The Marine Corps inspector general launched a formal investigation Monday into whether the commander of the Marines' western air bases has misused military aircraft for personal trips to Big Bear, Florida and elsewhere around the country.
Col. Jim Williams, the Marine Corps' deputy inspector general in Washington, D.C., said that after reviewing a report in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, his office decided to open a full investigation of Brig. Gen. Wayne T. Adams, who oversees the air bases at El Toro, Tustin, Camp Pendleton and Yuma, Ariz.
Adams could not be reached for comment Monday, but in past interviews he has defended his use of Marine aircraft as proper and lawful.
Capt. Betsy Sweatt, a spokeswoman at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, said Monday that she was unaware of the opening of the investigation.
The Times article reviewed by Williams' office detailed five flights either flown or ordered by Adams that raised questions about the general's use of a C-12 twin-engine transport for trips that might have involved personal business.
The ensuing investigation will mark the second time this year that the inspector general has looked into the possibility of wrongdoing by senior officers at El Toro, the hub of Marine Corps aviation on the West Coast.
A January inquiry headed personally by Maj. Gen. Hollis Davison, the inspector general, led to the suspension of Cols. Joseph E. Underwood and James E. Sabow amid allegations that they had used C-12 transports for golf jaunts and other personal trips.
Sabow, an assistant chief of staff, shot himself to death Jan. 22, five days after Adams suspended him from duty. Underwood, the chief of staff, was allowed to retire earlier this month with his pension after he pleaded guilty to misusing aircraft and to unrelated charges at a closed hearing before Adams. Underwood also agreed to pay a fine and restitution to the Marine Corps.
Adams was never interviewed as part of the January inquiry, but the inspector general's office said Monday that his actions will now be investigated as well.
Last week, the Times reported that Adams, en route to a military convention in Virginia last October, stopped in Florida and signed his divorce papers over the course of putting in flight time. The article indicated further that during the same month, Adams had ordered a military plane to shuttle him between the El Toro base and Big Bear, where he was vacationing with his fiancee.
In addition, the Times reported that the general had met his fiancee in Washington state during another flight-training mission and that he had taken at least two other flights that raised questions about the use of Marine planes.
Military regulations ban the use of aircraft for personal reasons and warn against trips that could impart a public appearance of impropriety.
Lt. Col. Ron Stokes, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the inspector general "looked at the allegations . . . and this (the investigation) is the outcome of the article. All the allegations will be investigated."
Stokes and deputy inspector general Williams declined to provide details of the inquiry, but a source at El Toro familiar with the case said he expects the investigation to be handled by Inspector General Davison personally. He said the investigation will include a review of flight logs as well as interviews with military personnel who took part in the flights now in question.
Retired Brig. Gen. David V. Shuter, whom Adams replaced as commander of the western air bases, said Monday that "there's always great concern when a general officer is being investigated."
But Shuter, who lives in Orange County, added that he believes the media are "making a big thing out of something which maybe isn't as bad as it appears to be, (and) taking something that may be routine and making it look like it was unethical."