Marines turn Osprey investigation over to Pentagon
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Under pressure from Congress for an independent investigation, the Marine Corps on Wednesday turned over its investigation of falsified maintenance records for the controversial MV-22 Osprey program to the Pentagon's inspector general.
The announcement follows a call by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee for an outside review of allegations that a Marine Corps MV-22 squadron commander ordered maintenance records altered to make the troubled MV-22 appear more reliable than it really is.
A statement by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones said, "While I have complete confidence that the Marine Corps IG and his staff would conduct a thorough, complete, and unbiased investigation into these allegations, I am concerned that the nature and gravity of the allegations may invite unwarranted perceptions of command influence or institutional bias. Further, in so much as the MV-22 program affects other services, I also believe we would benefit from an inquiry by an independent investigative branch such as the DoD IG."
The commander of the Marine Corps' only MV-22 squadron, Lt. Col. Odin Fred Leberman, has admitted to his superiors that he asked for maintenance records to be falsified to make the reliability of the controversial aircraft look better than it really is, a senior Marine official told CNN last week.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Leberman admitted under questioning from his immediate superior that the allegations against him were true.
On January 12, the Secretary of the Navy received an anonymous letter and audio tape from someone claiming to be a mechanic in the squadron. The letter leveled charges against Leberman, who can be heard on the tape saying, "The reason we need to lie or manipulate the data or however you want to call it, is that this program is in jeopardy."
Leberman was relieved of his command of the Marine Medium Tilt-rotor Helicopter Training Squadron 204, Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, and faces possible criminal charges.
Marine Corps officials insist the allegations, even if true, had nothing to do with the two MV-22 accidents crashes last year, one in April and one in December.
The first crash was caused by pilot error, and the second by a hydraulic failure compounded by software problems.
A Pentagon report released last month faulted the MV-22 Osprey for its high maintenance and low reliability, a criticism which prompted the Navy to delay final approval of the $40 billion program.
In the anonymous letter, the mechanic, who claims to have worked on the Osprey for two years, wrote, "This plane is not ready for the fleet. This might be a great plane one day, but not today."
The decision to turn over the investigation to the Pentagon's inspector general was approved by acting Navy Secretary Robin Pirie Jr. and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report
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