A TALE OF TWO PAULAS
© 2003 - MilitaryCorruption.com
Paula Fisk, a federal civil service worker assigned to the Miramar Naval Air Station (NAS) in California, prior to her illegal dismissal after 28 years of outstanding service, is a genuine whistleblower who was retaliated on and treated abusively by her chain-of-command.
Paula Coughlin is the onetime-aviator whose accusations led to a sex scandal at the 1991 Tailhook Convention in Las Vegas, Nev., which did more damage to the U.S. Navy than any occurrence since Pearl Harbor.
WE CONDEMN TRUE SEXUAL HARASSMENT
In no way does the staff or management of MilitaryCorruption.com condone or excuse the disgraceful and outrageous behavior of many of the aviators who attended Tailhook.
The excessive drinking, foul language, crude behavior and disrespect shown towards women was and is reprehensible, and deserved to be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
We at MilitaryCorruption.com do not tolerate actual sexual harassment, and consider that behavior a stain upon the honor and integrity of the officer corps.
But we also are aware of the terrible injustice false accusations bring how lives and careers can be destroyed by a calculated lie, designed to get even or get over. Those who use the current atmosphere of political correctness in the U.S. military to make a false charge where oftentimes an accusation by a female against a male is as good as a conviction should be severely punished for such a crime.
Those women who bring genuine charges such as the recent sex scandal at the Air Force Academy dont need their credibility damaged by others who use the system in a deceitful and dishonest way.
THE REAL VICTIM OF INJUSTICE
In studying at length the case of each Paula, we came to see one Paula Fisk as being a true victim of harassment and retaliation for exercising her legal right to file a complaint against such unlawful treatment.
We are appalled by the way Fisk was abused and discriminated against. Unfortunately, this dedicated civil servant, highly respected by co-workers and military personnel alike, had no media connections. No one to go to for national television exposure. Her documented case of deliberate attempts by the Navy to punish her for telling the truth, won her no riches or fame. It continues to make her life a living hell to this day.
However, in the case of Paula Coughlin, we found a series of disturbing facts, which make us doubt at least part of the former Navy lieutenants story.
The inconsistencies, embellishments, and her little-known record of falsely accusing not one, but two Marines, who were both later proven to be innocent, (one didnt even attend Tailhook!) make us wonder what were Coughlins true motives? Her subsequent enrichment by several million dollars through lawsuits against the Tailhook Association and Hilton Hotel Corporation also is a cause for concern.
In this lengthy investigative article, we will give a detailed account of how the Navy and even former President George Bush, who pandered to feminist voters in his losing 1992 re-election campaign genuflected in front of a female officer whose credibility to this day remains in question.
THE POLITICIANS CLIMB ON THE BANDWAGON
Once Coughlin made page one of the Washington Post and was interviewed on television by ABCs Peter Jennings, the former commander-in-chief and well-known World War II Navy pilot, wasted no time inviting Coughlin to the White House for tea with he and First Lady Barbara Bush.
Coughlin later told pals that Bush had tears in his eyes as he comforted her. Of course, the media was made well aware of the touching scene. However, one month later on election day few feminist votes were won by such an obvious political stunt.
Admirals shook in their shoes at the spectacle of the President of the United States, head of the nations armed forces, publicly consoling a person whose accusations had yet to be substantiated in any court of law. It was the most blatant violation of prohibitions against undue command influence the Navy had ever seen.
Bush was not the only politician to try and make hay from the Tailhook scandal.
Sanctimonious Sen. John McCain of Arizona, admittedly a womanizer in his early days in the Navy, and a man who cheated on and dumped his disabled (from a car crash) wife to marry the young daughter of a wealthy beer magnate in the years following his return from prison camp in Vietnam, wrapped himself in a cloak of self-righteousness as he denounced the Navy for its Tailhook abuses.
The shameless McCain successfully solicited Paula Coughlins public endorsement in his 1992 re-election campaign. He knew full well that if the Navy pilot involved herself in his senate race, it would be a clear violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees and members of the active duty military from campaigning on behalf of political candidates. But the savvy McCain also knew that no one in the Navy or government would attempt to charge Coughlin with violation of that law.
As Greg Vistica wrote in his excellent book, FALL FROM GLORY THE MEN WHO SANK THE U.S. NAVY:
She (Paula Coughlin) had become an untouchable. No one at the upper reaches of the Navy would dare do or say anything that might offend her.
McCain needed Coughlins help in a big way. Arizona is mostly Republican, but the war heros reputation this was before he became a media darling had been severely damaged when he was exposed as one of the Keating Five five senators who took campaign contributions from convicted crook Charles Keating, best known for swindling senior citizens out of their life savings.
The Arizona lawmaker knew he needed a strong female vote to offset expected losses among conservatives to third-party candidate and former Republican Gov. Evan Mecham. If the GOP vote was split, a Democrat might win the senate seat once held by the venerable Barry Goldwater.
In part, due to McCains pandering to the feminist vote and securing the Coughlin endorsement, he won the election and was well on his way to establishing himself as a major player on the nations political landscape.
PAULA COUGHLINS LACK OF CREDIBILITY
When the disgruntled former admirals aide first came forward to issue her charges of being mauled by a gauntlet of drunken Tailhook aviators and her accusations were leaked to the media, Navy brass went into a damage-control mode.
The Navys Inspector Generals Office and the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) leaped into action. Perpetrators would have to be found and officers court-martialed to quiet the storm of public outrage. If some innocent aviators got caught up in the dragnet, so be it. Feminist politicians like Colorados Rep. Patricia Schroeder would not let the brass off the hook until heads were served up, preferably on a silver platter.
What ensued was a frenzied witch hunt that would have made Joe McCarthy proud. Naval investigators employed tactics that made a mockery of not only the U.S. Constitution, but disregarded regulations such as prohibitions against coercion in the imperfect and flawed UCMJ. To the military investigators, the end justified the means.
Officers were targeted by virtue of their rank, and subordinate officers encouraged to rat them out in order to save their own careers. Even if some officers were actually innocent, lower-rankers were urged to accuse them of impropriety anyway, in exchange for little or no punishment for themselves.
Before the scandal had run its course, nearly 1500 aviators would have their careers damaged many were destroyed. At least one accused officer committed suicide. Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett was forced to walk the plank, as was the duplicitous former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Frank Kelso.
First head to roll was Rear Admiral John W. Snyder, commanding officer of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland and Paula Coughlins boss. It was no secret that Coughlin was less than thrilled with Snyder even before the Tailhook convention was held. He was the first flag officer to be fired after the scandal broke.
On what basis did all this upheaval begin? What was the credibility of the accuser, Lt. Paula Coughlin?
Downplayed in the media or not reported at all, was the fact Coughlin failed to accurately pick out a photo from a lineup of her alleged attacker the one who she claimed grabbed her breasts and lifted her up in the air. The first man she fingered, Coughlin claimed, looks exactly like him. The lieutenant assured investigators, if thats not him, its his brother.
Wrong! The man Coughlin claimed assaulted her was what is called in law enforcement a ringer. He was a Marine stationed in the photo lab at Quantico, Va. and had never been to Tailhook in his life.
Gee, I heard I picked the wrong guy, Coughlin reportedly told frustrated investigators when they returned with more photos for her to review.
Right there, the NCIS should have realized Coughlins story had serious problems. But the political pressure to court-martial someone anyone in the highly charged case, was intense. So, back to the mug photos they went.
This time, Coughlin picked out another light-skinned African-American. But she couldnt have made a worse choice. Not only did Marine Corps Capt. Greg Bonam have a clean record, he was a church-going Christian and family man. And he vehemently denied any misbehavior regarding Coughlin.
What happened next was best described in FALL FROM GLORY when author Vistica wrote that Navy lawyers, Capt. Mac Williams and chief JAG officer, Rear Admiral Ted Gordon, were concerned about winning a conviction because of Coughlins credibility problem:
When she [Paula Coughlin] was asked to pick him [her main attacker] out of a photo line up, she identified the wrong man, a stand-in whom investigators had put in as a dupe. Later, with some hesitation, she fingered Bonam in a physical line-up held at the Marine base in Quantico, Va. She had also picked the wrong officer out of a photo line-up as the man she claimed yelled Admirals aide when she was attacked in the guantlet.
And there were no witnesses to support her story. She thought she had drawn blood when she bit Bonam, meaning hard enough to leave a scar, but there was no sign of any bite marks. She said he had been wearing a burnt-orange shirt, but a picture taken of Bonam that night showed him wearing a green shirt. Privately, both Williams and Gordon began to believe that Coughlin was embellishing her story, that she had probably been assaulted, but not in the dramatic fashion she was now claiming. Even [Secretary of the Navy] Dan Howard started to think Coughlin might even have her own agenda.
For Capt. Bonam, who had to endure a show trial court-martial (he was later cleared of all charges), the soft-spoken Marine aviator might have escaped being sent to prison anyway. He had been diagnosed with malignant spinal cancer. Through a miracle, the cancer went into remission, helped not a bit by the extreme stress and mental torture of being tried for a crime he didnt commit.
SHAVED LEGS AND MORE CONTRADICTIONS
The more investigators dug into Coughlins background, the more nervous they became. This was not only no Little Miss Riding Hood, Coughlin had a reputation as a foul-mouthed party animal who had attended Tailhook before.
WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOURE DOING? Coughlin testified she shouted at one of her attackers. There was no way she could claim ignorance of what went on when aviators at the convention got drunk in the middle of the night.
One former boyfriend told Admiral Kelsos staff that Coughlin had shown up at a Navy dining-in party wearing black fishnet panty hose, high heels, a short black miniskirt, a black tuxedo jacket and carrying a large rubber dildo. Not exactly the Anita Hill image the Navy would have preferred.
Whats worse, sworn testimony from Navy Lt. Rolando Diaz tended to undermine Coughlins credibility even more.
Diaz, nicknamed The Barber of Seville, set up a leg and pubic hair shaving stand in one of the Tailhook hospitality suites in Room 303 of the Las Vegas Hilton.
A long banner hung out front, advertising FREE LEG SHAVES. Not only did Diaz testify under oath that Coughlin had her legs shaved at his stand, she did it two nights in a row, he said, including Saturday, September 7, 1991, the night of the alleged attack.
Diaz testified that evening he noticed Coughlin was drunk and said she autographed his banner with the damning phrase: YOU MAKE ME SEE GOD. THE PAULSTER.
Harried NCIS agents were in no hurry to weaken their case by comparing handwriting samples. They already knew they had a real mess in their hands.
Former pilot Tamela Redford told investigators she saw Paula Coughlin in Navy whites getting her legs shaved by a male officer the day before the lieutenant was groped by a gang of drunken aviators in the hotel hallway.
I was appalled at the disrespect she showed her uniform, the female pilot recalled. For that person to be tearing the Navy apart really amazes me.
COPYCAT LIES BUT NO PUNISHMENT
Lt. Paula Coughlin wasnt the only female accuser at the Tailhook convention to have problems with the truth.
Another female pilot, then-Lt. j.g. Elizabeth J. Warnick, was a veteran of other Tailhook conventions. Witnesses testified the Naval Academy graduate was one of the women who had her legs shaved and happily provided belly shots liquor poured in her navel and then lapped up by more-than-willing male pilots.
Seeing how Coughlin had brought the Navy to its knees, Warnick decided to make some accusations of her own. She claimed she had been gang-raped by several aviators. The charges were extremely serious and not only could have ended the pilots careers but certainly would send them to prison for a very long time. Warnick named her attackers, then settled back to see them punished.
The big problem for Warnick was, she was lying! She knew it, the pilots she had consensual sex with knew it, and worst of all for the female officer, color photographs surfaced (MilitaryCorruption.com has seen copies) showing Warnick, half-naked, wearing a skimpy thong, her legs wrapped around the waist of a male aviator.
Finally, under repeated interrogation by investigators, Warnick admitted she had lied under oath. The lieutenant explained the false accusations by saying she was engaged to a boyfriend back home and didnt want him to think she was cheating on him at the raucus Tailhook convention. Thus, the fabricated story about her being gang-raped.
Never mind what could have happened to the male pilots, Warnick was concerned only with concealing her own misconduct. After all, wasnt the Navy falling all over itself to accommodate Paula Coughlin? The lieutenant figured any charges she brought against men in such a politically-correct atmosphere wouldnt be questioned. But that was before the pictures came to light.
Those Warnick falsely accused, didnt have to go to prison after all. But neither did she. The female perjurer received no disciplinary action and later left the Navy on her own.
A RESIGNATION AND GOING FOR THE BIG BUCKS
After the initial burst of adoring publicity, Coughlin resumed her Navy career. The only problem was, she had become a pariah everywhere. Paulas male colleagues avoided her like the plague.
However, in 1992 Coughlin extended her tour as a Navy helicopter pilot for at least six years and received a fat bonus of $60,750. Less than a year later, Coughlin resigned her commission and left the Navy after receiving a mediocre performance evaluation. If she thought she could parlay her high-visibility role in the Tailhook controversy into a fast-track promotion to lieutenant commander, she was in for a rude shock. Coughlin may have sunk the careers of admirals to ensigns, but she would not be rewarded for it with another stripe. Even the Navy wouldnt stoop that low.
No word on whether Coughlin ever paid the money she got in her bonus back to the government. She only did one year of the six required, but in her exalted position, it is doubtful anyone would press the issue about a mere sixty thousand bucks. And Paula Coughlin was about to make some really BIG money. She would hit the jackpot in Las Vegas, but not at the crap tables.
TRIAL LAWYERS TO THE RESCUE
Now a civilian, but not in much demand for well-paid public appearances Anita Hill was pulling down $10,000 a talk Coughlin turned to the trial lawyers to sue a company with very deep pockets.
The former Navy lieutenant charged the Hilton Hotel Corporation, host of the annual Tailhook confab, failed to provide adequate security thus leading to her ordeal.
During the trial, Coughlin claimed Tailhook caused her such suffering that she contemplated suicide and was frequently depressed. Tough cross-examination by Hilton Hotel attorneys as to why she would continue to fly helicopters in such a mental state brought a reply notable for its verbal gymnastics.
I made an agreement with my commanding officer that I would never fly if I was too distracted or incapable, she said.
When pressed as to why she was allowed to fly at all, when military pilots are routinely grounded if they exhibit unusual stress or have severe personal problems, Coughlin virtually sputtered on the witness stand.
I think youre being mean! she blurted out. I had a very clear relationship with my commanding officer regarding my mental health!
Like the O.J. jury in California, the panel in Nevada had an agenda of their own. They wanted to sock it to the megabucks Hilton Hotel chain. Paula won the jackpot - $1.7 million in compensatory damages and an additional $5 million in punitive damages.
While a Federal district judge later reduced the Hilton haul to a measly $5.2 million, Coughlin scored again when the Tailhook Association settled with her out-of-court for $400,000. That brought her loot to a grand total of $5.6 million.
Move over Lee Majors! You may have been televisions Six Million Dollar Man, but poor Paula Coughlin, groped in a hallway by drunken aviators, is the Six Million Dollar Woman.
AN OPEN LETTER TO PAULA COUGHLIN
When you won your huge cash settlement in Las Vegas, you grinned for the cameras and told reporters you were very pleased. Then you said all you wanted to do was to slip into obscurity. We can see why. You probably couldnt believe your good luck.
Well, for a millionairess, you certainly have kept a low profile. Even we at MilitaryCorruption.com, who pride ourselves on finding just about anyone, couldnt locate you. Not only have you slipped into obscurity, you are clear off the radar screen and very much gone to ground.
Heres your chance to resurface.
We hope you dont think weve been too rough on you, Paula, but just in case you do, the editors of this web site offer you an equal amount of space on these pages to state your case and correct any misconceptions we may have had about your motives or agenda.
The only stipulation for our granting you equal space to reply, is that you answer a few honest questions from us first.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
COMPARE THE PLIGHT OF PAULA FISK
As we stated earlier, Paula Fisk was a top-notch worker at the Family Support Center, Miramar NAS when she suffered vicious reprisals for filing whistleblower complaints.
Misappropriation of funds, no FSC written guidelines, deliberate inflation of statistics, employees harassed and chastised publicly by management in a very hostile work environment, Fisk saw it all. A Department of Defense Hotline Complaint Report confirmed the Miramar facility was as unhealthy as any dysfunctional family or organization could be.
Fisk was called in and fired three days before Christmas 1996, by the Navy commander at Miramar. With 28 years of service, just two years short of retirement, the female whistleblower was emotionally devastated and financially ruined.
Due to the reprisal and cruelty of that Navy officer, I was left with little money for food or medicine. I couldnt afford to keep paying my house mortgage, so I rented my home out and moved into a small apartment in Hemet, Calif, she said.
SENT TO A HEADSHRINKER WHO VIOLATED ETHICS
Fisk, who is disabled, fell deeper into depression. She recalled for MilitaryCorruption.com how, when she first filed for Office of Workers Compensation Program (OWCP) benefits, they sent her to one of their hired gun psychiatrists. He turned out to be a sexual predator who was later fired for plying female patients with alcohol at sessions and enticing them to have sex with him.
When she rebuffed his advances during their first meeting, the angry head doctor labeled Fisk a sociopath after a five-minute psychological exam. The shrink that did this no longer has a license, but his specious evaluation of Fisk still is accepted and used by the local OWCP to deny the California woman her deserved compensation and benefits.
The OWCP did not like her treating psychiatrist who diagnosed a direct connection between the workplace hostile working environment and her mental condition. This would have entitled her to benefits and medical care.
OWCP and the Navy should be in violation of federal legislation (introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.) that prohibits the military services from using psychiatric examinations or hospitalization as a way of intimidating and silencing whistleblowers. Trouble is, only military women are covered under the law. Female federal civil servants civilians are still sent to discredited psychiatrists against their will, if they sufficiently aggravate their superiors and OWCP. Fisk has submitted numerous psychiatric evaluations to overcome the OWCP discredited psychiatrist, but to no avail.
NEVER GIVE UP!
Fisk said the Navy hoped shed just go away or better yet, commit suicide. For a while, it was touch and go in her life. Due to lack of income, Fisk was forced to move eight times in six years. At one point, she was relegated to recycling soda cans for food vouchers.
This courageous woman refused to give in. Taking the bus from Hemet to San Diego she couldnt afford to own or drive a car Fisk filed a lawsuit against the Navy at the Federal Courthouse.
I was so broke, I used $150 in food money Id been saving to pay the fee. I filed the case in my own handwriting it was all handwritten, Fisk recalled. I wasnt going to let them get away with stealing my retirement and benefits from me.
The Navy, admitting no blame, quickly settled the case for a pittance. The attorney Fisk hired to work on a percentage basis, forged her signature to the agreement to quickly get his cut. Fisk ended up with just $21,000. Not nearly enough to pay her accumulated debts.
INJUSTICE AT THE OWCP
Now her only hope for solvency is to win her long battle with the U.S. Department of Labor. OWCP was originally created so federal employees could get immediate help for their injuries, but in Fisks case, this has not happened.
The National Association of Federally Employed Women Legal and Education Fund (FEW/LEF) has established a legal defense fund for Paula Fisk to be used in her fight for workers compensation benefits for her disability caused by the hostile working conditions she experienced at the FSC at Miramar NAS.
However, since no one knows about this fund, Fisk is not receiving any money for the funds to be continued and matched. The hostile workplace she endured for many years has left her severely disabled and unable to publicize her plight until now.
This is more than just a fight for my rights and what I am entitled to, she says. I am waging this battle on behalf of all my sisters among the female civilian employees. Never again should female civil servants who file occupational disease stress claims be routinely ordered to psychiatric exams by discredited, suspended, or revoked medically-licensed practitioners.
WHO IS MORE WORTHY OF YOUR HELP?
Paula Fisk refuses to give up after six years of hell. She unselfishly thinks of others and tries to correct injustice wherever she finds it. That is why we found her case so compelling. But also it stands in stark contrast to the Paula Coughlin saga.
One woman gives nearly 30 years of her life to serving the military and is left practically penniless. The other does less than ten years in uniform, becomes the most infamous woman in the annals of the United States Navy, and ends up with millions of dollars in court settlements.
It was indeed, the most expensive and lucrative grope in recorded history.
IF YOU ADMIRE PAULA FISKS DETERMINATION TO OBTAIN JUSTICE, NO MATTER WHAT THE ODDS AGAINST HER, PLEASE HELP. YOU CAN REACH HER THROUGH THIS WEB SITE. ANY CONTRIBUTIONS YOU CAN SEND WOULD BE MOST APPRECIATED THE EDITORS.