Army opens new inquiry at Arlington

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010; B04

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command has launched another investigation into Arlington National Cemetery, a spokesman confirmed Thursday.

The spokesman, Christopher Grey, would not discuss the focus of the probe but said it was prompted after Kathryn Condon, executive director of the Army Cemeteries Program, "recently became aware of questionable practices that took place" at Arlington. This would be at least the third criminal investigation into the cemetery in recent years; none has yet resulted in criminal charges.

In June, the Army released a report from its inspector general that found widespread problems at the cemetery, including 211 graves that were unmarked or mislabeled on cemetery maps and at least four urns that had been unearthed and dumped in landfill piles. The probe also found that cemetery officials with limited expertise in federal contracting regulations and little outside supervision improperly paid millions of dollars to companies that failed to create a digital database of the cemetery's records.

Grey has said previously that the criminal investigators would work closely with auditors as they pored over the Army's books.

In July, when asked at a Senate hearing about the millions spent on information technology contracts, Thurman Higginbotham, the former deputy superintendent of the cemetery who was in charge of overseeing contracts, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

His attorney, Robert Mance, said Thursday that neither he nor Higginbotham has been contacted by investigators and that he knew nothing about the probe. Higginbotham, who was forced out in June, has since retired with full benefits.

Cemetery officials declined to comment on the investigation.

The Criminal Investigation Command previously looked into allegations of a conflict of interest between Arlington personnel and a contractor. Investigators referred their findings to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which declined to prosecute, citing lack of evidence.

Through his attorney, Higginbotham has denied any wrongdoing.

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