WASHINGTON (AP) - A four-star Army general who was the first head of the new U.S. Africa Command is under investigation and facing possible demotion for allegedly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars improperly on lavish travel, hotels and other items, The Associated Press has learned.
Gen. William "Kip" Ward has been under investigation for about 17 months, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to make a final decision on the matter before the end of the month, according to several defense officials.
The defense officials said Ward is facing numerous allegations that he spent several hundred thousand dollars allowing unauthorized people, including family members, to fly on government planes, and spent excessive amounts of money on hotel rooms, transportation and other expenses when he traveled as head of Africa Command.
A four-star general is the highest rank in the Army.
While the exact amount of alleged misspending was not disclosed, the estimated total raises 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.
Officials described the investigation to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it is a personnel matter and the report on the investigation has not been released publicly.
The Defense Department inspector general has completed its investigation into Ward's activities, and the issue is under legal review.
A request for comment from Ward was not immediately fulfilled Wednesday.
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. It was not immediately clear whether Ward also could face criminal charges.
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 as the first head of the Europe-based Africa Command, which was created in 2007, and he intended to retire. He did all the paperwork and was hosted at a retirement ceremony in April 2011 at Fort Myer in Virginia, but the Army halted his plans to leave because of the investigation.
Ever since then, he has been working in Northern Virginia, serving as a special assistant to the vice chief of the Army.
That Army office long has been used as a holding area for general officers of varying ranks. For some it's a way station where senior officers under investigation go to await their fate.
For others, it's a quick stop en route to a new high-level command or assignment; a place they can hang their hat for a few weeks, working on special projects until their new post becomes available.
According to Army spokesman George Wright, Ward currently is the only special assistant to the vice chief, but at other times there can be several assigned there as they move from one command to the next.
For Ward, the investigation has dragged on so long that he technically has been demoted from his four-star general rank to two-star general. Under military guidelines, if a full general is not serving in a four-star command or office for more than 60 days, he or she is automatically reduced to two-star rank.
Major general, or two-star, is the highest rank to which an officer can be promoted by regular military action. Becoming a three-star -- lieutenant general -- or a four-star general requires a presidential nomination and confirmation by Congress. It, therefore, is not considered permanent, and lasts only as long as the person is serving in a job of that rank.
As a result, Ward's base pay went from more than $20,000 a month as a four-star to about $14,000 a month as a two-star general. Defense officials said that if the decision is to allow him to retire as a three-star or four-star, he would not receive any back pay for the 15 months he served at the lower rank.
The Stuttgart, Germany-based Africa Command was created in order to place a stronger focus on the continent, including vast sections of the north and east where al-Qaida-linked militant groups train and wage attacks. No U.S. military forces are assigned to Africa Command, other than the roughly 2,000 troops in Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, based in Djibouti.
U.S. military activities in Africa long have been a sensitive subject among many nations that inhabit the sprawling continent and worry that the U.S. would try to establish bases or send forces there. Initial plans to set up a headquarters for Africa Command on the continent
hit resistance and were shelved.
A key element of Ward's job was to dispel worries about the new command, meet with African leaders and work to expand and strengthen U.S. military ties so that the nations there are better able to provide for their own defense.
Gen. Carter Ham took over the command last year, gaining accolades as one of two key U.S. military leaders directing operations in the Libya conflict.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
A doctor who provides abortions in Fort Wayne is losing his relationship with a local obstetrician and gynecologist who serves as a "back-up" physician.
Lutheran Health Network CEO Brian Bauer received the prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash award at a ceremony Thursday afternoon.
Santa abandoned his traditional sleigh and arrived at Lutheran Children's Hospital in a fire truck.
Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control was busy Thursday afternoon responding to complaints of pets outside. Crews respond to every complaint in the hopes of preventing pets from freezing.
U.S. Census data shows that one Fort Wayne neighborhood is among the poorest in the state, and it the poverty rate has a direct correlation the rising crime statistics.
It was something that was never supposed to happen. A veteran who killed a woman in Indianapolis then took his own life was buried with full military honors. Since that day, the victim's family has been advocating against it.
The house fire affected traffic on U.S. 33 just north of Churubusco for over an hour. All lanes were back open less than two hours after the fire was called in.
Police said speed appeared to be a factor in a crash that all the occupants of the car seriously injured.
Three intersections on the north side of the city will have new left-turn signals that with a flashing yellow arrow. The new signals will be activated in January.
A plan is in the works to move Cindy's Diner from its current location in downtown Fort Wayne to another location one block northwest from its current location. The iconic restaurant has been a fixture downtown since 1990.
Former Komets executive, owner, general manager and coach Ken Ullyot passed away Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at the age of 92.
The organization claims such legislation would hamper the city's ability to grow economically and that Fort Wayne should be "competitive on a national level and be recognized as a community that thrives on diversity, innovation, and inclusion,”
A state commission seeking ways to improve the lives of Indiana's most vulnerable children is forming a task force to investigate whether there's a link between methamphetamine arrests and child welfare cases.
Scammers are claiming to be from a law enforcement agency and are threatening to arrest victims if they don't pay the fine for an alleged crime or debt.
The free course will go over the laws and regulations about squirrel hunting and will teach attendees how to field dress and prepare squirrels for the table.