By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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By Kyle Swenson
As a former fighter pilot, Daryl Jones knows about rocky landings. During routine exercises several years ago, Jones twice in one day scraped the tail of his F-16 along the runway at Homestead Air Force Base, causing thousands of dollars in damage to his aircraft. On another occasion, Jones lost track of his fuel and barely made it back.
Those incidents may well serve as a metaphor for Jones's current difficulties before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is reviewing his nomination to become Secretary of the Air Force and which held an initial confirmation hearing for the South Dade state senator last week.
There is still a strong likelihood that Jones will be confirmed by the Senate, but his descent into Washington will not be smooth -- despite the Miami Herald's rosy prediction that his nomination would "sail to the Senate floor" thanks to the endorsement of Strom Thurmond, who chairs the Armed Services Committee. Jones is facing renewed attacks on his character and additional questions over his role in a Miami-Dade County bond deal.
Three former air force officers now claim that Jones lied to members of the committee when answering questions about his military service. All three men say they are willing to testify if the committee is interested in hearing from them.
In addition, New Times has learned that some senators are concerned about new allegations that Jones continued receiving bonus flight pay for four years after he stopped flying with his air reserve unit. According to sources familiar with this issue, Jones received at least one letter from an air force official asking him to refund the money -- believed to be several thousand dollars -- but he refused. Eventually a senior air force officer determined that Jones would not have to return the funds. Committee members are expected to scrutinize that officer's decision more closely when they meet with Jones during an unusual private, closed-door session, which has yet to be scheduled.
That hearing is designed to give senators a chance to press Jones on several controversial and potentially embarrassing topics, as well as to delve into the contents of a confidential FBI background report on Jones.
This past Monday senators received a private briefing from Securities and Exchange Commission officials who have been reviewing Jones's involvement in a $200 million county bond deal. The outcome of that meeting was not known at press time.
Last week, after waiting nearly eight months for his confirmation hearing, Jones finally went before the Armed Services Committee. As expected, it proved to be a bumpy ride.
Jones's Flying Record
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA): On the question of your flying status, I thought that you have very forthrightly stated to the committee that you recognized that there came a period in your life when you were possibly stretched in more directions than time and family commitments permitted. Is that correct?
JONES: (Nods in agreement)
WARNER: And your statement to the committee was, "I decided to relinquish the flying status." Is that correct?
JONES: That is correct.
WARNER: Now, prior to that decision, did any of your commanding officers or those who had responsibility to supervise you tell you that it was their decision that you were going to be relieved of flying status?
JONES: No, sir.
"That's a lie," retorts Jack Connelly, a retired lieutenant colonel who spent 24 years in the air force and air force reserve and who served with Jones in Homestead. From his home in Houston, Connelly recalls that he was present during an August 1991 meeting between Jones and their squadron's commanding officer, Col. Thomas Dyches, in which Dyches told Jones that he had made the decision to ground the flyer because he had become a danger to himself and others.
"Colonel Dyches wanted a witness when he confronted Daryl, so he asked me to be there," Connelly explains. "Colonel Dyches told him, 'Daryl, you are no longer going to be able to fly my planes.' He told him, 'Daryl you are not flying any more.'"
According to Connelly, Jones had two choices: He could either accept the decision (in which case Dyches would arrange a transfer to a ground-support unit), or Dyches would initiate a "flight evaluation board," known as an FEB, which would almost certainly lead to Jones having his wings taken away from him permanently. If Jones's flying record had gone before the FEB, Connelly predicts, his military career would have ended in disgrace. Jones agreed to the transfer, Connelly says.
Connelly allows that he is not surprised Jones would lie to the Armed Services Committee. "Daryl is a politician from the word go," he remarks. "He would do anything to make himself look good. He is an opportunist."
Colonel Dyches, who remains in the Air Force and is stationed in South Carolina, was contacted this past weekend for comment but referred all questions about Jones to the air force press office. Dyches, however, was interviewed by the FBI several months ago for its background report on Jones; according to one source familiar with his responses, Dyches corroborated Connelly's version of events.