PEARL HARBOR (March 17, 2014) U.S. Pacific Fleet Master Chief Marco Ramirez speaks with Sailors during an all-hands call aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65). During his visit, Ramirez spoke about several issues to include sexual assault prevention, warfighting readiness and the importance of missions executed in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Amanda Dunford/Released)
When the new enlisted aide started his job setting up trips for Pacific Fleet's top master chief, his new boss made one thing clear: he flies in style.
Fleet Master Chief (SW/AW) Marco Ramirez preferred the perks that came with frequent flyer miles, like exclusive airport clubs and first-class upgrades, and insisted on flying one carrier on his dozen trips around the Pacific each year: United Airlines.
"I fly United," Ramirez reportedly told the aide, in a new report. "If it is too much, let me know and we can make adjustments."
Ramirez pressured his staff to flout defense travel rules by booking flights only on United and with the shortest possible layover, without regard to cost. That cost the service well over $5,000 in excess airfare fees over two years; ((over what period of time?)/added/sf) The $5,000 was just an estimate of airfare for seven of his 31 trips -- we say down in the story the total amount of what he spent and that it was estimated that the amount could be three times higher/MF Ramirez also misused his staff to chauffeur him to take him for personal appointments and errands and failed to report up to 16 days of leave, according to a Pacific Fleet command investigation, obtained by Navy Times via the Freedom of Information Act.
Ramirez was sacked April 16 for these issues, becoming one of the highest-ranking enlisted leaders relieved in U.S. Navy history. Among enlisted, only the master chief petty officer of the Navy sits higher in the pecking order than one of the four or so fleet master chiefs.
"Marco Ramirez intentionally violated travel/leave regulations and consistently misused his staff," then-Pacific Fleet head Adm. Harry Harris told top Navy leaders in an email notifying them of the relief. "The investigating officer substantiated all allegations and the [Inspector General] determined that FLTCM Ramirez acted with intent to deceive/defraud the government through manipulation of the Defense Travel System process."
Ramirez, however, repeatedly denied to investigations that he flouted travel rules. He denied telling his staff to only fly on one air carrier and said he didn't know that they were jumping through hoops to only book him for United Airlines flight, often at additional cost to the government. Ramirez did not respond to repeated phone messages and emails seeking comment by July 24.
Ramirez’s abuse of the leave and travel rules could have ranged as high as $10,000, Harris said in the email, which was obtained by Navy Times. Harris ordered a deeper review that accounted for the cost of the travel and recouped funds inappropriately spent. It appeared that the consequences of the actions would to be extensive for a possible crime that has sent others to courts-martial.((where did this come from??? Is that an observation by Harris or a point made by us???)) Harris said in his email to Greenert that he would keep him informed of disciplinary action but none ever came/MFSam added in a case of an officer at the Navy Yard./MF
"I'll keep you informed of any follow-on disciplinary actions," Harris wrote.
But Harris soon moved on to U.S. Pacific Command and dealing with the Ramirez situation fell to Rear. Adm. Robert Girrier, Pacific Fleet's deputy commander. In the end, Ramirez was not taken to nonjudicial punishment or court-martial, but allowed to quietly retire and retain his status as a fleet master chief.
Ramirez was charged for 10 additional days of leave and some funds were recouped from Ramirez, according to the investigation.
Pacific Fleet declined to release the amount that Ramirez was forced to repay to the Navy for violating travel rules, citing privacy rules, and did not say why the Girrier or other leaders didn’t take disciplinary action against Ramirez.
"We don't have anything further to add to the investigating officer's report," said Cmdr. Steven Curry, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. "The decision on what actions to take to resolve the issues identified in the investigation was made by Rear. Adm. Robert Girrier, deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet."
Others have been disciplined or punished for travel fraud. In March 2013, for example, a lieutenant commander pleaded guilty at a Naval District Washington court-martial to misusing his travel card and was fined $2,394. Sailors are also disciplined via nonjudicial punishment for fraud with the government travel card or via travel vouchers. are also commonly ((and what happened to him??? what was his punishment, if any??? can we find other examples???? any enlisted sailors???))Sam -- I need to leave this one to you...
Ramirez's taste for unauthorized perks ultimately brought to inglorious end what had been a self-made Navy success story. He enlisted as an Aviation Boatswain's Mate in 1984 and over the course of his career served aboard the carriers Enterprise and Vinson; rose to top enlisted positions in several commands and tallied an impressive educational record, including a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland. One career move would prove somewhat ironic and drew comment from an investigator who said Ramirez should have known better: In 1991 he cross-rated to legalman.
'Premiere Elite' flyer
Under the Freedom of Information Act, Navy Times obtained both the preliminary investigation into Ramirez's travel irregularities and the subsequent review conducted by the as well as the subsequent follow-up travel review done by the Pacific Fleet Inspector General in an attempt to determine how much money Ramirez owed the government.
Officials blacked out the names and ranks of most officers and enlisted in the report, other than Both reports were redacted to exclude the names of anyone interviews or listed as a point of contact — the only names were that of Ramirez, Rear Adm. Girrier and that of J.K. Yamashita, the Pacific Fleet Inspector General. As a result, the identify of the investigating officer isn’t known because as his name is redacted in the report. However, in Harris’ email to Greenert, he identifies the investigator as a "senior O6 on staff."
The command investigation into Ramirez was triggered an initial IG investigation into his actions and Ramirez, that travel found multiple "irregularities" in his travel record. from a sampling of the master chief's travel. and his travel claims that investigated a sample of the master chief’s travel and uncovered enough problems to trigger further investigation. Just the facts
Traveling is a necessary part and parcel of a fleet master chief's job — a role relished by Ramirez. In two years as Pacific Fleet's top chief, he logged 31 trips to the farthest flung corners of the Pacific from headquarters in Hawaii. He traveled to Japan, South Korea, Guam, Washington state, San Diego, and Newport, Rhode Island. He answered sailors' questions in South Korea and met with sailors assigned to the base on the remote island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Over the two years, Ramirez racked up to sailors According to the IG’s final review of Ramirez’s travel, he made a total of 31 trips racking a total of $76,796.42 in travel expenses, the IG found. Of that amount, nearly half, $35,344.26 — 46 percent to be exact — was spent solely on airfare alone.
Ramirez logged enough mileage to earn his place as a United Airlines Premier Elite member, according to the report. Sailors may accrue mileage from official travel, as long as they do not violate DoD travel rules to do so. ((are navy personnel allowed to keep mileage when on official travel???))Yes, it wasn't always so, but now they are -- I believe they realized it was not an enforcable rule./MF
Ramirez's frequent flyer status was well known among his staffers. They used his login and passwords to set up his travel and would even check his mileage status for him, according to the report. The staff researched United hubs around the world "to help support trips trips via United," the report said.
Because airfare is changing all the time, investigators were told by travel officials that there was no ability to go back and determine with absolute certainty the cost difference between Ramirez using United Airlines or what his tickets would have cost if he'd gone with the government contracted fare and carriers to get to his destination.
Staffers knew the travel rules and felt that Ramirez pressured them into cutting corners. But the interviews with his staff say that Ramirez clearly told them that "I fly United," and "wouldn’t take no for an answer" when he was told of the price differences in the cost of fares, according to the report.
Ramirez' staff wasn’t comfortable at first with providing bogus justifications in the travel system for the Ramirez’s higher cost flights, but over time it became routine, the report details.
The staffers researched flight plans and routes and presented Ramirez with the But his interviews with Ramirez’s staff found that the master chief was always presented with "options in print format to choose from and he chose United Airlines," according to the report.
One tactic was to echnique the sailors told the investigator was to break the trip down into smaller legssegments, which allowed them to get more guaranteed United flights. legs in the trips. On the other hand, these sailors knew that of these sailors said that it became common knowledge that "these smaller trips are often more expensive than the original point to point flights offered by [the Defense Travel System]."
That required an official explanation. Staffers delicately sidestepped the issue with oblique justifications like justifications ranged from stating the flight "doesn’t meet mission requirements" to "day of travel issues" or even simply "timing." The investigator wrote that One of Ramirez’s staffer said he "entered justifications such as FLTCM Ramirez cannot sit in an airport for the layover time of the cheaper flight," according to the report. The same sailor, whose name was also redacted, the investigator wrote "believes some of the justifications to be unethical and incorrect."
And one staffer told investigators that planning these United Airlines-only trips for Ramirez that met his host of preferences began to consume "a considerable amount of time."
Ramirez, who was formerly a legalman, denied to the investigator that he pressured his staff to break travel rules.
"[Ramirez] stated he was unaware of the levels of effort being put forth to ensure he flew United Airlines," the investigator concludedwrote in his opinions. Ramirez’s staff told the investigator that as time went on, they began to "spend a considerable amount of time" planning Ramirez’s trips in order to ensure he only flew United.
However, Despite Ramirez’s contention to the contrary, the investigator found that said in his opinions that he believed that Ramirez had intentionally violated travel and ethics regulations and "pressured or directed his team to place him on United Airlines flights," according to the report.
The IG set about trying to recreate the scope of the misuse. That was complicated by the fact that fare history isn't easily archived, making it hard to go back and figure out the fares from the government contracted carriers to the same destination at the same time.
Of his 31 trips, the IG took a sample of just seven of Ramirez’s flights on United and compared them to government discounted flights on other carriers going to the same destination on the same day. The idea was to estimate what it might have cost the government to use United Airlines exclusively instead of the contracted cheaper fares. The actual cost of the flights Ramirez took, the investigation, said was $9,586.91. Using contracted fares, the IG stated the total for the seven flights was estimated at $3,739.00 .
"The airfare cost comparison indicated that a possibility existed to save the government $5,847,91 if the contracted fare had been available and if the traveler had utilized it."
But the investigation said goes on to say that actual historical faresdata on the cost of contracted flights isn’t available. As a result, they couldn’t determine the exactactual savings to the government.
No comparisons were made for flights during the 24 other trips. But sources familiar with the travel system say the total amount saved could have easily been two to three times more had Ramirez not used United Airlines exclusively.
As a result, The IG also audited other focused on auditing other aspects of Ramirez’s travel and found problems. and here’s what the IG was able to substantiate that Ramirez owed the Government.
Ramirez claimed to have taken leave during one trip from January 25 to February 3, 2014, but a check of the Navy’s system found no request for those 10 days off. The IG notes that for Ramirez, the cost of those 10 days of leave equaled $4,151,49 in base pay and allowances. Ramirez was later charged those The IG recommended that Ramirez be charged for those 10 days of leave.
And while scrutinizing Ramirez travel vouchers, the IG found that on four occasions Ramirez requested reimbursed for expenses he didn't incur, adding up to put in to be reimbursed for expenses he didn’t incur for a total of $745.03. Again the IG recommended that amount be recouped.((can we detail those expenses???)) The IG lists them in the review -- they are a bit confusing/MF
Throughout the JAGMAN investigation, the "senior O-6" stated that Ramirez denied any wrongdoing and specifically denied telling his staff that he was to exclusively fly United. exclusively.
'Sense of entitlement'
In the his opinions, The senior O-6 investigator wrote that he seemed to confront two separate people in examining Ramirez. In one-on-ones with Ramirez, the fleet master chief was was between between the fleet master chief and his staff. that he as a result of the interviews he conducted with Ramirez he found the master chief "very convincing and extremely easy and pleasant to talk to."
But in interviews with five other sailors who regularly dealt with Ramirez, he got an entirely different view. Those sailors, he said, "characterized FLTCM Ramirez as 'sketchy' or 'slimy' in action, but polished in appearance."
The investigator concluded sided with those sailors, concluding that n the opinion of the investigating officer concluded that "FLTCM uses his subordinates or surrogates to direct contentious issues that are either skirting the rules or over the line; but ultimately he is the one attempting to skirt the rules or cross the line."
The investigation also uncovered While investigating the travel issues and how Ramirez’s staff was justifying his exclusive United Airlines travel, he found other ways Ramirez was "misusing" his junior sailors.
Often, the investigator said, Ramirez would have his staff run personal errands. They routinely called on his behalf to United to discuss his frequent flier status, and made similar and in the course of his interviews, Ramirez’s staff, both current and past routinely made calls for him to not only United to discuss his frequent flyer account, but also made similar calls to Marriott, Hilton and Delta Airlines, too.
In addition, Ramirez used his junior sailors as personal drivers, often driving him to medical appointments and on other personal errands, which is contrary to the Pacific Fleet ethics rules.
Again, Ramirez denied any wrongdoing. And the but in the end, the senior O-6 investigator found that Ramirez viewed his staff as his to use and as a result, routinely "misused his subordinates…for personal services" as well as for activities that weren’t official business. "I believe FLTCM Ramirez has a sense of entitlement and saw nothing wrong with his staff driving him to his personal appointments or tending to his personal affairs," the senior O-6 investigator wrote.
The investigator said that noted that on March 10, Ramirez was informed by one of his staff that it was wrong and against the rules for them to be driving him to personal appointments.
That sailor told the investigator Ramirez responded to the statement by saying "you are my staff and I do not see any problem with you driving me, they can just file an Inspector General complaint if they want to."
When asked by the investigator about the comment, Ramirez couldn't recall making it, he wrote.
Others accused Ramirez of being abusive. One of them was a male chief on Ramirez's staff who said the fleet master chief "berated and belittled" him in front of others, according to the report. This staffer was selected for chief as the Pacific Fleet's sailor of the year, a prestigious and coveted advancement. At one point when Ramirez was upset with him, Ramirez reportedly told him that he made the wrong choice for sailor of year in picking him.
In the end, the senior O-6 investigator said that as a prior legalman master chief, Ramirez knew the rules and willfully broke them.
"While he contends he was unaware of the impropriety," the investigator said. "I find it hard to believe based on the ethics training he has received at the Senior Enlisted Academy and [Pacific Fleet].
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.