A former senior Air Force official pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy, admitting that she negotiated an executive job at Boeing Co. with her daughter's help while still overseeing a controversial $23 billion deal between the company and the Pentagon.
Darleen A. Druyun, 56, is the highest-ranking Pentagon official to be implicated in a corruption case since the 1980s. After pleading guilty in federal court in Alexandria, she was released on a $25,000 personal-recognizance bond and faces up to five years in prison when sentenced in August. Her voice breaking, she stood before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III and said she "would like to apologize for my actions, apologize to my family and to my nation."
Darleen A. Druyun was fired in 2003.
(Boeing Co. via AP)
Druyun, a civilian, was the chief Air Force negotiator in its plan to lease up to 100 refueling planes. She was at the grade of a lieutenant general when she retired and became vice president in charge of Boeing's missile defense systems in January 2003, after negotiations initiated by her daughter, a Boeing employee.
Druyun was fired last November with Boeing's chief financial officer, Michael M. Sears, who is under investigation in the broad federal probe of corruption and conflict of interest involving the aerospace giant. Federal officials emphasized yesterday that the investigation is continuing, and court documents make clear that other Boeing executives were aware of the circumstances of Druyun's hiring.
A Boeing senior executive, who secretly met with Druyun and offered her a job weeks before she recused herself from overseeing the tanker deal, was not named in court documents, but Druyun named Sears when asked by the judge with whom she was negotiating her potential employment at Boeing. Sears has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. His attorney declined comment yesterday.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the incident should be an example to others. "This department is not going to tolerate people who don't abide by the rules and don't adhere to the ethics requirements and to the laws," he said.
Druyun's plea is expected to give a boost to critics who want an end to the "revolving door" in which Pentagon officials retire and take lucrative positions with defense contractors. The Pentagon general counsel's office is looking into whether the rules governing such movement are stringent enough and are being followed.
Druyun told Ellis that she began employment discussions with Boeing in September 2002 but did not recuse herself from making decisions involving the company until November of that year. In the interim, Druyun was the Air Force's chief negotiator on the tanker deal, which is currently suspended.
A Pentagon inspector general's audit, after Druyun and Sears were dismissed, found significant problems in the procurement process on the tanker deal. The deal, which has also triggered a Congressional probe, is expected to remain in limbo until several other investigations are concluded next month.
Druyun's job discussions were started by her daughter, Heather McKee, whom Boeing hired as a college recruiter two years earlier after Druyun called a senior Boeing executive for help finding McKee a job.