The Pentagon's decision to excuse the $86,000 education bill of a midshipman expelled from the Naval Academy for alleged drug use is likely to mean 14 other midshipmen tossed out with him in a 1995 scandal also will be absolved of debt, officials said.
Taxpayers would foot the $1.2 million bill for educating students ousted during the worst drug scandal in more than 20 years at the Annapolis school.
A legal opinion sought by Jerry M. Hultin, undersecretary of the Navy, indicates that waiving a penalty for one student and not the others would put the military at risk of lawsuits.
Academy education is free for graduates, who are expected to serve in the armed forces. Students who drop out or are thrown out in their junior or senior year must repay the government.
Guy F. Ormsby III of Paris, Ky., got out of the requirement after Sen. Wendell H. Ford, a Kentucky Democrat, appealed to the Pentagon.
Ford argued that Ormsby had tested negative for drugs, though two classmates had identified him as an LSD user. Ford asked that Rudy de Leon, the Defense Department's undersecretary for personnel and readiness, look at the case.
Last month, Ford's motivation for allegedly stalling Bernard Rostker's nomination for undersecretary of the Army came into question.
Mark Day, Ford's press secretary, denied that the Ormsby case had anything to do with actions on Rostker. "There are a lot of rumors and innuendoes going around, that this was a quid pro quo," he said. "Senator Ford felt this midshipman deserved fair treatment."
The leniency for Ormsby and the senator's role disturbed some officials.
"It was politics," said a top Pentagon official who requested anonymity. "The Navy got rolled."
The Ormsby deal, he said, was thrust on the Navy by the Defense Department. He could not recall another case where a payback was sidetracked by what he called political interference.
"This is a case of a bunch of dorky civilians thinking they are smarter than career military on these issues," said Richard L. Armitage, a former assistant secretary of defense. He called the decision a "shame," and said the Pentagon not having the conviction to "stand up to a blowhard is ridiculous."
Ormsby was one of 15 midshipmen accused of selling and using LSD. Five others were court-martialed for selling and distributing the drug.
Ormsby, a senior at the time, went on to graduate from the University of Illinois with an engineering degree. He could not be reached for comment.
Pub Date: 11/20/98