12 California National Guard pilots disciplined in dual-pay scandal

12/05/2011 12:00 AM

12/05/2011 9:36 AM

Twelve California National Guard pilots have been disciplined for improper dual compensation – more than one day of pay for a single day of work – at the Fresno-based 144th Fighter Wing.

Guard spokesman Maj. Thomas Keegan said federal authorities will seek to recover a total of about $450,000 from the officers.

The amount owed would have been higher, but the recoupment period began only in 2006 because of statutes of limitations, said Linda J. Card, spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which conducted an examination of the pay problems.

Keegan said six officers received letters of reprimand, which can have serious impact on an officer's career. One of those was removed from the Guard. Six others received lesser admonishments. Five of the disciplined officers previously were removed from the chain of command over the pay violations.

None was charged criminally.

"This was a failure of leadership, not intentional fraud, and as such administrative actions were deemed more appropriate" than prosecution, Keegan said.

Col. Sami Said, installed as wing commander last spring, blamed the problems on "a systemic breakdown that morphed over time – not criminal intent."

The actions followed a lengthy Air Force probe. The Bee first reported the payment problems in a series of investigations published last winter and spring. The stories described a practice known as "dozing for dollars," in which pilots served military-alert duty at full pay just after a duty shift as civilian pilots working for the fighter wing.

On alert, they would wait in a nearby ready room for a "scramble" alarm to intervene in an emergency. Often, they relaxed or slept on alert – hence, the "dozing" reference some members used. They also earned full pay for standby duty at home, or even on vacation up to 12 hours away from the base.

Some pilots nearly doubled their pay by violating rules that permit dual pay under limited circumstances.

Guard officials said it would be inappropriate to identify the disciplined pilots by name or to specify how much money each would be required to repay, because they can still appeal the rulings.

However, The Bee previously identified some officers, and based on the context of the disciplinary actions, the two former wing commanders – top officers of the 144th – received severe penalties.

Col. Gary Taylor, who was removed from the Guard, has filed a defamation lawsuit seeking damages against the Guard, pending in Sacramento Superior Court.

"Col. Taylor's honor and reputation were publicly called into question by the government, and he looks forward to restoring both," said James Walker, Taylor's attorney. Taylor intends to challenge any recoupment action, Walker said.

Keegan said Adjutant General David S. Baldwin recommended to federal authorities that a "senior officer," whom Keegan would not name, have his federal recognition withdrawn. Such an action would prevent the officer from serving in any military service, including the Guard, and could affect his future retirement benefits.

In an interview, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Flaugher, a former wing commander for the 144th and a high official at Guard headquarters in Sacramento, identified himself as that officer.

Flaugher said he was told he owes about $35,000, but added that he had followed complex regulations in good faith and would appeal Baldwin's recommendation about his status as well as the recoupment decision.

"This has been a practice, pretty much, I think for about 20 years," he said about his dual-pay approach. "We interpreted the rules the best that we could at the time."

Flaugher said he didn't know why his wing interpreted the requirements differently than similar units across the nation, which did not run afoul of dual-pay violations.

"We had been through many inspections of our alert force," he said regarding the period before the pay controversy emerged. "Never once was any of this pointed out."

The other pilots who were penalized include officers who held top leadership posts in the wing from 2006 through the spring of this year.

Among them, six have been retrained and are eligible to resume flight duties, according to Said. The remaining four will not fly again for the 144th.

"The actions we have taken will bring closure to an unfortunate failure in leadership that took place within the 144th Fighter Wing," Baldwin said.

After the pay scandal, the 144th earned disappointing marks on two important inspections by Air Force authorities.

In the spring, inspectors delivered an overall "marginal" rating, citing 10 "critical" or "significant" deficiencies. These included lapses in maintenance of flight equipment such as global positioning and communications gear, and munitions-handling problems.

"Failure to properly maintain munitions accountability may lead to loss of life, serious injury or mission degradation," inspectors wrote in their final report, obtained by The Bee.

A September inspection also brought disappointing results. The Fresno home base received a "not mission ready" rating, and a Riverside base, also managed by the 144th, earned a "partial mission ready" designation. Both results require remedial steps to ensure safe and effective operations.

The most recent inspections primarily criticized maintenance, according to Said, the current wing commander.

"At no time was the mission compromised," he said. "Our jets never came off alert (to protect U.S. airspace and respond to other emergencies). That's a strong signal that nobody's questioning that the jets can do what they are supposed to be doing."

Said described the problems as "procedural," but added: "I don't want to dilute and downplay the importance of saying that we are mission ready – period."

His prediction of excellent performance will be tested in future unannounced inspections.

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