The Veterans Administration got a letter in the spring of 1980, on State Department stationery, asking that Thomas A. Palcic, then a State employe, be given pilot training so he could take a new job in State's Office of Aviation Programs. The VA dutifully approved the money--a total of $10,272.
One problem: The State Department has no "Office of Aviation Programs."
Yesterday, the 40-year-old Palcic was sentenced in U.S. District Court to six months in prison and three years' probation for the ruse. He also was ordered to pay back the money the VA spent training him to fly.
Palcic, who worked for the department as a $21,000-a-year program analyst in the Bureau of Refugee Programs, pleaded guilty in November to a charge of making false statements in securing the benefits.
The Veterans Administration approved Palcic for an aviation training program in May 1980 after Palcic gave the VA a letter on State Department stationery purportedly signed by the head of the department's "Office of Aviation Programs." The letter asked that Palcic be given the training so that he could qualify as an aviation program officer.
"This is in keeping with State Department interests which are International in nature and require proper credentials to interact in this environment," the letter stated.
The name on the letter was that of a retired department employe who told investigators he never signed it. There is no such program at the department, officials there said yesterday.
The VA sent a check for more than $7,000 to a flight school in Pennsylvania, and another check to the Woodbridge Airport in Virginia for more than $3,000, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney William S. Block.
In July 1981, after he had completed the training courses, Palcic sent another letter to the VA, this time signed by a nonexistent person who purportedly was deputy director of the fictitious program, requesting the VA to provide further training for Palcic.
"As you may know, the president is seriously concerned with the drug trafficing [sic] problem throughout the Caribbean, Centeral [sic] and South America," stated the second letter. "The department's Office of Aviation Programs is tasked with providing assistance to various governments in these regions in the form of observation and support aircraft. To accomplish our mission, it is necessary that we have qualified pilots . . . "
The VA denied the second request. After Palcic repeatedly requested the additional training, the VA became suspicious, according to one administration official familiar with the investigation. The VA then notified State, which began investigating. The matter was turned over to the U.S. attorney's office last October.
Palcic, reached at his home yesterday, said he had been "forced to resign" from the department in October. "I feel the sentence was too harsh for what happened," he said. He said he would turn himself in to federal officials on Jan. 26 to begin serving his sentence.