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Two Dozen Expelled in Naval Academy Cheating Scandal

By Paul Valentine
The Washington Post

Navy Secretary John H. Dalton ordered 24 U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen expelled Thursday in the biggest cheating scandal in the school's history, ending a wrenching 16-month investigation of the venerable military institution in Annapolis.

Dalton ordered that two other midshipmen who had been recommended for expulsion receive lesser punishment. Officials would not say why Dalton agreed to allow the two midshipmen to graduate next month and probably receive their Navy commissions later this year.

"This has been a very difficult decision to make, but in my judgment, it is both fair and just," said Dalton, an academy graduate. "We must strive to maintain a spirit of honor and integrity within the naval service."

Navy officials withheld the names of those expelled from the 4,100-student academy, citing privacy considerations. However, sources said six of the midshipmen separated from the Navy were members of the varsity football team.

Officials said Dalton decided the 24 expelled midshipmen will not be required to repay the academy for their educations, which cost as much as $90,000. Nor did he order them to serve for three years in the enlisted ranks. Current seniors will be allowed to finish their spring courses but will not get academy degrees.

"Separation from the academy without a commission or degree was thought to be enough" punishment, said Lt. Bill Spann, a Navy spokesman.

Brian Pirko, 21, one of the expelled midshipmen, said he was "very upset" but not surprised by Dalton's actions.

The 26 midshipmen Dalton reviewed were among 134 seniors implicated in the December 1992 incident, which triggered harsh questions from Congress and the naval inspector general's office about the academy's moral training programs. Those investigations also faulted academy officials for reacting too slowly when the cheating first was disclosed and appearing to play favorites, especially with members of the 1993 varsity football team.

Before Dalton's review, 62 of the 134 midshipmen were found guilty of honor violations by a special naval tribunal and given punishments short of expulsion, such as loss of privileges and restriction to academy grounds.

The decisions mark the final disciplinary step by the Navy in the incident. But officials said midshipmen could appeal informally to Defense Secretary William J. Perry or take the matter to federal court, although they would not likely succeed.

"Each individual case was looked at carefully by me, the chief of naval operations and a variety of senior officials, and evaluated on the specific circumstances of that midshipman's actions, including the serious nature of the offenses and all information concerning the midshipmen's involvement," Dalton said.

Reached at his academy residence hall, Pirko said he was embittered because he and other midshipmen who admitted to investigators that they cheated were recommended for expulsion, while others who lied about their involvement were exonerated.

The investigation and trial process, he said, "promotes the philosophy that you can skate through ... or as one (exonerated) guy said, "You lie till you die.' "

Pirko, who said he had planned to be a Navy pilot, will now "try to get on with my life" and apply for admission to the University of Maryland at College Park, where he hopes to transfer 90 of the 140 credit hours he accumulated at the academy.

The cheating incident occurred when an unknown number of midshipmen obtained copies of a stolen electrical engineering exam a few days before it was given. Investigators for the naval inspector general found that 134 midshipmen were involved in varying degrees. Some were accused of buying and selling copies of the exam for as much as $50. Others were charged with writing formulas and other information on index cards based on the exam and using the cards in the examination room. Still others were accused of lying to investigators about their knowledge of the cheating.

"I admitted I was guilty," said Lance Barnes, a defensive end on the 1993 football team. "The bottom line is ... that people were kept for doing the same thing I did. I don't understand why I am different from my classmates."

Barnes said he was expelled for "lying and soliciting others to lie. I admitted to everything. I told them I did everything -- everything they said I did. I admitted to it. I came clean." Pirko said he and seven other midshipmen had the exam the night before it was given and "were equally involved" in using it. Even so, he said, the five midshipmen who admitted cheating to investigators were recommended for expulsion, while two "lied about it and were exonerated." The eighth member of the group left the academy for unrelated reasons, Pirko said.