The unmaking of a midshipman

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It should be resting proudly on his finger: a bulbous, gold ring bordered by the crests of the U.S. Naval Academy and Class of 1994, with the inscribed motto Ex Tridente Pax -- "From Seapower, Peace" -- visible to all.

But there is little peace for Midshipman Justin Jones-Lantzy, whose ring is tucked inside a leather jewelry box in his room.

He is among the 24 members of his class ordered expelled Thursday by Navy Secretary John H. Dalton for their part in the largest cheating scandal in the academy's 149-year history.

"I still cherish it," he says, gazing at the ring with the pale green stone.

He stopped wearing it several months ago, embarrassed by unending questions from outsiders. You go to the academy? What do you think about that cheating scandal?

Mr. Jones-Lantzy, 23, didn't buy or sell the infamous electrical engineering exam. He was part of a study group that investigators say had portions of the stolen test.

He maintains he didn't cheat that December morning in 1992. He says he was unaware that material the group studied was from the exam. When he took the exam, some of the questions were only "similar" to those the group had studied, he says.

He admits he lied, but out of "misguided loyalty" to his classmates and because of the steady intimidation from those more involved in the scandal, including his roommate, a football player also targeted for expulsion who resigned in February. It was nearly a year before Mr. Jones-Lantzy admitted to Navy investigators he was part of the study group in Ricketts Hall the night before the test.

His manner and appearance belie dishonor.

Personable and articulate, with a ready smile, there are flashes of youthful cockiness as he tells of his achievements. That quickly fades when talk turns to "Double E," the electrical engineering exam that was the centerpiece of the scandal. His eyes scan the ground as he ponders an uncertain future.

"I don't feel disgraced. I know what kind of person I am," he says. "I've given five years of dedicated service. I know I'd be a good officer."

But he will never be a "ring-knocker," a service academy graduate who serves aboard ship or at a far-off post, tapping a table top with that massive nugget to remind everyone of his elite status.

Whatever his future, and despite his protests, the Navy now has a twin label for him: liar and cheat.

A panel of officers headed by Vice Adm. Richard C. Allen ruled that Mr. Jones-Lantzy was part of the "Ricketts Hall" study group aided by stolen questions and that he lied about his involvement. At least five of the nine others in the study group will graduate, with some facing restrictions, remedial honor training and other punishments.

"I don't think my punishment fits the crime," he says.

'I don't understand'

Justin Jones-Lantzy, his family and friends are nagged by questions.

Why was he marked for expulsion, while others he studied with will graduate? Other classmates implicated as ringleaders by investigators remain at the academy. Why?

If 134 midshipmen were implicated and 81 admitted they cheated, why were only 24 expelled?

"I don't understand how all those people can be involved and they pick and choose through them," says an angry Philip Lantzy, the midshipman's stepfather. "It just seems to me cruel and unusual punishment."

Ted Miller, his high school track coach and a retired Marine Corps sergeant, has met thousands of students in his 36 years of teaching and coaching. He says Justin Jones-Lantzy is "one of the finest young men I've ever known."

Jennifer Delancy, the daughter of a Navy captain and whose family sponsored Mr. Jones-Lantzy for the past four years, agrees. "He's a very caring person, I think he would have made a good officer. I really, truly believe he didn't know what was going on in the beginning."

Annapolis-area families "adopt" midshipmen and offer them a home away from home during their rigorous years at the academy.

Mrs. Delancy considers Mr. Jones-Lantzy a role model for her three children. He attended their ball games, played catch in the yard, or just sat and talked with the children. Other midshipmen the family sponsored, she recalls, would lounge in front of the television and eat.

During his four years at the academy, Mr. Jones-Lantzy never was accused of an honor violation. But he struggled with his courses, barely maintaining the 2.0 grade point average needed to remain at the academy.

Between his sophomore and junior years, he dipped below that mark and was separated briefly. He appealed and a board headed by the superintendent, Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, decided to reinstate him, citing his high marks in military performance and conduct.

But at the Allen board hearing, Mr. Jones-Lantzy's company officers gave him less than a glowing endorsement. "They were real waffling on him," saying he was "unpredictable," recalls his Navy lawyer, who requested anonymity. The Allen board "relied heavily on that," the lawyer adds.

Many of his classmates argue that the Navy shouldn't stop with Mr. Jones-Lantzy and the 23 others. All 134 who were implicated should be expelled. Some class members are counting the days to graduation, bitter and angry that 1994 will be synonymous with cheating.

Midshipman 1st Class Sean Fahey, the brigade commander, has faith in the decisions of the Allen panel. It reviewed not only each midshipman's involvement in the scandal and aggravating circumstances -- such as the time it took for a midshipman to come forward and tell the truth -- but his entire record at the academy.

"Everyone here knows the standards," Midshipman Fahey says. "That's why a lot of people come here."

'Esteem, ideals'

It was those standards that drew Justin Jones-Lantzy, one of eight children from a close-knit Catholic family in North East, Pa., a small community on the banks of Lake Erie, to Annapolis.

Thomas Jones died when his son Justin was 6. When their mother remarried, the five Jones children decided to hyphenate their last name out of respect for their late father.

The family home is a 19th-century saltbox on 14 acres that slope to the wide expanse of the lake. Like many in North East, the family grows grapes, which it sells to Welches, the jelly maker.

Justin became a cross country runner who led his school's team to a state victory two years in a row. He was courted by top colleges, including Duke and Penn State.

Attracted by the strict honor concept -- "Midshipmen are persons of integrity: they do not lie, cheat or steal" -- he chose the Naval Academy, a decision prominently noted with his photograph in the North East Breeze, the local newspaper.

"It holds you to a higher degree -- the level of education, the esteem and the ideals they try to teach you here," he says.

But during his years at the academy, the concept became an obstacle rather than a moral guide.

"The problem with the honor concept is you abide by the honor concept out of fear," he says.

That view is widespread among the brigade, according to a committee headed by Richard L. Armitage, a former State Department official and academy graduate, that reviewed the honor concept. From top officials to midshipmen, honor was "on the back burner." Mr. Jones-Lantzy arrived in Annapolis in 1990 after a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., a program designed to strengthen academic backgrounds.

He got off to a good start. Of the 40 plebes in 36th Company, he was rated No. 2 for military performance.

But from his first days, Mr. Jones-Lantzy struggled with the demanding academic load. Although he was a political science major, he was required to take courses in math, science and engineering -- areas that were never his strong suit.

The lackluster performance continued in his junior year, particularly with a legendary course nicknamed "wires": Electrical Engineering 311, widely seen as the toughest requirement for graduation.

"I was failing at the time," he recalls. As he studied for the final exam, scheduled Dec. 14, 1992, a professor told him if he did well, he could pass the course.

He spent most of the day before the test studying in Nimitz Library. Shortly before midnight, he crossed the barren Yard for his room in Bancroft Hall and taps.

There he encountered his roommate, David Shaw, a 23-year-old football player from Massachusetts. "He said that a couple of his friends were going over and learn some more stuff at Ricketts Hall," Mr. Jones-Lantzy remembers.

They made the short walk to Ricketts, where a second-floor room with chairs and blackboards often is used by the football team to diagram plays. He found half a dozen others there, football players and those known more for academics than sports.

"We thought it was a regular study session, working out problems on the board, quizzes or things the teachers had given us," he says.

Later that morning he took the final exam, noticing that some of the questions were "similar" to ones the group had studied hours before. But the studying had little effect: he failed the test and the course.

He immediately left to spend Christmas in North East, unaware of the storm that was brewing throughout the academy.

'Damage control'

As Midshipman Jones-Lantzy was driving through Pennsylvania, a message from a student flashed on the computer of an electrical engineering professor at 5:02 p.m: "Urgent!!!! . . . re: possible honor violation."

The warning message said that a football player was suspected of having a stolen copy of the exam and more midshipmen could be involved.

Within days, academy officials called in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

When he returned to Bancroft Hall in mid-January, Mr. Jones-Lantzy learned of the investigation from a newspaper headline. The reaction in the dorm was immediate and swift.

"Everyone was scurrying around the hall to do damage control," he remembers. The word went out to keep quiet, particularly from his roommate, Mr. Shaw, who was among the first called in by investigators.

"He said basically keep my mouth shut . . . I was like, 'OK,' " Mr. Jones-Lantzy says.

Mr. Shaw, reached at his Bridgewater, Mass., home, declined to be interviewed.

Mr. Jones-Lantzy still was uncertain about the depth of his roommate's involvement, as he and other midshipmen were called in by Navy investigators. That day he was grilled by NCIS agents, who read him his constitutional rights and later searched his room for signs of the exam. But he said nothing of the Ricketts Hall study group. Through it all, he remained silent, refusing to answer questions, caught in the vice of fear and loyalty.

Loyalty to the class, the company and the squad is drummed into midshipmen from the day they arrive, he says, a view echoed by other midshipmen. A cardinal sin for a midshipman is to make another look bad. In the slang of the academy the warning is: "Don't bilge your classmate."

"They don't see the higher purpose, to do what's right for the Navy, what's right for the United States," he says. "To get through here it's team, team, team."

Marine Col. Michael Hagee, hired after the scandal as the new "character development officer," is well aware of the misguided loyalty that permeates the academy.

Classmate loyalty is vital, notes the colonel, a 1968 academy graduate. But he hopes to instill in the midshipmen a "higher loyalty" to the academy, the Navy and the Marine Corps.

Twenty-eight midshipmen initially were implicated in the cheating scandal, including Mr. Shaw, who appeared before a midshipmen's honor board last spring.

Among his witnesses was his roommate, Midshipman Jones-Lantzy, who was not among those implicated. "They asked had I seen the test, I said 'No,' " Mr. Jones-Lantzy recalls. Mr. Shaw was acquitted, although six midshipmen were recommended for expulsion.

"I was certain there was a lot more involved," Mr. Jones-Lantzy says. "NCIS was not thorough at all."

That feeling was shared by many of the 4,100 midshipmen and their rumblings were soon heard in Washington.

Newspaper articles about the scandal spurred Sen. Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Democrat and a subcommittee chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to call for another investigation.

Mr. Jones-Lantzy read about the new investigation in a short article while he was home in early June 1993. "I thought it was over. Now it's started up again," he said to himself.

Midshipman Jones-Lantzy returned to the academy before reporting for a summer cruise. Later in June, he began the drive to Newport, R.I., to report aboard the USS Clark.

During the drive, he fell asleep at the wheel of a rented Pontiac Sunbird. The car swerved off Route 301 near Wilmington, Del., and slammed into a bridge abutment.

He suffered a fractured pelvis and wrist, a dislocated elbow and damage to the bone behind his right eye. After two weeks in a Delaware hospital, he was back at the academy in a wheelchair.

Investigators from the Navy Inspector General's office also were there. They set up shop on the third floor of Nimitz Library and began calling in midshipmen, going as far as to pluck some from summer cruises by helicopter.

Midshipman Jones-Lantzy made his way to Nimitz on crutches and sat across from three investigators. They asked about his condition, then got to the point.

He says they accused him of getting the test from Mr. Shaw and lying about it.

The investigators' tactics were harsh. They shouted and threatened midshipmen with courts-martial if they didn't talk, according to a suit filed by midshipmen. Midshipmen were told their parents or girlfriends wouldn't respect them.

Mr. Jones-Lantzy recalls one investigator saying, "You'd better start working on your wrist because you're going to be flipping hamburgers."

All 663 midshipmen who took the exam were called to the library for questioning.

Some began to name names. There were "laundry lists" of accused, Mr. Jones-Lantzy says. "People I don't even know mentioned my name, said I had the test. I was connected to Shaw because he was my roommate."

Mr. Shaw again urged silence. But by December 1993, Midshipman Jones-Lantzy decided to talk, bolstered by his recovery and speculation that the investigators would be lenient on those who talked.

"I went in and told them everything," he remembers. "This is where we were, this is the people involved. I told them exact times, exact people. I didn't say, 'Look, I had the test.' "

One of the investigators told him, "I'm glad you came forward and told the truth." But when he returned to Bancroft Hall, his roommate was incensed.

A three-member admirals' board headed by retired Adm. Leon "Bud" Edney added the name Justin Jones-Lantzy to the list of the 106 most severe cases that were sent to the Allen panel.

Mr. Shaw, implicated in the second investigation, left the academy in February.

'Face the consequences'

The midshipman was convinced he would be cleared and began to contact friends and family to vouch for him at his hearing March 3.

He called Mr. Miller, Mrs. Delancy, his brother Brien, and the Rev. Dennis Foley, his former parish priest and now pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Baltimore.

"I was taken back a bit," recalls Father Foley. "He was always very high caliber as regards character, a very sound young man."

Midshipman Jones-Lantzy read a statement to the officers, calling attention to the "misguided loyalty," the intimidation, his accident and his decision to come forward.

"I know that I have learned lessons from this," he said, banging on the table. "I'd like to be an officer."

He left the hearing in an upbeat mood, convinced it went well.

A few days later, Midshipman Jones-Lantzy showed up at the Delancy home and told the children about the scandal.

"I told them I lied," he says. "I was accused of cheating. I told them I didn't cheat but they found me guilty of cheating."

"We use it as a lesson," says Mrs. Delancy. "We say, 'Listen, it was a big mistake and it wasn't right. Justin's going to have to face the consequences.' "

Midshipman Jones-Lantzy was eating breakfast in King Hall on March 31 when his company lieutenant interrupted him: The Allen board had decided.

He headed to the first-floor office in Bancroft Hall and noticed classmates spilling out. A few looked dejected. Others were beaming, giving each other high-fives.

"I went in and stood there. They told me I'm being separated for lying and cheating," he recalls. "It was all very formal."

He walked out, shaken and stunned. "I just couldn't believe it."

Return the ring

The tourists are returning to Annapolis and the blossoming Yard. They amble along the curved brick walkways, past cannon aged the color of algae, towering monuments to the academy's finest, and stone benches inscribed: "Those who gave their lives . . ."

They hardly notice the seated figure of Midshipman Jones-Lantzy -- a living monument to a less noble academy event.

"It's a nice place to look at," he says, as he watches them pass. "But it's a hard place to live in."

His mind is a jumble. He talks of getting a summer job in the Annapolis area and maybe finishing his education at the University of Maryland, or heading to Australia, where he ran cross country as a high school student.

If all had gone as planned, he would be heading to Athens, Ga., for training as a ship's supply officer.

Instead, when the 1994 class yearbook comes out, the name Justin Jones-Lantzy will be among those on a back page under the heading: "Those we left behind."

There is one final blow.

The academy also will ask that he return that gold ring he has carefully placed in the jewelry box.

"I do have to give back my ring," he said. "I'm really disappointed about that."

What has he learned from it all?

SG "I've learned the importance of honor," he says. "I put myself into

this situation . . . I'm going to have to live with it for the rest of my life."

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