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Ex-SEAL Unit Head Convicted of Fraud

January 26, 1990|JOHN M. BRODER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The former commander of the Navy's elite counterterrorism unit, SEAL Team Six, was convicted Wednesday of conspiracy to defraud the government for his part in a $113,000 kickback scheme on a hand grenade contract.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Richard Marcincko, 48, a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran, faces five years in prison and $50,000 in fines following his conviction in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. The jury acquitted him on a separate bribery count after a week of testimony.

The case wraps up a four-year investigation into financial misconduct by members of the secret unit, formed in 1980 to combat terrorists and conduct hostage-rescue operations. Navy officials said Thursday that the investigation was one of the toughest internal probes they have ever pursued.

"These are some of the most highly trained men in the Navy, and they know how to resist interrogation and cover up," said a Navy source. "It made the investigation extremely difficult."

Three other members of SEAL Team Six were previously convicted of federal charges of cheating the government on weapons contracts. One Navy investigator said that the extreme secrecy surrounding the unit created an atmosphere of independence and arrogance that led to the crimes.

A dozen SEALs were court-martialed earlier for skimming expense account money and theft of government property, including scuba diving equipment. A similar scandal rocked the Army's Delta Force commando squad in the early 1980s.

Yale Goldberg, Marcincko's attorney, said he would appeal his client's conviction, saying the trial was tainted by the prosecutors' misconduct.

"The testimony of government witnesses was among the most incredible testimony I've heard in 30 years. The government's prime witness testified that the government twisted and molded his testimony to fit the facts they wanted to prove," Goldberg charged.

"This man is a true hero of this country," Goldberg said, noting that Marcincko won a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, among other medals. "This is an incredible individual, one of the foremost counterterrorism experts in the world."

The SEALs are named for their ability to operate on sea, air and land and are trained in a variety of demolition, commando and rescue operations. Marcincko was the first commander of SEAL Team Six when it was created in 1980 and was allowed to pick the best of the already elite SEALs from other squads to form the special 200-man team.

Although the unit's activities are highly classified, members of SEAL Team Six reportedly took part in the 1983 invasion of Grenada and were sent to the Mideast to prepare for a rescue operation during the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

The government's chief witness against Marcincko, John B. Mason, was another former SEAL Team Six member who was charged with numerous fraud charges in 1987. He pleaded guilty to reduced charges and agreed to testify against Marcincko and another former SEAL commando, Charles M. Byers, who was convicted last October of federal conspiracy and conflict of interest charges.

Mason testified that he and Marcincko conspired to overcharge the government $113,000 on a grenade contract and to use the money to set up a new weapons firm.

Marcincko's sentencing is set for March 9.

Staff writer Douglas Frantz contributed to this story.

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