Friday, December 6, 2013
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A four-star Army general who was the first head of the new U.S. Africa Command is under investigation for possibly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars improperly on lavish travel, hotels and other items, The Associated Press has learned.
In this May 26, 2006 file photo, Army Lt. Gen. William E. Kip Ward is adminstered the oath of four-star General, the Army's highest rank of general, by Command Sgt. Major Mark Ripka, right, at Fort Myer, Va. The Associated Press has learned that Ward, who was the first head of the new U.S. Africa Command is under investigation and facing demotion for possibly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars improperly on lavish travel, hotels and other items. Several defense officials said Wednesday that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected soon to decide the fate of Ward. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)
Gen. William "Kip" Ward has been under investigation for about 17 months, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to make a final decision on the matter before the end of the month, according to several defense officials.
The defense officials said Ward is facing numerous allegations that he spent several hundred thousand dollars allowing unauthorized people, including family members, to fly on government planes, and spent excessive amounts of money on hotel rooms, transportation and other expenses when he traveled as head of Africa Command.
A four-star general is the highest rank in the Army.
While the exact amount of alleged misspending was not disclosed, the estimated total raises comparisons with the $823,000 allegedly spent by dozens of employees of the General Services Administration, who were accused of lavish spending during an October 2010 conference at a Las Vegas resort.
Officials described the investigation to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it is a personnel matter and the report on the investigation has not been released publicly.
The Defense Department inspector general has completed its investigation into Ward's activities, and the issue is under legal review.
A request for comment from Ward was not immediately fulfilled Wednesday.
Panetta's options regarding Ward are limited by complex laws and military guidelines.
Panetta can demote Ward and force him to retire at a lower rank. Because Ward's alleged offenses occurred while he was a four-star general, he could be forced to retire as a three-star, which officials said could cost him as much as $1 million in retirement pay over time. It was not immediately clear whether Ward also could face criminal charges.
In order for Ward to be demoted to two-star rank, investigators would have to conclude that he also had problems prior to moving to Africa Command, and officials said that does not appear to be the case.
In making his decision, Panetta has to certify to Congress that Ward served satisfactorily at the rank at which he is retired.
Ward stepped down early last year after serving as the first head of the Europe-based Africa Command, which was created in 2007, and he intended to retire. He did all the paperwork and was hosted at a retirement ceremony in April 2011 at Fort Myer in Virginia, but the Army halted his plans to leave because of the investigation.
Ever since then, he has been working in Northern Virginia, serving as a special assistant to the vice chief of the Army.
That Army office long has been used as a holding area for general officers of varying ranks. For some it's a way station where senior officers under investigation go to await their fate.
For others, it's a quick stop en route to a new high-level command or assignment; a place they can hang their hat for a few weeks, working on special projects until their new post becomes available.
According to Army spokesman George Wright, Ward currently is the only special assistant to the vice chief, but at other times there can be several assigned there as they move from one command to the next.
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