Atsugi MWR officials fired after money goes missing at on-base club
CORRECTION: This story incorrectly stated that Wesley Soper, former manager of an on-base club at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, was fired from his position after $67,000 was found missing. In fact, Soper has provided Stars and Stripes with documents indicating that he resigned from his position “after being issued a notice of proposed removal for cause” and after he was barred from the base for “habitual gaming” and “running a gambling establishment for gain.”YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Two high-ranking Morale, Welfare and Recreation officials at Naval Air Facility Atsugi have been removed from their jobs after Navy investigators found problems at an on-base club, including $67,000 missing from the cashier’s room, according to officials of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The missing cash was the most prominent example of a culture of noncompliance that continued for years within the base’s MWR department, according to investigative documents reviewed by Stars and Stripes.
NCIS agents closed the case on the missing funds in September, following a probe that included Club Trilogy manager Wesley Soper, who was later fired.
Additionally, an investigation by the Navy inspector general’s office substantiated six of 11 regulatory complaints against Soper’s boss, longtime Atsugi MWR director Steve Motchnik, who was removed from his post, according to the IG report and NCIS officials. Although there was no evidence that Motchnik took the money, he was ultimately responsible for more than 400 MWR employees and oversight of the organization’s funds, Navy officials said.
However, neither man will face charges in the case, according to NCIS spokesman Ed Buice.
“No prosecution is anticipated due to lack of enough evidence” for the men to be charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act that allows U.S.-based prosecutors to charge civilians accused of crimes at overseas U.S. military bases, Buice said.
Although military commanders cannot criminally prosecute civilians, they can bar them from base, effectively ending their employment. Soper and Motchnik left Japan in September, following separate administrative hearings.
Attempts to reach both men were unsuccessful.
About $44,000 and 1.9 million yen – a combined total of about $67,000 at today’s exchange rates – disappeared from the Club Trilogy cashier’s change fund, Buice said.
The money was found to be missing in November 2009 while a cashier with little experience was assigned to the cash cage at the club’s slot machine room, said an MWR employee formerly based at Atsugi who asked not be identified because she was not authorized to speak publicly.
The worker was removed from the cashier’s cage, but continued to work at MWR for months before being barred from base, the former employee said.
“The money went missing pretty quickly over a couple of weeks,” the former employee said. “They found it pretty early.”
The problems came to light after a player won $200 from a slot machine and there wasn’t enough money to pay the jackpot, the former employee said.
The command conducts audits at the end of each fiscal year, but that left plenty of time for misdeeds, the former employee said.
Atsugi commanders declined an interview request with Stars and Stripes, but did say in a written statement that “a number of internal controls were in place but weren’t properly followed.”
Accounting and operating procedures have since been reworked, personnel have been retrained and cashiers must now verify funds with the head cashier and manager at the end of every shift, base officials said in response to a query.
Soper’s position has since been filled; however, Motchnik’s position remains vacant, base officials said.
In 2009, the IG hot line received two anonymous complaints against Motchnik. Earlier this year, the Commander Naval Forces Japan IG’s office substantiated claims against Motchnik for the following regulatory violations: collecting $547.40 in business reimbursements while on leave; using government vehicles and toll passes to pick up family members 13 times from Narita Airport from 2007 to 2010; overruling a spousal hiring preference to hire a hand-picked employee; and using work time to play in golf tournaments.
Motchnik dismissed most of the claims either as misunderstandings or actions he took in the best interests of MWR, according to the IG report.