By LOLITA C. BALDOR
WASHINGTON — The four-star general who headed U.S. Africa Command used military vehicles to shuttle his wife shopping and to spas, and billed the government for a refueling stop overnight in Bermuda, where the couple stayed in a $750 suite, a Defense Department investigation has found.
A 99-page report details excessive unauthorized spending and travel costs for Gen. William “Kip” Ward, including lengthy stays at lavish hotels for Ward, his wife and his staff members, and the use of five-vehicle motorcades when he traveled to Washington. It also said that Ward and his wife, Joyce, accepted dinner and Broadway show tickets from a government contractor during a trip on which he went backstage to meet actor Denzel Washington and they and several staff members spent the night at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
The report by the Defense Department’s inspector general was obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
One incident involved Joyce Ward asking a staff member to go buy her a bag of “dark chocolate Snickers” bars, saying the general would provide “a couple of dollars” for it.
Ward, who is facing possible demotion for his activities, defended the Bermuda layover as a “crew stop” and blamed his staff for making the decision to stay there rather than flying on to Stuttgart, Germany-based Africa Command. His comments were included in the report.
“We conclude Gen. Ward engaged in multiple forms of misconduct related to official and unofficial travel,” the inspector general’s report said. “He conducted officials travel for primarily personal reasons and misused” military aircraft. It said he also misused his position and his staff’s time and received reimbursement for travel expenses that far exceeded the approved daily military rate without approval.
In one case, his request to use military aircraft for a personal trip was denied, so he abruptly changed the trip to an official one, adding a quick meeting, and went anyway.
In numerous other cases, he and his wife used staff and government-rented cars to run errands, pick up flowers, books, snacks and event tickets.
During one 11-day trip to Washington, Ward spent one day visiting wounded soldiers, had a 90-minute meeting on another day and a State Department meeting on a third day but billed the Pentagon more than $129,000 to cover the daily hotel and other costs for him, his wife and 13 civilian and military staff.
The report concluded he did no other official business during that trip.
A common theme running through the report was Ward’s insistence that his wife travel with him at government cost, even though it was often not authorized and she often did not perform official duties. He also routinely stayed in high-priced suites in luxury hotels rather than in standard rooms or less expensive locales.
And his staff — which can include advance and security teams — often traveled days prior to his arrival, including on the Bermuda stop, and stayed after he departed. The cost of rooms in Bermuda for Ward and his staff came to more than $10,000, not including meals, transportation or other costs.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to make a decision on Ward’s fate before the end of the month.
U.S. officials said Ward, who was the first head of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, was warned several times by staff that his activities were wrong, to no avail.
While the exact amount of alleged misspending was not disclosed, the estimated total evokes comparisons with the $823,000 allegedly spent by dozens of employees of the General Services Administration who were accused of lavish spending during an October 2010 conference at a Las Vegas resort.
Panetta’s options regarding Ward are limited by complex laws and military guidelines.
Panetta can demote Ward and force him to retire at a lower rank. Because Ward’s alleged offenses occurred while he was a four-star general, he could be forced to retire as a three-star, which officials said could cost him as much as $1 million in retirement pay over time.
In order for Ward to be demoted to two-star rank, investigators would have to conclude that he also had problems prior to moving to Africa Command, and officials said that does not appear to be the case.
In making his decision, Panetta has to certify to Congress that Ward served satisfactorily at the rank at which he is retired.
Ward stepped down early last year after serving at the Europe-based Africa Command, and he intended to retire. He did all the paperwork and was hosted at a retirement ceremony in April 2011 at Fort Myer, Va., but the Army halted his plans to leave because of the investigation.
Since then, he has been working in Northern Virginia, serving as a special assistant to the vice chief of the Army.