Retired U.S. Ambassador Loses Protest to Penalty

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A former U.S. ambassador has no basis to challenge findings that he improperly accepted gifts and misused his government-owned car, a federal judge ruled.
     “The events at issue in this case concern a rug, a car, and a health club membership, hardly the usual subjects of extended federal court litigation,” U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote in the opening to the Oct. 25 decision.
     The State Department ordered a 45-day suspension against Richard Baltimore, a former principal officer of the U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia and the former ambassador to Oman, based on its investigation into reported misconduct.
     That Office of Inspector General had found that Baltimore let his wife use his government-owned car for nonofficial purposes, and that he accepted a free beach and country club membership to the Al Bustan Palace Hotel along with a complimentary Diplomatic Club membership to the Grand Hyatt Hotel. He also failed to report the gift of a carpet on a financial disclosure form.
     Baltimore retired soon after the decision against him, never serving any part of the 45-day suspension.
     After the Bureau of Human Resources rejected Baltimore’s ensuing grievance, the
     Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) sustained all three charges and the suspension.
     Baltimore then sued the board, but Judge Bates took its side amid cross-motions for summary judgment.
     “The board’s decision is thorough, well-reasoned, and consistent with its precedent as well as with general legal principles,” Bates wrote. “Ambassador Baltimore has failed to point to any specific error that would allow this court to set aside that decision.”
     Baltimore had argued that his office received the gifts, and that he faced an undue prejudice since he was suspended in 2006, two years after the OIG started investigating.
     Bates concluded that Baltimore himself had reaped the benefits of the gifts, and that a lengthy appeals process would have also created a delay. The judge also dismissed Baltimore’s argument that the rug, which was appraised at over $1,000 in Oman, was worthless in Saudi Arabia.
     Baltimore received the carpet from the public relations director of the Saudi Bin Laden Construction Company while he was an official at the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, according to the ruling.
     “As is true for the rest of its decision, then, nothing about the board’s penalty determination even remotely warrants reversal,” Bates wrote.

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