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by Sharon Rondeau

As officers celebrated the 238th birthday of the U.S. Navy, CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III was struggling to regain his good name by having a wrongful conviction at court-martial and fraudulent record opened for an investigation

(Oct. 14, 2013) — CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) has recently spoken with a person within the Department of the Navy about the forgery, fraud and obstruction of justice involved in his court-martial of April 1990, the perpetrators of which have never been brought to justice.

Fitzpatrick believes that his admiral, John Bitoff, targeted him for removal from the Navy because of Fitzpatrick’s high standards, character and outspokenness when protocols were breached.

Fitzpatrick told the Navy authority that he is writing a book about the court-martial in which false statements, including those from a “ghost witness,” were used to convict him “behind closed doors” of misusing ship’s funds totaling more than $10,000.  For the last 24 years, Fitzpatrick has been attempting to convince the Navy to open his file, examine the forged signature for the criminal instrument that it is, and restore to him his good name.

Through numerous FOIA requests, Fitzpatrick learned that dozens and perhaps hundreds of officers have participated in obstructing justice by representing to their superiors that the court-martial was carried out properly and that sentencing was appropriate for a crime which Fitzpatrick did not commit.

Saturday, October 12, 2013 marked the 24th anniversary of the accusations made against Fitzpatrick.  In order to provide the convening authority, John Bitoff, with a final opportunity to relate his side of the story before the book is published, Fitzpatrick contacted Bitofff at his home.  Bitoff’s wife told Fitzpatrick that he “did not wish to speak with him” even though he was “standing right here.”  She then repeatedly asked, him, “Why are you doing this?”

Fitzpatrick has decided that the answer to that question will become a chapter in the book.

With the exception of one officer, no one else has been willing to speak on the record about the Fitzpatrick court-martial.  Letters, emails and phone calls to high-level officers involved in covering up the crimes committed have gone unanswered.

Fitzpatrick told The Post & Email that in his conversation last week with the Navy authority, he asked, “You have requirements for somebody who has been acted against to come in with a document record to prove that these actions of reprisal have been taken against me as a target.  Is that correct?” to which the authority responded, “Yes.”  Fitzpatrick then said, “In this circumstance, there was an active plot to prevent me from obtaining any documents.  They were actively working to keep the record secret.  That’s what the Naval Inspector General’s office needs to look into very deeply.  To this moment, there are documents being kept from me.  They were plotting and working against me, and the documents I have weren’t supposed to see the light of day.”

Fitzpatrick said that a key document to proving his case is a “Personal for” memo written by Staff JAG Lt. Tim Zeller to his superior, Adm. John Bitoff, the convening authority of the court-martial.  “All admirals have a staff JAG,” Fitzpatrick explained.

Fitzpatrick told the Navy authority that ‘What Tim Zeller wrote to his boss is, ‘Adm. Bitoff, since I don’t believe in keeping a paper trail when questions might come up later from a guy like you, I’m not keeping any copy of this exchange with you in my files or on my computer.’  We are plotting together, Admiral, to keep this a secret from guys like you.”

Same “Personal for” memo from Zeller to Bitoff but with Fitzpatrick’s notations following his receipt of the document 11 years later through a FOIA request

Two months prior to the court-martial, Fitzpatrick had received a glowing fitness and performance review from his superior, Capt. Michael Nordeen.  He was therefore taken by complete surprise when he was notified on October 13, 1989 that his orders to attend the Naval War College were canceled after he had prepared to move his family from the West Coast to Newport, RI.

11 April 1990 Final Disposition Memo written by Zeller to Bitoff before the record of court-martial was ready, indicating that Fitzpatrick’s punishment was “already decided”

Fitzpatrick explained:

The Final Disposition memo is a criminal instrument because Bitoff and Zeller should not have been talking about final dispositions until they had the final record of trial in hand.

Both of these documents are illegal exchanges between Bitoff and Zeller.

If you’re involved in a criminal act, you’re not going to be involved with someone you think is going to blow the whistle on you.  This is the comfort level that these men enjoyed with each other.  They knew that one wasn’t going to give up the other.  That kind of criminal cooperation goes back to the very beginning when Tim Zeller was speaking with Paul Romanski back in November 1989.  Romanski submitted a three-page chronology dated 3 November 1989.  Before he did that, he showed it to Tim Zeller, and Zeller came back with a memorandum which he didn’t sign, but it says, “Well, Paul, I think everything is fine with this but you need to take this sentence out of paragraph 5, because if you leave it in there, it’s going to look as if you’re the accuser.”  So he said, “Recommend you drop the second sentence.”

Unsigned memo from Tim Zeller to Capt. Paul Romanski advising him to “drop the second sentence” in the 3 November 1989 Chronology to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest

Romanski then applied the edit that Zeller recommended and published the chronology the next day, 3 November 1989.


Page 1 of Capt. Paul Romanski’s Chronology of the allegations against Fitzpatrick. In the reference section at the top, CHNAVPERS Washington DC 240539Z OCT 89 refers to a letter Fitzpatrick wrote at the time to the Chief of Naval Personnel
Page 2 of Chronology without the second sentence of the 5 October 1989 entry, as advised by Zeller

The Navy is still hiding documents today, and it’s the same notion now as it was when Bitoff and Zeller exchanged that memo back in 1990.  There’s no date on the “Personal for” memo, but it’s dated by another document, which is the Final Disposition memo dated 11 April 1990.  They were both written at the same time.  Zeller was saying, “We’re done with Fitzpatrick; now let’s get Capt. Nordeen.”

Fitzpatrick explained that his career was not the only one ruined as a result of the conspiracy.  He told The Post & Email:

They wanted only me at the beginning, and it’s very clear that I was the target.   Once they were able to get this thing to a court-martial and get a conviction against me, then Zeller was emboldened and said to Bitoff, “Let’s go after Nordeen.”  The reason they couldn’t go after Capt. Nordeen was that he had left the area and was no longer under John Bitoff’s jurisdiction.  So Zeller was recommending to Bitoff that Bitoff go to somebody who did hold court-martial jurisdiction over Mike Nordeen, and suggest to that convening authority that Mike Nordeen be held accountable at a court-martial.  That’s what Zeller was recommending in this “Personal for” which nobody was to see.  He said, “I recognize the political consequences of this kind of suggestion, especially going after an officer who has been nominated and is in line for a CV command.  “CV” means “aircraft carrier.”  Mike Nordeen was about to become the commanding officer of the USS Constellation when Zeller wrote the memorandum.  Mike Nordeen was also in line to become an admiral, but John Bitoff and Tim Zeller made sure that didn’t happen.  Bitoff issued a non-punitive letter of reprimand to Mike Nordeen as my commanding officer.

These documents are very powerful representations which show that in their own writing, Bitoff and his staff were conspiring against me.

I sent you the articles from Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, and in each of them, which were front-page stories, the authors attempt to use examples of how courts-martial have worked against individuals to prove that the system is completely flawed.  It’s unconstitutional, and it should be abolished.  There is no demonstration out there better than my case.  They used the court-martial not to exact discipline because an officer had done something worthy of discipline. This was a reprisal.  There was no crime ever involved in this.  They manufactured crimes where no crimes existed.  We have that evidence in spades.

In an interview with journalist Kit Lange in 2006, Zeller told Lange, “You think what we did to Fitzpatrick was bad; well, you haven’t seen anything yet, lady; let me tell you some stories.”

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  1. Let this be a lesson to future Navy Officers and Enlisted to be aware of the type of people that operate behind closed doors and that exposing them in the right way could demand high skill in doing that. It also shows what type of Military personalities you don’t want to be. People are people like it or not and could happen virtually in any field or anywhere, in this case, Walt was the target of their games. I hope Walt can get the book and then a movie to achieve full disclosure of this entire sham. It may be hard for the Navy to prosecute these people after a long period but Command Influence and Authority were abused and at least Bitoff’s “retirement” could be removed.