after disclosures that officials at the base had paid Grumman about $630 each for two aircraft ashtrays for the E-2C Hawkeye radar plane, $800 for two wrench sockets and $2,410 for an a device that steadies the horizontal stabilizer of an F-14 Tomcat fighter during ground maintenance. Later disclosures revealed other exorbitantly-priced purchases.

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All three officers have denied any knowledge of the transactions, many of which took place before the three reported for duty at the air station.

‘Basic Fairness’

Wilson said he is committed to ending fraud and waste in military procurement practices, but noted that, “While we should be vigilant in our search for defense waste and fraud, we should not let our zeal interfere with basic fairness and the due process which we all cherish.”

Bill Livingstone, a Wilson aide, said Monday that Wilson’s office contacted the Department of the Navy immediately after the three officers were relieved and asked “what evidence they had. They said they really didn’t have hard evidence, that they were going through an investigation. . . . We didn’t get much of a response, so Wilson and Warner have asked to be briefed.”

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