By Donna Leinwand | USA Today
Investigators from the Air Force and the Civil Air Patrol say they have uncovered instances where two CAP pilots visited family members on the federal tab and double-billed a government anti-narcotics fund for their unauthorized travel.
And, said an internal report by the CAP’s Inspector General, top Civil Air Patrol commanders fired another commander when he tried to clean up the abuses.
The report, obtained Monday by Gannett News Service, bolstered an already strong case the Air Force has made to Congress for reasserting the control of the taxpayer-funded Civil Air Patrol it waived eight years ago.
The Air Force has blamed backslapping carelessness for rules and abuse of federal funds as reasons for its attempt last month to convince lawmakers to give it almost unfettered oversight of the 60,000-member volunteer group known for search and rescue missions. CAP receives $28 million yearly in federal money.
The Air Force tally of CAP offenses includes a business meeting on a Caribbean cruise, vast quantities of missing equipment, unauthorized first class travel, and misappropriated federal funds.
Violations of CAP regulations are “evident and point to the fraud, waste, and abuse of federal funds,” Civil Air Patrol Inspector General Nicholas Knutz wrote in an internal report to CAP’s national commander, Gen James Bobick, of Aurora, CO. “All of the appearance seems to point to basically two individuals: Col Denzil Allen and Maj James Beck.”
The two are CAP members who operated out of the Great Lakes Region. Col Allen’s CAP-appointed attorney, Col William Webb of Birmingham, MI, declined comment on the substance of the allegations, but said, “Col Allen denies any wrongdoing.”
Maj Beck did not return phone calls Monday.
Col Allen, an insurance agent in Prestonburg, KY, headed CAP’s Great Lakes Region and seemed poised for election to the organization’s national command.
In March, Gen Bobick awarded him the organization’s highest honor, a medal for distinguished service, even with Knutz’s report already on his desk and with Air Force investigators canvassing Col Allen’s files.
Allen received the medal even though military officials had recommended that it “not be given to a suspected felon,” Air Force documents showed.
Then, last month, Gen Bobick suddenly suspended Col Allen.
“I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation,” Gen Bobick told GNS Monday.
Knutz began his investigation in July 1998, after CAP’s national headquarters in Montgomery, AL, received a complaint from Capt Bob Morrison, a patrol member from Paintsville, KY.
“Col Allen had been calling on Morrison to fly him to a variety of CAP events and always insisted on filling out CAP’s quite extensive flight paperwork himself,” Capt Morrison said.
About a year ago, Capt Morrison said, “he flew Col Allen to a conference in Wisconsin. He assumed they would return to Kentucky after the conference, but Col Allen diverted him to Tennessee.”
“That was when his almost refusal to let me do the normal paperwork made me suspicious,” Capt Morrison said in an interview. “Turned out, he was visiting his daughter. I saw him use a CAP credit card to fuel the plane.”
Knutz also concluded that Maj Beck and Col Allen used CAP planes and sought federal reimbursement for personal flights and unauthorized flights. Several people also misused signature stamps on the documents, his report said.
In February or March 1998, the report said, a CAP major reported seeing Maj Beck and Col Allen, in uniform, fly into Crossville, TN. Maj Beck and Col Allen told the major that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency had sent them on the mission to purchase horses. But their paperwork didn’t match up, the report said.
Col Allen and Maj Beck often filed for reimbursement for missions in both Kentucky and Michigan, said Col Jim Cantrell, a CAP member and former wing commander from Bardstown, KY. Once Col Cantrell caught on to the double-billing, he said he told authorities he tried to stop it.
“They would fly all over the country with this counter-drug money,” Col Cantrell said. He and others at the Kentucky headquarters said they documented at least $3,500 in over payments; the Air Force puts the figure at $7,000.
Air Force liaison officer Dave Floyd also noticed problems. Maj Beck asked for fuel reimbursement that seemed exaggerated, Floyd said.
“For the mileage he indicated, it meant he was getting about four miles to the gallon,” Floyd told GNS. “I prepared a letter that said this appears to be a fraudulent claim.”
After Floyd and Col Cantrell began documenting the alleged abuses to higher-ups, anonymous complaints aimed at the two poured into the national CAP office. Floyd eventually resigned. Col Allen, Col Cantrell’s boss, removed him as wing commander.
Knutz’s report seemed to vindicate Col Cantrell.
“Col Cantrell inherited a mess when he took command of the Kentucky Wing,” and had taken steps to solve the problems, Knutz’s report said. “It was apparent to the team that Col Allen’s hostility toward Col Cantrell began when” Col Cantrell began questioning Maj Beck’s use of CAP planes and money.
“It is the opinion of the Inspection Team that Col Cantrell was removed for the wrong reasons and that the time of his removal hindered the operation of the inspection team.”
As early as Sept 6, 1998, Knutz had concluded, “there is without a doubt evidence of fraud, waste and abuse.” He found violations of CAP rules both “certain” and “intentional.” He recommended suspending or grounding both Col Allen and Maj Beck. He turned in his final report Feb 16.
Floyd, Capt Morrison and Col Cantrell accuse Gen Bobick, the national CAP commander, of ignoring the evidence and failing to take action against Col Allen.
“No, I did not sit on it,” Bobick said Monday. “It was a full-fledged investigation. It went step by step. I love these people who want things done overnight. You have to protect people’s rights.”