Pentagon to fault aide, clear Larson Probe is expected to raise questions about Scranton's role; Actions in '95, '96 at issue; Admiral defends legal advice given in cases involving Mids

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A yearlong Pentagon probe into the Naval Academy's handling of three criminal cases involving midshipmen is expected to absolve retiring superintendent Adm. Charles R. Larson, while criticizing his former legal aide, now one of the Navy's top lawyers.

The forthcoming report from the Defense Department's inspector general will probably raise questions about the role of Capt. Joseph D. Scranton, the former aide, in criminal investigations in 1995 and 1996, according to defense officials and other sources.

Scranton, who was the academy's top lawyer, is now director of operations for the Navy's judge advocate general and one of the Navy's highest-ranking lawyers. It is unclear whether the report will affect his position or chances for promotion, but a senior-ranking Pentagon official said yesterday that "even if they do go after him, it'll be a whack across the wrist. It's no big deal."

That official also said the report "will show Larson did nothing wrong. Larson came out of it very well. No culpability."

Larson defends Scranton, his legal aide for nearly four years. Those were troubled years at the academy, and the two men confronted case after case in which midshipmen were charged with such crimes as car theft, pedophilia and selling drugs.

Larson, who is scheduled to retire next week, said yesterday that he and Scranton "did the right thing. We handled things properly in each of these cases."

"I was sorry to see Captain Scranton dragged into this issue," Larson said. "Joe Scranton gave me outstanding support and superb legal advice during our nearly four years together. In my view, everything we did was proper, legal, aboveboard and honest."

Larson said that though he had not seen the Pentagon report and did not know when it would be completed, "there's no signals that I'm getting from anyone that I'm culpable."

Rear Adm. Tom Jurkowsky, a Navy spokesman who was the academy's spokesman during those troubled years, also said Larson's role in the criminal investigations will not be questioned in the Pentagon report and that he will retire unscathed.

"I don't anticipate the report presenting any problems for Admiral Larson," Jurkowsky said.

Scranton did not respond to calls seeking comment. But through the spokesman, Scranton said he had not seen the Pentagon report and could not comment on a report he had not read.

Agent's allegation

The report was spurred by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent's allegation that academy administrators exerted "improper command influence" on three investigations: a 1996 car theft ring; a 1995 LSD ring; and a 1995 case involving a midshipman charged with child molestation.

Those cases were investigated by the NCIS and other authorities, and midshipmen were convicted in all three cases.

Agent Stuart Thompson later claimed that academy officials acted inappropriately, largely to prevent more bad publicity for the school in the wake of a widespread cheating scandal and other wrongdoing by midshipmen in the mid-1990s.

BTC In the fall of 1996, Thompson brought his concerns to Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Thurmond requested an investigation, and in March last year the inspector general agreed to look into the complaints.

A spokesman for Thurmond said yesterday that the senator's office had received no information about the report.

Thompson also declined to comment.

Pentagon officials said the inspector general's investigation was nearing completion and that a report was being drafted.

Molestation case

Thompson's primary complaint had been with the academy's role in the molestation case. He initially had investigated the case but was pulled off to make way for a Montgomery County investigator with more experience in child-abuse cases.

Navy officials have said Thompson was disgruntled about being taken off the case.

That case involved Patrick Michael Chapman, who once ran the academy's Big Brothers & Big Sisters program. In November 1995, Chapman, who was facing expulsion for failing grades, was turned over to Texas police on charges of sexually molesting a 13-year-old Texas boy.

He was convicted the next year and is serving a four-year prison sentence.

Chapman was also suspected of molesting an Annapolis-area boy, the son of a Navy officer stationed at the academy and under Larson's command. Academy officials and Annapolis police suspended an investigation into that case.

Officer Pete Medley of the Annapolis police, who was involved in the investigation, said last year that the boy's parents wanted to prosecute but changed their minds after discussions with academy officials.

Academy sources said they chose not to pursue the matter because the Texas case against Chapman was stronger.

Part of the Pentagon report will focus on whether Scranton improperly urged the parents of the Annapolis boy not to press charges against Chapman.

Timing of report

Some Navy investigators and officials said yesterday that they were frustrated that the Pentagon hadn't wrapped up its investigation before Larson's retirement. The change-of-command ceremony will be Thursday.

Tom Houston, a spokesman for the NCIS, said it was "unfortunate" that the timing of the pending report coincides with Larson's departure and that it would have been better for Larson and the academy if the report had been released sooner.

Pub Date: 5/30/98

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