Strip clubs, alcohol, 'improper interactions' cited as general goes from a 3-star to a 1-star

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Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter hugs then Brig. Gen. Ron Lewis, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on May 13, 2013. Lewis, who would subsequently rise to the 3-star general rank before being stripped of one star in November 2015, lost a second star, the Army announced Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (GLENN FAWCETT/DEFENSE DEPARTMENT)
Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter hugs then Brig. Gen. Ron Lewis, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on May 13, 2013. Lewis, who would subsequently rise to the 3-star general rank before being stripped of one star in November 2015, lost a second star, the Army announced Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (GLENN FAWCETT/DEFENSE DEPARTMENT)

Strip clubs, alcohol, 'improper interactions' cited as general goes from a 3-star to a 1-star

by: Tom Vanden Brook | .
USA Today | .
published: February 11, 2017

WASHINGTON — One of the Army’s most promising generals will be demoted to one star and retired following a scandal that involved sex clubs in Seoul and Rome, high-priced booze and indiscretions with young female troops, the Army announced Thursday.

Ron Lewis, who had been a three-star general and top aide to the then-Defense secretary Ash Carter, will also lose about $10,000 a year in pension payments due to the demotion. His previous demotion from three-star to two-star general would have also resulted in a pension downgrade.

The Pentagon Inspector General "substantiated allegations that Maj. Gen. Lewis misused his government travel charge card for personal expenses, made false official statements regarding his (credit card) misuse, and engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman on multiple occasions," Cynthia Smith, an Army spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Lewis was a high-flying decorated attack helicopter pilot whose ascent to the highest ranks of the Army seemed unlimited. But allegations of an improper relationship with a female subordinate prompted Carter to fire him in 2015. The devastating report from the Pentagon Inspector General detailed a bill of particulars that showed Lewis lying about a bar tab of more than $1,000 to have it expunged from his government-issued credit card.

Lewis disputed many of the report’s findings. In his rebuttal, Lewis acknowledged mistakes and “errors in judgment” but denied visits to sex clubs and maintained that his relationship with a woman on an official trip to Hawaii with Carter had been mischaracterized.

Lewis lost one star immediately after being fired as Carter's top aide. The discipline meted out Thursday drops him from a major general to a brigadier general, which is the last rank in which he served satisfactorily. His pension will drop from about $90,000 per year to $80,000.

That decision follows a similar one last week in which Defense Secretary Jim Mattis approved the decision by the Air Force to claw back two stars from General Arthur Lichte, who had been found by investigators to have coerced a subordinate officer into sex. Lichte, who is married, acknowledged having sex with the woman, a violation of the military law, but said their relationship was consensual. That punishment cost Lichte about $60,000 per year when his pension fell to $156,000 annually.

The military has struggled in the last year with a series of high-profile career flameouts of general officers caught up in illicit sex scandals. Chief among them was Maj. Gen. David Haight, the so-called “Swinging General,” whose extramarital affair and alternative lifestyle prompted the Army to demote him to lieutenant colonel.

The Haight case, brought to light in a series of stories by USA TODAY, prompted the Army to suspend his clearance to view classified information. In December, the Army also announced it would suspend the access to secret information of generals under such investigation.

Lewis’ transgressions were more prosaic by comparison: booze, strip clubs and eye-brow raising relationships with subordinates.

Taking 'Hooker Hill'

Army investigators found that Lewis spent more than $1,100 in April 2015 during a visit to the “Candy Bar” in Seoul. The bar, in the city’s red-light district known as “Hooker Hill,” had been deemed off limits to troops. When questioned about the charge, Lewis denied it was his, the Pentagon challenged the expense and got him a new card.

In October, 2015, Lewis ran up a bill of $1,755 at the Cica Cica Boom club in Rome. Unable to pay the bill with his debit card, Lewis returned to his hotel with a "female foreign national employee" of the club to get his government credit card. Lewis woke a female subordinate whose room was in the same hallway as Carter's. The subordinate told investigators "she thought it was 'very odd' that MG Lewis asked for his [government credit card] and that she 'felt like something wrong was about to happen, but I wasn’t in a place to tell him, No.'"

A month later, on a trip to Hawaii with Carter, Lewis downed 11 alcoholic beverages with a female enlisted service member, who was also drinking heavily, the inspector general found. Witnesses said they saw Lewis, who is married, with the woman on the beach near their hotel with Lewis' arms around her. Afterward, another female official on the trip told Lewis he was “being really stupid” and tried to get the enlisted woman away from his hotel room, the report said.

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