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16th academy midshipman expelled over spice

Aug. 4, 2011 - 05:46PM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 4, 2011 - 05:46PM  |  
A 16th midshipmen as been expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy over using spice, a synthetic drug.
A 16th midshipmen as been expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy over using spice, a synthetic drug. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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With the expulsion of a 16th midshipman on July 15, the Naval Academy says it has closed its 10-month investigation into spice usage by mids, some of which occurred on campus.

The latest expulsion was a senior male who was not allowed to graduate in May, academy spokeswoman Deborah Goode said Thursday. She declined to release any other details about the former midshipman, citing privacy laws. Mids who are separated from the academy after two or more years are frequently required to repay the cost of their education or to serve in the fleet as an enlisted sailor.

When the investigation began last October, the academy lacked a test that could pick up synthetic marijuana. Detecting its presence is difficult, because it comes in a variety of chemical compounds. That meant that authorities would have to uncover solid evidence that spice had been smoked or catch someone red-handed.

The case began when a mid came forward. During the course of the investigation, Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents conducted over 30 interviews and roughly a dozen searches, according to NCIS spokesman Ed Buice.

Asked if the separated mids were all part of one ring, Buice said Wednesday that it would be "oversimplifying to say they were all part of the same group," but acknowledged that there was some connection between them. "Obviously, we found out about these individuals as part of the same investigation."

Buice wasn't able to say how many of the 16 mids had been found with synthetic marijuana or how much of the drug had been seized, only that "it wasn't a lot."

In November, investigators seized a notebook page that appeared to lay out a makeshift business plan for the ring: a large, "career-starter" loan would be used to purchase "kilos" of an unnamed substance, as well as to rent and decorate a party house off campus. Also, investigators uncovered evidence that a mid had suffered a seizure after using synthetic marijuana.

Sixteen mids were administratively separated for violating the Navy's drug policy, which banned synthetic marijuana in March 2010. At the time of the suspected usage, however, pouches of the drug were sold legally over the Internet, as well as in head shops and convenience stores. The Drug Enforcement Administration made spice illegal for at least one year to investigate a permanent ban in March of this year, roughly six months after the academy investigation started.

All but one of the separated mids was male. One freshman and one senior were kicked out, while eight sophomores and six juniors were expelled, according to Goode.

Annapolis isn't the only service academy to grapple with the new drugs. As of early August, 25 cadets at the Air Force Academy had resigned or been expelled in connection with a wide-ranging investigation into spice use, according to Air Force Academy spokesman John Van Winkle.

Naval Academy spokesman Cmdr. William Marks emphasized the academy had conducted a thorough investigation and had held those who broke the rules accountable. They amounted to less than one percent of the 4,600 mids at the academy, Marks stressed.

"If you're asking what this investigation tells me," Marks said Wednesday, "it tells me that 99.678 percent of mids are pretty awesome young men and women."

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