NOTHING, AND EVERYTHING, TO HIDE
by Sharon Rondeau
(Dec. 2, 2013) — On Sunday, The Post & Email published an article detailing the use of endorsements by the military, which track the movement of documentation up and down the chain of command, as they related to the court-martial of CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) in 1990.
Although carried out 23 years ago, the case remains alive today because the Navy has refused to acknowledge the depth and breadth of criminality which took place both initially and on the part of dozens of officers engaged in obscuring the truth from members of Congress, other officers, and Fitzpatrick himself over the years. A forgery masquerading as a “Response to Letter of Reprimand” remains in the court-martial record and service record which the Navy continues to maintain as authentic.
A wall of silence has met our numerous inquiries on the subject, including from the current respective chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in Congress. Contacted once again over the last two months, the Naval Inspector General and Department of Defense Inspector General have also failed to investigate.
As a result of his own experience, Fitzpatrick has noted that any military serviceman or woman can be accused and convicted of a crime without evidence because of unchecked command influence and corruption among some flag officers. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) does not utilize a grand jury or trial jury of one’s peers, and, in Fitzpatrick’s case, even the appeals process was controlled by the admiral who had acted as accuser and convening authority in violation of UCMJ rules.
“I brought the charges and I convened the court-martial in the proper conduct of my duties…” Bitoff wrote in a 1999 letter to then-Rep. Norman Dicks. At the close of the letter, Bitoff said:
I believe the only option to you to bring some human closure to this tragedy, is to convince the Navy to review this case again in light of the troubling allegations mentioned above. Possibly, in a gesture of magnanimity, the Secretary of the Navy might grant clemency and remove the Federal conviction from his record.
One of the “troubling allegations” to which Bitoff referred was “That there are serious doubts as to the validity of LCDR Fitzpatrick’s signature on the Response to Letter of Reprimand dated July 17, 1990, or the so called ‘confession.'” Bitoff also said that he had “always been extremely unhappy with the outcome of this case and I wish I could have prevented the irrational behavior that brought it about.”
Regarding Bitoff’s claim that he offered Fitzpatrick non-judicial punishment, Fitzpatrick denied that that ever took place. Bitoff is also incorrect about the court-martial having occurred in 1988.
The year after Fitzpatrick’s sham court-martial, the Tailhook scandal became public, which also “raised questions about the efficacy of the U.S. military justice system” and exposed a “culture of corruption.”
In 1997, an investigation was authorized by the JAG Corps and NCIS but abruptly abandoned in early 1998 after it became obvious that there was, in fact, a forgery in Fitzpatrick’s records. In 2004, after Fitzpatrick brought additional evidence to the NCIS of the person who signed his name to the document, four NCIS agents went unannounced to his home and threatened his life for attempting to pursue the truth.
The case of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III resulted in a military appeals court overturning Hutchins’ conviction from years before because it was determined that his constitutional rights were violated during interrogation in 2006. Hutchins’ interrogator was James H. Connolly, the same NCIS agent who Fitzpatrick identified as having threatened his life in early March 2005. Fitzpatrick’s comments under Connolly’s biography on ZoomInfo regarding his involvement in both cases are extensive and have not been removed.
Neither Connolly nor anyone else has been prosecuted for crimes committed, and Fitzpatrick’s record remains undisturbed despite the wrongdoing it serves to obscure. American taxpayers continue to pay for military corruption in the millions of dollars while The Washington Post reports that “it is extremely rare for senior uniformed commanders to face corruption charges.”
Many of the articles published here will be the basis for the book which The Post & Email and Fitzpatrick are in the process of finalizing. Not one of those named has spoken on the record to correct any of the details we have made public over the last four years.
The index of documents which Fitzpatrick received from LCDR J.L. Roth in March 2001 revealed not only the myriad of documents in the court-martial record, but also those which have been denied to him after he submitted dozens of FOIA requests. To date, he has received no documentation from the appeal phase of the court-martial in which Adm. John Bitoff played a part even though Bitoff was retired from the Navy at the time.
There exist no endorsements to show how the forgery found its way into Fitzpatrick’s court-martial record, which Fitzpatrick first discovered through a FOIA request answered in 1992.
Fitzpatrick told us:
In going through the 28-page index from CDR Roth, some interesting things came back to me.
There were points in time when this endorsement ladder was stuck up against a building and a document package climbed this ladder to the top, which was the Office of the Judge Advocate General. Those periods of time occurred right after the court-martial took place and the submission of the court-summarized record of trial, which went up the chain of command, was made. That was June, July, August and September 1990. That’s the first period of time.
The second time period was in March and April of 1992, when I submitted my request for review.
The third time was June through August 1992, which was a Supplemental Points and Authorities volume that I submitted. Those are the three times when there was a ladder stuck up against a building where there is an endorsement record in place.
Dealing with the first period of time, based on the index that Roth gave to me, the forgery hit the first rung of the ladder going from John Bitoff’s to Bitoff’s boss, Vice Admiral Bennett, who received the forged document on 7 August 1990. That’s when the forgery was stuck into the record. It was forwarded up the chain of command ten days later, on 17 August 1990, when Bennett sent it on.
The second period of time is of extreme interest and dealt with my request for review, which had to be submitted within 24 months of the end of the court-martial. It was a separate building and separate ladder. It was submitted in 1992, which fell within the proper period of time.
At this point, I was on the USS Carl Vinson. My immediate commanding officer was Doyle Borchers. I submitted two huge volumes filled with records and write-ups to Borchers on March 4, 1992. Borchers endorsed it. He put one page on it – and I haven’t seen this, but because of the index I got from CDR Roth, I know that the endorsement from Borchers was one page – then he forwarded it and sent it on to Combat Logistics Group 1, which was the convening authority for my court-martial. So Borchers sent it to Adm. Merrill Ruck, who in March 1992 was the commander of Combat Logistics Group 1, taking over for Bitoff, who had retired.
At that moment, Ruck’s staff judge advocate was a woman named Karen Denise Hill. Karen Hill took the two volumes to John Bitoff, and Bitoff was the guy who refused the submission. In March 1992, John Bitoff was working in the office of the Mayor as the Director of Emergency Management for the City of San Francisco. He was a public figure working in a very prominent position. He had been in San Francisco when the World Series Earthquake hit, on the 17th of October 1989, with the Oakland “As” vs. the San Francisco Giants. The Bay Area was going nuts because both major league teams were from San Francisco playing for the championship. It was just before the beginning of Game #3 that the 1989 Prieta Loma earthquake hit. It destroyed the freeway, and lots of people died. The Embarcadero Freeway pancaked on top of itself…it was huge.
John Bitoff, as commander of Naval Bay San Francisco, was instrumental in responding to the earthquake, and it was just a couple of years before he retired. Because of his expertise and what he did in reacting to the earthquake, Mayor Frank Jordan picked him up as Director of Emergency Management of San Francisco when he retired from the Navy.
I specifically waited for John Bitoff to leave his job as admiral for a new guy to come in because I knew it needed to be looked at by somebody else. So I submitted the huge two volumes, and the first person who saw it and forwarded it with a one-page endorsement was Borchers. He wouldn’t have taken a position on it, but he forwarded it on 18 March to Adm. Ruck.
The next endorsement is dated April 28, 1992 and is a statement from John Bitoff that was three pages long. In his letter to Rep. Dicks, Bitoff said that “I regret the length of time it took for me to respond to your request…I retired from active service at the end of 1991 and I am no longer privy to the official files and other documents pertaining to this case” He said that he was not privy to any of the records in 1992, either. Then how was he able to write anything on it? So we have a three-page statement from John Bitoff saying that he denied the appeal, which is what he told Dicks.
He wasn’t in the Navy at that time and wasn’t allowed to take a position on it. The person who assumed Bitoff’s former command, Adm. Ruck, would have been the person to take a position on my request for review. Besides, I wanted someone else to take a look at this because I knew what Bitoff and Zeller had done.
Bitoff gave the three pages to Adm. Ruck, and then Ruck put a cover sheet on it, endorsed it, and signed it. Ruck’s endorsement is dated 14 May 1992 and it’s four pages.
When Merrill Ruck got this package, he turned to his staff JAG, Karen Denise Hill, and said, “This is a hot potato; take this over to John Bitoff and let him deal with it.” So that’s what she did; that’s what she’s trying to hide from and why she retained counsel.
In that period of time, there were several incriminating documents in the submission I provided, and Karen Hill knew that. So it took from 18 March to 29 April for Bitoff to look at this thing. So he gave it to Merrill Ruck around 29 or 30 April, and it took two more weeks for Ruck to sign it out with the page he added to Bitoff’s three pages, equaling the four pages Ruck submitted.
[Editor’s Note: In his letter to Dicks, Bitoff wrote, “…LCDR did exercise the right of appeal and I denied it.”]
Then it went to San Diego to Adm. Bennett, who added a one-page endorsement but nothing else. That’s the endorsement ladder.
Then it got back to the Judge Advocate General on the East Coast.
There was another submission I made in June which was one volume of Supplemental Points and Authorities.
John Bitoff’s endorsement is a criminal act. I don’t have those three pages he wrote. I should see them, I should have them in my possession, but I don’t. The reason I am focusing on Bitoff’s three-page endorsement is that I have every reason to believe that Bitoff would have said, “Hey, Fitzpatrick climbed up on a cross and admitted to his crimes; here is his confession.”
Just as Zlatoper said, “Here’s his confession.” This is why the forged confession was put into the record. So the three-page document that Bitoff wrote is of supreme significance and importance, and it’s being kept from me to this day. I should have been copied on that endorsement as a matter of course. Before you see where it was endorsed by Doyle Borchers and you see at the bottom, “Copy to…,” “Copy to…,” “Copy to…,” Bitoff’s endorsement should have on it “Copy to [the accused] LCDR Fitzpatrick.” I don’t have it.
Merrill Ruck’s one-page endorsement should have also said, “Copy to CDR Fitzpatrick.”
So we now have two flag officers involved. Ruck knew, and so did Karen Hill. Karen Hill was cornered when Rep. Norm Dicks got involved, and that is why she retained counsel. By this time, more information had come to light. It was about the same time that the forgery first came to my attention. My Admin Board was in May 1992. I survived that, which explains why I had a supplemental package which I provided in June 1992. By this time, the forgery was in my hands; I had it, and I put it in the Supplemental Points and Authorities. I also put in that I had survived the Admin Board and that the Admin Board had found that I had committed no criminal act.
I’ve just gone through the endorsement ladder, and one of the rungs on the ladder is John Bitoff’s three-page submission, and I believe if we were to see it, it would make reference to the forged confession.
When the whole court-martial case came up in 1994 as it was reported in April 1994 by Ed Offley in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Boorda, asked John Bitoff for a statement, and Bitoff supplied a statement. That’s another statement that I don’t have that Bitoff signed. It’s just like a few weeks ago when I called Bitoff and he didn’t want to come to the phone. He didn’t want anything that he wrote to me to be read by anybody, because it’s incriminating, and he knows he’s in trouble.
The good news is that we don’t need these statements that Bitoff wrote.
If Bitoff had done the right thing and if the court-martial had been done properly, then nobody would have anything to run from. There would be nothing to hide.
Did John Bitoff speak at all about the three-page endorsement in his letter to Norm Dicks? Well, he said that he denied my request. He didn’t go into any details. There are three pages out there, and I am rock-solid certain that in those three pages, Bitoff referred to the forged confession because that’s how that document was meant to be used. That’s why it got into the record in the first place.