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Eight Marines Face Charges From Osprey-Tilt Maintenance Records

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WASHINGTON — Eight Marine officers implicated in thealleged falsification of maintenance records on the troubled Ospreytilt-rotor aircraft have been charged with violating the UniformCode of Military Justice, officials said Friday.

The eight have been ordered to appear for an administrativehearing to answer the charges, said Maj. Bryan Salas, a MarineCorps spokesman.

Salas declined to identify any of the eight. He said their nameswould not be made public until Aug. 17, which is their deadline fordeciding whether to proceed with the administrative hearing.

Any who refused to attend the hearing could be subject toactions by their commander, including an Article 32 hearing, a moreformal procedure often likened to a grand jury proceeding in thecivilian justice system.

In June, the Pentagon's chief investigator confirmed anallegation that the commander of the Marine Corps' V-22 Ospreysquadron, Lt. Col. Odin Fred Leberman, falsified maintenancedocuments to exaggerate the aircraft's performance record. Lebermanwas relieved of duty the day the allegations became public inJanuary.

The Pentagon inspector general's investigation also concludedthat other Marines knew of the deception but failed to report it.

The Marine Corps said the falsified records played no part intwo Osprey crashes last year that killed 23 Marines.

After the second crash, the Navy grounded the fleet and delayeda decision on whether to begin full-scale production. DefenseUndersecretary Pete Aldridge Jr. decided in May to authorizeproduction but at the lowest possible rate to ensure thatimprovements could continue to be made.

Salas declined to say whether Leberman is among the eightcharged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Salas said that after reviewing the results of the inspectorgeneral's investigation, the commander of Marine Corps ForcesAtlantic, Lt. Gen. Raymond P. Ayres Jr., notified the eightofficers that he would hold an administrative hearing for theiralleged roles in the falsification of records.

He also issued a nonpunitive ``letter of caution'' to oneadditional officer who had not previously been implicated by theinspector general, Salas said. He did not identify the recipient ofthe letter.

The charges cited by Ayres:

_Violation of a lawful standing general order.

_Dereliction of duty.

_Making a false official statement.

_Conduct unbecoming an officer.

Salas said none of the eight officers was charged with all fourviolations, although some were charged with more than one. He wouldnot be more specific about which officers were charged with whichviolations.

Under the administrative proceeding arranged by Ayres, themaximum punishment for the charges is a punitive reprimand; alimited restriction to quarters for up to 60 days or arrest inquarters for up to 30 days; and forfeiture of one-half of theofficer's pay for two months, Salas said.

The administrative hearing to be held by Ayres is a fact-findingprocedure. The accused Marines may present evidence on their behalfin an effort to rebut the charges. Ayres would then consider thefacts and circumstances and either dismiss all or part of thecharges; impose an administrative punishment such as a reprimand ifhe finds the accused guilty; or refer all charges to acourt-martial.

Any of the accused Marines has a right to refuse theadministrative hearing and instead request a court-martial.

The Osprey aircraft uses revolutionary technology to take offlike a helicopter, rotate its propellers to a horizontal positionand cruise like an airplane. Last year two Ospreys crashed, killinga total of 23 Marines. Despite the crashes, the Marines say theyare confident the technology works. An independent panel thatreviewed the program this spring agreed but recommended importantdesign changes.

The investigation of alleged records falsification was begun inJanuary by the Marine Corps' inspector general but transferred tothe Defense Department inspector general a short time later becausethe Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James L. Jones, wanted to avoidany perception of service bias.

In an anonymous letter to the office of the secretary of theNavy on Jan. 12, a self-identified Osprey mechanic at Marine CorpsAir Station in New River, N.C., wrote that aircraft unable to flyhad been reported ``as being up, as in full mission-capable. Thistype of deception has been going on for over two years.''

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