WASHINGTON (AP) — Demoting a four-star general for spending misconduct could be harsh and would force the officer to lose as much as $1 million in retirement pay, the Army's top military officer said Monday, noting that a lower level officer would never be asked to pay such a high price.
Gen. Raymond Odierno's comments came as Army and Pentagon leaders are weighing the potential punishments for former Africa Command head Gen. William "Kip" Ward. One of the leading considerations for discipline being recommended is for Ward to reimburse the government more than $100,000 he spent on lavish travel and other expenses, according to one senior defense official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to discuss the pending legal matter, said it's not clear if that recommendation includes a demotion or not, and the final decision has not yet been made.
A Pentagon Inspector General's report accused Ward of excessive, unauthorized spending on hotels, transportation and other costs. Asked if he thought losing a star — which would drop Ward's annual retirement pay from about $236,650 a year to $208,802 — was an excessive punishment, Odierno said Monday that he thought people should know the potential costs.
"I've never heard of a private getting fined a million dollars," Odierno told reporters at a news conference on the opening day of the Association of the United States Army conference. But, he added, "This is not a good old boy network. When you do something wrong you will be held accountable."
He said it may not be fair to compare Ward's possible punishments to younger officers, who in many cases are often demoted, discharged or arrested and charged in connection with financial crimes or other offenses.
"You have to take into account ... how long someone has been in the service, how well they've performed, how serious is the incident," Odierno said.
Speaking alongside Odierno, Army Secretary John McHugh said he is finalizing his recommendations on whether Ward will have to repay the Pentagon for excessive travel and other spending.
He said he expects to have his decision within 10 days, and that he also will be forwarding his recommendation on whether Ward should be demoted.
The final decision on a demotion would be made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has recommended that Ward not lose a star, according to defense officials. Odierno said Monday that he also has made his recommendation privately, but he declined to say what it was.
Other officials have argued the allegations made against Ward in the IG report were very serious and senior officers need to be held accountable. Officials have suggested similar misconduct by a lower ranking officer or enlisted military member would bring severe punishment, or even criminal charges and possible jail time.
The Defense Department inspector general's report released in mid-August concluded that Ward "engaged in multiple forms of misconduct related to official and unofficial travel." It said Ward "conducted official travel for primarily personal reasons," misused military aircraft and received reimbursement for travel expenses that far exceeded the approved daily military rate without authorization.
It could take as much as 30 years for Ward, now 63, to lose a total of $1 million in retirement pay if he is demoted to lieutenant general and his compensation is cut by about $30,000 a year. He has served more than 40 years in the military.