Pentagon to Investigate Osprey Program

Jan. 19, 2001 -- The Pentagon is investigating allegations a Marine Corps officer falsified the maintenance records on a new type of transport aircraft the Corps hopes to begin buying in big numbers.

A statement released by the Pentagon today said the commanding officer of a squadron of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., is under investigation for allegedly ordering maintenance records be falsified for the squadron’s aircraft.

The officer, Lt. Col. O. Fred Leberman, 45, had commanded the Marine Tilt-Rotor Training Squadron-204 since July 1999. An Osprey at the same squadron crashed on Dec. 11, killing four Marines.

Leberman was relieved of duty by his boss, Maj. Gen. Dennis Krupp, commander of 2nd Marine Air Wing, after an eight-man investigating team descended on New River to interview all the Marines in the unit and review and secure the maintenance records.

They separated out the junior Marines from the senior Marines for interviews. A total of 241 Marines were questioned.

Osprey Under Scrutiny

Though development and testing of the Osprey are still far from complete, the Marines have been hoping to soon begin full production of the unique aircraft, which has rotating propellers that allow it to take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane.

But a December decision to begin production was delayed because of the December crash and a November report by the Pentagon's top testing official that concluded the V-22 probably won't be able to conduct military missions without significant maintenance problems.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced Dec. 13 he would appoint a panel to make a major review of the Osprey program.

The V-22 has been under development since the early 1980s. The Marines are hoping to buy 360 Ospreys by 2013, with the Navy and Air Force also planning to purchase about 50 each. A total of four Osprey of the 12 purchased so far by the Marines have crashed. The remaining eight are currently grounded.

Anonymous Tip

Marine Corps officials first became aware of the allegations on Jan. 12, when they received a copy of an anonymous letter and audio tape that was mailed to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, according to a Pentagon press release issued today.

"The information alleged that the unit commander asked his Marines to falsify maintenance documents concerning the squadron's MV-22 Osprey aircraft," the statement said.

The audio tape contained the voice of Leberman asking other Marines to falsify records, officials say.

"The tape substantiates the allegations made in the letter," said an official. "His voice is on the tape."

The Pentagon said there appeared to be no relationship between the allegations and the causes of either the April 8 crash of an Osprey in Marana, Ariz., or the December crash. But Marine Corps officials said they "cannot unequivocally" rule it out.

The investigation is being conducted by the Pentagon's Inspector General.

The squadron commander was relieved of duty today, based upon a preliminary review of available evidence, pending completion of the investigation, the Pentagon said. — ABCNEWS' Barbara Starr contributed to this report.