WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s former senior military aide 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 with Carter, according to a report released Thursday by the Defense Department inspector general.
The 50-page report describes in detail two strip clubs or show clubs where the aide, Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, spent more than $1,000 on champagne and drinks. It includes conflicting statements that Lewis made to investigators explaining the outings, and on several occasions quotes his acknowledgement that he was drunk or drank to “more than moderation.”
Lewis, whom Carter fired nearly a year ago, submitted a written rebuttal slamming the investigation, saying the IG assembled an inaccurate and inflammatory case based on innuendo and had failed to “find the truth.”
The inspector general’s report says 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 the rebuttal, which was obtained by The Associated Press, 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, according to the report.
The report also details 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. According to the report, a female Defense Department staff member who saw Lewis and the woman alone in the room, told him, “Sir, respectfully, you’re being really stupid. Don’t do this. She needs to come and stay in my room.”
Carter issued a statement Thursday saying he was briefed on the investigation but would defer comment pending an Army review. He added, “I expect the highest possible standards of conduct from the men and women in this department particularly from those serving in the most senior positions. There is no exception.”
The report said Carter was unaware of Lewis’s conduct until he was told about it. The report will go to Army leaders who will determine what, if any, punishment is required and at what rank Lewis would be able to retire.
Lewis also issued a statement on Thursday, saying that he made some of the mistakes outlined in the report, but strongly contests others.
“From the onset, this process was unfairly influenced by statements made and actions taken at the highest levels of the Department of Defense,” he said.
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.
The report identified the club as Cica Cica Boom, a club whose sign advertises lap dances, but Lewis said that’s not the club he went to. He said he went to “Verafollia Srl” a “high-end establishment with a respectable clientele that had a DJ, a bar area and a dance floor where couples were dancing.”
Investigators, including local law enforcement, visited the club and provided photos showing stripper poles and a “lap dance chair.” The report said the club manager said the name “Verafollia Srl” is used on credit card receipts “to conceal any link to the Cica Cica Boom club for patrons who frequent the establishment.”
Lewis, in the report, explained the high prices charged to his credit card by saying he ordered “two or three bottles of champagne, lots of drinks.”
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.
In Korea, the report said, Lewis went to a gentleman’s club called the Candy Bar. Lewis denied going there as well, but acknowledged being in a commercial area of Seoul. He said that when he returned to Washington and saw two charges on his credit card totally about $1,100, he called the bank to have them removed, and the bank agreed.
Investigators presented him with two receipts from the club bearing the name “Candy.” Both receipts show only a short pen mark in the signature area, and do not show his written name.
The report says investigators, after getting Lewis’ rebuttal, went back to check their information, and said they stand by their findings. It adds that a representative from the Candy Bar club told an investigator that she recognized Lewis, but could not recall any details.
The report portrays 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.
In the incident involving the enlisted service member, Lewis said another staff member was in the hotel room for much of the time, and that even when he was alone with the enlisted service member “our discussions remained the type of conversation a command team would engage in.”
The report does not suggest that Lewis had an extramarital affair or that he had sex with any of the women. And Lewis, in his rebuttal, criticizes the report for relying on insinuations and statements from people who may have distorted the facts or didn’t actually see what happened.
Officials with knowledge of the matter said the allegations of misconduct, which first surfaced after the November overseas trip with Carter, stunned the secretary and sent shockwaves through the Pentagon. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the case publicly.