A deputy commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton – an ex-Marine Corps Inspector General - has been called out for breaking ethics rules by using a female officer aide to handle personal chores, including meal and snack delivery, bedsheet cleaning, correspondence, and workout reservations, during his tenure in Iraq from 2016 through early 2017.
Per the July 5 report by the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General, Brigadier General Rick A. "Rico" Uribe "violated the Joint Ethics Regulation when he requested or permitted his Aide to use official time" to pick up the general's laundry, "remove and turn in" the general's bedsheets for laundering, fetched meals and snacks, drafted "unofficial correspondence," reserved gym equipment for Uribe’s use, arranged delivery of Uribe’s prescription toothpaste to Iraq, and gathered financial and personal information "to complete required military paperwork."
Added the report, "During our investigation, we also identified two emerging allegations that [Brigadier General] Uribe solicited and accepted gifts from employees who received less pay than himself."
Before deploying to Iraq in 2016, the report says Uribe "served as the Inspector General of the Marine Corps. In that position, he had the responsibility to investigate ethical violations involving misuse of subordinates, and to set a personal example of compliance with applicable standards."
A witness interviewed by investigators said he thought Uribe "'would have known better' than to request or permit his Aide to use official time to perform tasks or errands" with no connection to official duties.
"Uribe told us that he needed money for toiletries and haircuts and he anticipated being able to withdraw cash from an ATM once he arrived in Iraq," says the document. "However, within the first few days in Iraq he discovered that after 'multiple tries' his credit card did not work with the ATM available to him.
"He told us that his Aide offered to loan him money, but he did not recall the amount. We showed BGen Uribe a copy of the personal check from his checking account, made out to [redacted], hand-dated July 10, 2016, for $224.
"He told us, 'I don’t recall [the loan] being that much, but maybe it was.' He told us that his 'intent was to pay [redacted] back as soon as possible' but said he did not know why the check was dated July 10, 2016, more than 1 month after he borrowed the money. He told us that he did not know why [redacted] deposited the check on August 22, 2016, about 11 weeks after he borrowed the money."
Other allegations also emerged. An unidentified witness told auditors that he "found it shocking that" Uribe "'was not reimbursing his Aide on a regular basis' for his Wi-Fi Internet access. He added, 'I just can’t imagine thinking that you have free Wi-Fi.' Another marine told us, 'I think it would be an improper assumption that Wi-Fi . . . is free.' Another marine told us, 'it was common knowledge that you had to pay to access [Wi-Fi Internet].'”
Uribe replied that "his Aide did not tell him [redacted] was paying $60 a month for the Wi-Fi connection. He also said that he did use his Aide’s Wi-Fi connection 'every once in a while, but not that much.'" The total value of improper gifts to Uribe from subordinates was $782, per the report.
In an April 2018 response to the charges, Uribe wrote, "Although I believe that some of the substantiated allegations are not justified, I realize that I improperly employed my aide and that I improperly accepted small convenience loans from my aide. Where I would never think to engage in these activities in garrison, in the fog of the combat zone, it seemed acceptable somehow. I have learned a great deal from this process and will be much more attentive to these issues in the future. At the end of the day as a Senior Leader, the only thing I am entitled to is to be held accountable for my actions."
Auditors said they "considered the circumstances of [Brigadier General] Uribe’s duties, which included reviewing and approving actions during combat operations. However, his predecessor – who also had these combat responsibilities – never requested or allowed his aide to use official time to perform unofficial duties for him."
"We stand by our overall conclusions that he misused his officer aide and solicited and accepted gifts from employees who received less pay than himself." The report recommends that "Uribe’s supervisor take appropriate action" against the general, without providing specifics. In addition, Uribe should "reimburse the lieutenant colonel who gifted him $150 in chocolate and coffee."
The document also recommends that the Pentagon draft ethics guidelines regarding the role of officer assistants. "There are no formal policies among the military Services or the Joint Staff addressing the use of officer aides. Accordingly, we recommend that the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, promulgate a formal policy to the military Services that governs the management and proper use of officer aides."
According to his official online profile,Uribe deployed to Iraq in May 2016 and served until June 2017 as the Deputy Commanding General, Operations; Director, Combined Joint Operations Center-Baghdad and Target Engagement Authority for the Combined Joint Force Land Component Command, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve."
"He has flown more than 4000 mishap-free flight hours; been awarded a number of personal, unit, and campaign decorations; and is authorized to wear the Navy and Marine Corps Parachutist Insignia."