WASHINGTON (AP) - The four-star general who headed U.S. Africa Command used military vehicles to shuttle his wife on shopping trips and to a spa 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 alleges 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 two nights at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
The allegations, coming after a 17-month investigation, deliver an embarrassing blow to the Army and to Ward, who had claimed a place in history as the military's first commander of U.S. Africa Command.
"We conclude Gen. Ward engaged in multiple forms of misconduct related to official and unofficial travel," the inspector general's report said. "He conducted official 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.
Ward, who is facing possible demotion for his activities, also could be forced to repay the government. The report said that there is an additional review going on to determine reimbursement for unofficial travel and daily travel costs that exceeded approved levels. It is not clear whether he could face criminal charges.
In comments throughout the report, Ward defended the spending, saying his wife performed official duties on all the trips. But investigators, who pored over emails, calendar entries and other documents, disagreed. Ward also said he was unaware that the person who gave him dinner and theater tickets in New York was a defense contractor.
Ward said the Bermuda layover was necessary 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.
The report by the Defense Department's inspector general was obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
A prominent complaint in the report concerned Ward and his wife's use of staff to run personal errands, traveling in government-rented cars.
One alleged 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. Another time, staff drove her to a spa appointment and on other occasions they were asked to pick up books, gifts, sports tickets and baby items, the report said.
U.S. officials said Ward was warned several times by staff that his activities were wrong, to no avail. Instead, he appeared to reject their concerns and find ways to get around them.
In one case, Ward's 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, the report said.
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, investigators found.
The report concluded he did no other official business during that trip.
Investigators said Ward often extended his overseas trips - particularly those to the U.S. - for personal reasons, resulting in "exponential" increases in costs.
Although the report includes responses from Ward to a number of the allegations, investigators often found records and statements that contradicted his explanations. At one point, Ward defended the Bermuda layover, saying that it came up on short notice, which is why his security team had to stay there longer.
The report found records showing that the layover had been planned for at least four days in advance.
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 performed few official duties. It said 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, according to the report. 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.
Ward also came under fire for "needless and extravagant" gifts he distributed to others, including farewell tokens, holiday parties and souvenir books.
The report said he gave engraved pewter letter openers to Africa Command staff at a farewell event. Half of the 100 openers were inscribed with: "Presented by Gen. William E. Ward" on one side and "Improve the Foxhole-Make Your Teammates Better" on the other. The other 50 were inscribed with the Africa Command crest.
He also spent about $34,000 on holiday parties in 2009 and 2010 and spent nearly $6,000 plus airfare to bring a staff member from the U.S. to Stuttgart for nearly a month in order to help plan the party in 2010. And he spent $14,000 to print a book that memorialized his time at Africa Command.
Ward told investigators that he was told the spending was appropriate.
While the exact amount of alleged misspending was not disclosed, the estimated total evokes comparisons with the $823,000 purportedly 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 before 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.
Inspector general's report: http://www.dodig.mil/fo/Foia/PDFs/WardROI_Redacted.pdf
Lolita C. Baldor can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lbaldor