Military aide demoted for misconduct at overseas clubs

A senior military aide fired by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been demoted and will retire as a one-star general as a result of a misconduct investigation.

The investigation concluded that Brig. Gen. Ron Lewis used his government credit card at strip clubs or gentlemen's clubs in Rome and Seoul, drank in excess and had "improper interactions" with women during business travel.

Lewis, a West Point graduate who served in the Army for about 30 years, was reprimanded by Gen. Daniel Allyn, the vice chief of the Army, but will not face any fines.

Lewis had reached the three-star rank of lieutenant general while working for Carter, but was demoted to major general after he was fired in November 2015. The Defense Department Inspector General investigated his conduct and found him guilty of multiple counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.

The demotion will cost him about $20,000 a year in retirement pay, giving him roughly $80,000 after taxes in his initial year, according to the Army.

The 50-page DODIG report released last October described in detail two strip clubs or show clubs where Lewis spent more than $1,000 on champagne and drinks. It included conflicting statements that Lewis made to investigators explaining the outings, and on several occasions quoted his acknowledgement that he was drunk or drank to "more than moderation."

The inspector general's report said that Lewis improperly used his credit card, lied to a bank to get charges removed and said he was guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, a violation of the code of military justice.

In a rebuttal, Lewis denied that the bar he went to in Rome was a strip club and denied that he went to a strip or gentleman's club in Seoul, South Korea, in an area of the city that the report calls "Hooker Hill." Many clubs in that area are considered off-limits for U.S. military personnel, according to the report.

The report also detailed several inappropriate interactions Lewis had with women, including one late-night incident in his hotel room when he was drinking with a female enlisted service member who later told investigators he tried to kiss her.

The previous Army secretary, Eric Fanning, made the disciplinary decision before leaving office just prior to the inauguration. The Army said Thursday that Fanning concluded that the highest rank that Lewis served satisfactorily was brigadier general, so demoted him to that rank. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was informed of the decision.

Rules require that a three-member board review an officer's retirement rank when the person has been found guilty of misconduct. The board had to decide whether Lewis served satisfactorily in his current rank. If not, he could be demoted to the last rank in which his service would be considered satisfactory. The board recommended the demotion.

Lewis took responsibility for several inappropriate actions, including charging nearly $1,800 on his government credit card at what he called a "dance club" in Rome. In an embarrassing set of circumstances, Lewis said, he tried to use his personal debit card at the club, but it didn't work, so he had to walk back to his hotel with a female employee of the club, and wake up a Defense Department staff member to get his government card to pay the bill. He said he paid back the charges when he returned to the U.S.

Lewis had shot up the promotional ladder, and his job with Carter stemmed from their close professional relationship. He had served as an aide to Carter when Carter was deputy defense secretary.

The IG report portrayed Lewis as a senior officer who often went out alone on overseas trips, and who sometimes drank to excess. It said his behavior concerned some staff members and at times was a topic of conversation.

The report does not suggest that Lewis had an extramarital affair or that he had sex with any of the women.