The commander of the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey squadron falsified maintenance documents in an effort to improve the performance record and image of the controversial tilt-rotor aircraft, the Pentagon inspector general has found.
In a six-month probe, investigators found that squadron commander Lt. Col. Odin Fred Leberman falsified the documents during a 21-day period between Dec. 20, 2000, and Jan. 11, 2001, when the experimental Osprey was under intense scrutiny by Pentagon officials.
A "small number" of Marine officers also knew of the falsification and took no action to correct it, investigators found. The fraud did not contribute to two fatal Osprey crashes last year, which killed 23 Marines, according to a summary report made available to senior Pentagon officials Friday.
The report also concluded that Leberman was not acting in response to orders that he cut corners but only to "perceived pressure" from above to improve the Osprey's image. "No evidence was found that any officer senior to the squadron commander directed or suggested that records be falsified," the report said.
The Osprey uses an innovative technology to take off like a helicopter, rotate its propellers to a horizontal position and then cruise like an airplane. The Corps wants to buy 360 Ospreys at a total cost of about $40 billion.
The fraud allegations, coming after the deadly crashes, deepened the image problem of the aircraft and raised questions about how far the Corps hierarchy had been willing to go in pushing what has long been its weapon priority.
The summary report did not identify the Marine officers who knew of the fraud. A Marine spokesman, Capt. Stewart T. Upton, said he was not authorized to say whether those who knew of the fraud included the officers at the top of the Marine hierarchy.
Despite the bad publicity about the Osprey, in recent months it has appeared that the aircraft probably will receive Pentagon approval to enter full-scale production. A blue-ribbon study panel concluded last spring that there is no fundamental flaw in the underlying technology, though it recommended further study and possible redesign of some mechanisms to improve the aircraft's hydraulics and other systems.
Marines say they are confident the technology works.
The fraud allegations came to light in an anonymous letter to the office of the secretary of the Navy in January.
Leberman was relieved of duty the day the allegations became public and has been working in a support position at Camp Lejeune, N.C.