Melvyn R. Paisley, a former assistant secretary of the Navy and the highest-ranking target of the long-running Operation Ill Wind defense procurement investigation, was sentenced Friday to four years in prison without parole.
The sentence for the ailing, 66-year-old Paisley is the stiffest so far in the broad investigation into corruption in the military’s $100-billion-a-year purchasing program. So far, 52 individuals and corporations have been convicted in the ongoing inquiry.
The three-year investigation by the FBI and Naval Investigative Service has laid bare an illegal purchasing system at the Pentagon in which outside consultants and contractors paid bribes and gave lavish gifts to government officials for secret information on bids and clandestine help in obtaining multimillion-dollar contracts.
When Paisley pleaded guilty last June, then-Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh said that the Ill Wind investigation represented “the most sweeping and successful operation against white-collar fraud and defense procurement ever carried out by the Justice Department.”
Last month, Ill Wind scored another big victory when Unisys Corp., the nation’s fourth-largest computer maker, paid a record $190-million fine for using bribes to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars worth of government contracts. Among those who received bribes from Unisys was Paisley, according to the government.
Paisley pleaded guilty to three counts of bribery, conspiracy and conversion of government property for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Unisys and other Navy contractors. The government had expected his plea to result in cooperation that would shed new light on bribes and bid-rigging at the pinnacle of the Pentagon.
But at the sentencing Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., prosecutors said that Paisley had misled them since his plea, feigned loss of memory and failed a lie detector test. As a result, Asst. U.S. Atty. Joseph J. Aronica asked that Paisley be given up to 51 months in prison, the harshest term available under sentencing guidelines.
“As assistant secretary of the Navy from 1981 to 1987, he was in a position of great public trust involving national security,” said Aronica. “He was not put in that position to help his friends make money and to line his own pockets.”
Paisley’s attorney, E. Lawrence Barcella, said that the government had overstated Paisley’s misconduct from the start and that he had no additional information to provide about other criminal activity.
Asking for leniency and a sentence of home detention, Barcella said that Paisley is suffering from terminal cancer and has been kept alive only through an experimental drug treatment. Aronica said that medical examinations show Paisley’s cancer is in remission and that he is robust and active.
Judge Claude M. Hilton said that the Bureau of Prisons can provide any medical treatment required by Paisley. In saying that he found Paisley’s offenses to be serious breaches of the public trust, Hilton sentenced him to 48 months in prison without parole and fined him $50,000.
A World War II fighter ace and former senior executive at Boeing Co., Paisley was appointed to the Navy post in 1981 by then President Ronald Reagan. The government charged that his actions in that job tainted numerous Navy contracts and that he enriched himself.
Government papers say that Paisley hid his illegal gains in overseas banks. He disguised his interests in several enterprises and, in conversations with accomplices monitored by the FBI, he displayed an obsession with deception.
Through a middleman who concealed the source of the payments, the government said that Unisys paid an inflated price for a Sun Valley, Ida., condominium owned by Paisley. A senior Martin Marietta Corp. executive provided thousands of dollars to repair a Seattle home that Paisley was trying to sell at a time when the firm was seeking work on a classified Navy project.
After leaving the Navy post, he received cash payments totaling $218,000 after helping United Technologies Corp. obtain a lucrative contract for a Navy jet engine.
“The schemes that he was involved in were sophisticated and manipulative of the procurement process and were skillfully masked,” said Aronica.
Two of Paisley’s confederates, William M. Galvin and former Unisys executive Charles F. Gardner, pleaded guilty earlier and were each sentenced to 32 months in prison. Those had been the stiffest terms until Friday.
Operation Ill Wind is the name given to the three-year investigation into corruption in the Pentagon’s $100-billion-a-year procurement process. At least 52 individuals and businesses have been convicted of trading in confidential Pentagon information since the investigation was made public in June, 1988. The investigation is continuing.