Navy Probe Clears 2 Officers at Miramar Ousted by Pentagon

Times Staff Writer

A Navy investigation of Miramar Naval Air Station has exonerated the base's former commander and a rear admiral of any wrongdoing in a scandal involving exorbitantly priced aircraft ashtrays, U.S. Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego) said Friday.

Lowery disclosed that although the Navy's final report on the matter is still under review by Navy brass, it praises rather than implicates the former base commander, Capt. Gary E. Hakanson, and Rear Adm. Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., former head of the Pacific Fleet's Fighter Airborne Early Warning Wing.

Cassidy, Hakanson and the base's supply officer, Cmdr. Jerry L. Fronabarger, were relieved of duty May 30 by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Navy Secretary John Lehman.

The action came after U.S. Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) revealed that Miramar had paid Grumman Corp. about $630 each for two E-2C aircraft ashtrays, $800 for two wrench sockets and $2,410 for a ground lock which holds an F-14 Tomcat's horizontal stabilizer in place during maintenance.

Bates, whose information came primarily from Miramar purchasing agents, scoffed at word that the Navy's report had been completed.

"They've already allegedly finished their investigation and they never even talked to me," Bates complained. "I've got a box full of documents that they never considered. I'm beginning to think this may be a cover-up."

Bates on Friday sent a letter to the officer who prepared the report, Rear. Adm. John Batzler, expressing concern that "you may have completed this investigation without access to all the facts. . . . This concern is particularly relevant in considering that several of my sources are highly reluctant to discuss internal Miramar operations and problems with U.S. Navy investigators since they consider possible reprisals that they might be subjected to."

Not immediately clear was whether Navy investigators found evidence to substantiate Fronabarger's being relieved of duty. But some sources have indicated that Fronabarger may have "acted inappropriately" when informed by workers of exorbitantly priced purchases and may not be exonerated, according to a Lowery aide, Dan Greenblat.

Greenblat said that Lowery had not seen the Navy's 16-inch-thick report, but had been notified of many of its findings by sources whom Greenblat would not identify. Navy officials declined to comment on the report, which may be made public next week.

"The evidence available to the Navy supports reinstatement of (Cassidy and Hakanson)," Lowery said in a press release issued Friday. "From what I have seen, Cassidy and Hakanson were not at fault for . . . procurement abuses. Instead, they conducted themselves with high professionalism and took appropriate action when procurement irregularities were discovered."

Of the three officers, only Cassidy could be reached for comment Friday. He said he has heard nothing from the Pentagon on whether he would be returned to his post.

"I'm still waiting," Cassidy laughed. "It's been a long three weeks."

Lehman has said that he would consider reinstating Cassidy and the others if the Navy's investigation turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. Lehman, himself a Navy Reserve aviator, was in Norfolk, Va., Friday on active duty and could not be reached for comment.

Cassidy, Hakanson and Fronabarger have each denied any involvement in the procurement scandal. Both Cassidy and Hakanson have insisted that they were not stationed at the base when the ashtray transactions with Grumman occurred between 1981 and early 1983; Fronabarger has maintained that although he was present at the time of some of the purchases, he had no direct knowledge of them.

Cassidy was assigned to Miramar in August, 1983; Hakanson in April, 1983; and Fronabarger in August, 1982.

Cassidy's predecessor, Rear Adm. George M. Furlong, who today is deputy chief of Naval Education and Training at Pensacola, Fla., has declined to speak with The Times about the procurement controversy. Furlong was at Miramar from July, 1981, until Cassidy replaced him.

Hakanson's predecessor, Capt. James E. Taylor, who took over Miramar in April, 1981, could not be located. Nor could Fronabarger's predecessor, Cmdr. J.D. Conway, who became Miramar's supply officer in August, 1981.

Meanwhile, a Navy spokesman on Friday provided figures which he said refuted suspicions that the Navy in 1983 paid Grumman $696,496 for F-14 electronic modification kits which were supposed to cost $67,280.

The Navy in April, 1983, contracted with Grumman to pay $4,205 each for modification kits designed to improve the fire control system of Tomcat fighters. The Times last week reported that Grumman in July, 1983, sent the Navy an invoice charging $43,531 each for 16 kits--a total cost of $696,496--according to documents.

When pressed last week, Navy officials said they were not sure how much was actually paid for the kits.

Lt. Peter Johnstone, a Navy spokesman in Washington, conceded Friday that the Navy did receive a separate bill from Grumman for $43,531 relating to the kits, but that the charge was for a "one-time, non-recurring cost for engineering, design, development and validation."

Johnstone said the Navy purchased 76 of the modification kits for $4,205 each "which is considered fair and reasonable. . . ." He said Grumman did send the Navy an invoice form which mistakenly included the $696,496 figure, but the amount was never paid.

Bates, however, said he was skeptical of the Navy's explanation. On Friday, he and fellow Democratic Rep. Bill Nichols of Alabama, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Investigations, formally requested that the Navy produce all paper work from the modification kits transaction with Grumman.

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