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Academy officer heavily in debt

The Baltimore Sun

A Navy officer who testified this week that she moonlighted for an alleged prostitution ring while stationed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis was nearly $300,000 in debt at the time, despite an annual Navy income of more than $93,000, court records show.

Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca C. Dickinson owed more than $58,000 on 20 credit cards and $177,000 in three mortgages on a house in Georgia, according to records from a bankruptcy filing in December 2006. She also reported spending $700 a month on travel to see her three children.

The records offer the first clues as to why a decorated Navy officer would turn to work as a call girl.

Dickinson, a supply officer, managed food services at the Naval Academy from September 2004 to May 2007, a Navy spokesman said. She also taught a leadership course in the leadership, ethics and law department.

But, on the side, she visited the homes of white-collar clients of an upscale escort service, charging $275 for 90-minute appointments, which typically involved sex, she testified this week. The service was allegedly run by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called D.C. Madam, who is being tried in U.S. District Court in Washington. Palfrey's clientele reportedly included a number of high-profile government officials.

Yesterday, Dickinson's lawyer said she regretted her actions.

"On some level, she's not a big fan of the prostitution laws and believing that the conduct is so inherently bad," said the lawyer, Jonathan Gladstone. "Although, she does realize the effects this is going to have on the service. She is incredibly regretful that she feels like she's let her shipmates down."

He said she was not available to comment.

Dickinson, 38, who is now stationed at the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens, Ga., has been relieved of her duties and placed on leave, a Navy spokesman said. Her current pay grade, with housing allowance, is $93,897.

Because she testified under grant of immunity, she cannot be court-martialed or prosecuted for federal crimes relating to the case, the spokesman, Capt. Jack Hanzlik, said.

The Navy is considering administrative punishment, which could include an other-than-honorable discharge and a "substantial" loss of retirement benefits, Hanzlik said.

A Tennessee native known to her clients as "Renee," Dickinson testified Wednesday that she quit the escort service after six months because of time constraints and because she "didn't like it," she said.

Later, she offered to return to work for Palfrey because she needed money, but subsequently filed for bankruptcy and "it became a nonissue," Dickinson said.

In a phone interview yesterday, Gladstone said money was Dickinson's main motivation for working as an escort.

"I think it's fair to assume that money was a driving force," he said. "I can't imagine it was anything she would have been doing if she didn't need money."

Details from Dickinson's December 2006 bankruptcy filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia provide a sketch of a woman who was grappling with a broken marriage that separated her from her three young children, while she navigated a sea of turbulent personal finances.

In November 2006, according to court papers, Dickinson tapped her father to pay the $1,000 fee for her bankruptcy attorney. She filed under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code, a liquidation.

Her assets at the time, she stated, included $233 in cash, $3,300 in furniture, clothing and other personal property, a 1999 Dodge Durango and two house cats.

Her largest asset was her home in Duluth, Ga. The single-family dwelling was valued at $166,000, but she carried three mortgages on the property, totaling $177,000.

Dickinson's spending habits are reflected in a long list of unsecured loans and liabilities reported to the court, which totaled $106,000.

They included more than $58,000 in debt on 20 credit cards, including cards from VISA, MasterCard, gasoline companies, clothing stores and three jewelry stores.

Her largest credit card balance was $22,000, owed to the Navy Federal Credit Union, in Merrifield, Va., a private, not-for-profit credit union that serves Navy personnel and their families.

In all, counting three personal loans, a car loan, her second mortgage and the credit card debt, Dickinson was in hock to her credit union for more than $107,000

She had also accumulated debts to three payday loan companies, a debt-consolidation company, her tax preparer and another lawyer.

Her court filing also noted a $12,000 loss, in July 2005, in what she described only as a "money order scheme."

Among the monthly expenses she listed for the court, Dickinson reported $1,750 under "alimony, maintenance or support paid to others." She also noted spending $709 a month for "travel to see children."

Gladstone said he believes her three children live with their father - Dickinson's ex-husband, Edward B. Dickinson - in Georgia.

Steven R. Jacob, a lawyer who filed the bankruptcy case on behalf of Dickinson, said he recalled her traveling a lot.

"She was always stationed in various places," he said. "It didn't offer much stability for the children. She wanted them to be stable," so they went to live with their father, he said.

The children were ages 9 to 13 at the time of her bankruptcy filing.

As part of her bankruptcy proceedings, Dickinson had to complete an online "personal financial management" course provided by the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta Inc.

In March last year, she also signed a loan "reaffirmation" agreement, consenting to repay $15,300 to CitiFinancial, holder of her third mortgage. The bankruptcy case was discharged April 2 last year.

Dickinson joined the military in 1986 and was commissioned as an officer in March 1993, according to a biography supplied by the Navy. She has been awarded two Navy/Marine Corps Commendation medals.

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