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186th ARW probe lasts longer than expected

By Staff
from staff and wire reports
July 21, 2003
JACKSON Mississippi National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Powell said investigators looking into allegations of wrongdoing at an Air National Guard unit in Meridian will be given as much time as needed.
Mississippi Adjutant General James Lipscomb said in March, near the beginning of the investigation, that the probe would end by June.
The investigation is the second into the 186th Air Refueling Wing since last year.
The first investigation substantiated 16 charges of corruption, racism and records falsification. It also implicated the unit's commander, Lt. Col. David Weaver, and its former commander, retired Lt. Col. Oliver Warren. Weaver was discharged in February.
That probe into the 186th spawned the current one into 22 additional allegations that were outside the scope of the first. Powell said no estimates have been made of the cost of the investigation to the state.
The lead investigator was to return to Meridian this month to interview more guardsmen, Powell said.
Retired Lt. Col. Joe Jody'' Bryant Jr., the whistleblower whose allegations resulted in the first investigation, charged that Lipscomb has failed to adequately fund the investigation he ordered.
Bryant said the lack of funding for the probe, which is being conducted by Col. Kenneth Emanuel of a Florida Air Guard unit, has slowed progress.
In The Meridian Star on March 19, Lipscomb was quoted as saying, "What I can tell you is there are remaining allegations that are being thoroughly investigated."
Bryant said, "In that regard the investigator was not able to start his interviews May 1 because Maj. Gen. Lipscomb and the Air National Guard failed to provide the necessary funds to adequately conduct the investigation."
Powell said it wasn't true that the investigation had been hampered by Lipscomb or the Guard. "He's strongly behind the investigating officer," Powell said.
Bryant said his understanding is that an audit on the base liquor store "has been complete for months, yet Maj. Gen. Lipscomb cannot decide which authorities to turn the records over to for action. I have not really seen any action."
Lipscomb was quoted in a story on Feb. 25 as saying once the review of the base liquor store was completed, he would determine what disciplinary actions to take.
Lipscomb also was quoted in a March 1 story pledging disciplinary action should he find that anyone in the 186th violated military policies.
Powell said the National Guard has not turned over the results of an internal investigation into an on-base liquor store to an outside agency.
The inspector general's report found the store's operation may have violated state and federal laws. Since the allegations were made public, Lt. Col. Thomas Temple, who co-managed the store, retired.
Powell said Lipscomb has had the results of the investigation for a month.
Gen. Lipscomb is in the process of consulting with our legal staff on what agency or office to turn it over to,'' Powell said.
A former commander of an embattled Air National Guard unit in Meridian says the investigation has demoralized its members and damaged its reputation.
Retired Gen. Frederick Feinstein and 11 current and former members of the 186th Air Refueling Wing filed a legal complaint against Bryant and retired Col. Dave Bertholf, who led the first investigation.
Their morale, pardon my French, until this point was (expletive),'' Feinstein said of the 186th's guardsmen in a recent interview with The Associated Press. Since this broke that a bunch of us old devils got interested and said enough was enough, the people I run into say thank the good Lord that somebody is standing up and saying … this garbage is not true.''
Bryant gave hundreds of pages of documents to the Air Force Inspector General along with 42 allegations of wrongdoing.
Feinstein joined the unit in 1958. He was promoted to Mississippi deputy adjutant general for air and transferred to Jackson in 1996. He retired in 1998.
Feinstein was mentioned in a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics internal probe that spun off as a result of the investigation into the 186th ARW.
In an MBN report on the investigation, a confidential source said Feinstein, while he was commander of the Air National Guard's 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian, accepted from Col. Earl Pierce, a former bureau agent and another plaintiff in the lawsuit, seized weapons from the MBN's Meridian office.
The bureau report also included claims from a source that Pierce also gave Feinstein MBN aircraft instruments, including a fuel flow meter, for his private plane.
Feinstein has denied the allegations.
The complaint accuses Bryant and Bertholf of slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress and injurious falsehood against the plaintiffs.
The statements made by Bryant and Bertholf during a May 27 talk show on Meridian radio station WMOX slandered the reputation of the plaintiffs, the complaint says.
Feinstein said the radio interview was the straw that broke the camel's back.'' He said Bertholf, as a former investigator, should not have discussed the probe and that Bryant has been outspoken on the investigation.
What I would like to see, out of Bryant for sure, is a public apology to the entire unit and everybody else in the National Guard,'' Feinstein said.
He did not give specific examples of slander in the radio show.
Bryant and Bertholf declined to comment because of the lawsuit.
Since the case is in litigation, I don't have any comment except to say I stand behind the integrity and the results of the Air Force Inspector General's investigation,'' Bertholf said.