GROTON, Conn. - A former submarine commander who faked his death to end an extramarital affair knows he made a terrible mistake and has apologized, and the Navy shouldn't throw away his talent and training, his lawyer said Friday at a hearing to determine whether he will be expelled from the service.
A lieutenant acting as a prosecutor countered that there's no place in the Navy for a man with the character of Cmdr. Michael P. Ward II.
Ward, a married 43-year-old, sent his mistress in Virginia an email in July posing as a fictitious co-worker named Bob and saying Ward had died unexpectedly, a Navy investigation found. Ward was relieved of his duties aboard the USS Pittsburgh in August, a week after he'd taken command, and has received a letter of reprimand for adultery and other military violations.
Several officers gave testimony to a panel of three officers at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton who will decide whether Ward should stay in the Navy and at what rank. A demotion could cost him up to $750,000 in retirement benefits. Ward was at the hearing in a dress blue uniform but was not among those who testified early on. It was not clear whether he planned to speak.
High-ranking officers whom Ward served under testified before the board that he made an awful mistake and that he was a fast-rising, hard-working officer who shouldn't be cast out of the Navy entirely. He was honest with his chain of command from the beginning, his lawyer added.
"This man probably would have been an admiral someday, and he's brought shame on himself and he knows that," said Navy Cmdr. Daniel Cimmino, representing Ward.
But a senior enlisted sailor from the USS Pittsburgh told the panel that Ward at first denied the accusations.
The sailor, Master Chief Chris Beauprez, said he received a call on the submarine from a sister of Ward's girlfriend, who told him what Ward had done.
Beauprez said he told Ward about the call and Ward denied the woman's allegations, then said he'd address the situation himself. Beauprez testified that he had an implicit trust in what his commander said so he didn't take the matter up any further.
Days later, he said, he heard Ward was being dismissed.
The government argued that Ward discredited the Navy and that his removal put a strain on the fleet because officers had to be shuffled around to cover his removal.
"Commander Ward's actions show a complete lack of honesty, character and integrity," said Navy Lt. Griffin Farris, acting as prosecutor at the hearing.
Ward's former mistress did not want to participate in the hearing.
A fellow Navy officer who had gone through training with Ward, Anthony Moore, testified that he heard about the affair when news of it first surfaced - including the detail that Ward had used the name Tony Moore in an online dating profile that he used to meet the woman.
"I was very surprised," Moore, who's based on a submarine squadron in Washington state, told the board by telephone. "And frankly, I was a little concerned for my reputation."