Ronnie Booth, the former auditor general of the Navy, sexually harassed and sexually propositioned multiple women over more than two decades, the Pentagon’s inspector general found.
In a report released Wednesday, the IG said that Booth sexually harassed 12 women who were employed at the Naval Audit Service and “engaged in a pervasive pattern of sexual harassment and quid pro quo sexual propositions” when interacting with women there.
But the IG cleared former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly of allegations he failed to follow the proper policies when he was told about the sexual harassment allegations against Booth when considering him to be auditor general of the Navy. The IG found Modly properly vetted Booth before selecting him in February 2019.
In July 2019, the IG launched its investigation into Booth after receiving 12 anonymous complaints against him, and he retired two months after being reassigned by Modly.
The report blasts Booth for his decades-long “pervasive and egregious pattern of sexual harassment,” and said he sexually propositioned five female employees. Four of those propositions, the IG said, were “clear examples of quid pro quo.” Booth, according to the findings, asked for sexual favors from the women in exchange for help advancing their careers, “all under the guise of professional career ‘mentoring’ that the employees expected from a senior leader.”
He also engaged in an off-and-on sexual relationship with a subordinate woman, the IG said. That woman first thought the relationship was consensual, the report said, but later realized that the way he behaved — establishing a sexual relationship and then holding career advancements over her — qualified as sexual harassment as the Defense Department defined it.
The IG said that Booth’s propositions and inappropriate interactions with women created a hostile work environment. Seven of the 12 female employees who he made uncomfortable or caused distress either left the audit service or asked to move to another division due to Booth’s behavior, the report said.
In an interview with investigators, the report said, Booth denied ever propositioning or having sex with that employee, or telling other employees that he wanted to have “mentoring” discussions at private locations that were actually meant to be sexual encounters.
The report said that when Booth was given a chance to respond to the IG’s conclusions earlier this month, he declined to respond.
“Mr. Booth left us a voice message on March 2, 2021, stating, ‘The comments that I gave during my interview I stand by those. Again, I don’t know where these accusations are coming from as I stated in my comments. So I will be not sending any written comments,'” the investigators wrote.
The IG interviewed 56 current or former Naval Audit Service employees who interacted with Booth. Of those, 19 said those interactions were professional, and that Booth was polite, smart, and talented.
But 14 witnesses said he had a reputation as a womanizer, or someone known for “going after subordinates.” Some witnesses said he liked young women, and would give those who became his “favorite” grade increases or other perks, the report said.
There were “rumors that he ran a pretty loose ship,” one unidentified witness is quoted as saying.
“There was always this smoke about [Booth] hitting on female staff and not necessarily him, but him allowing it in his office and not discouraging it,” a witness said. “And it was something that followed him throughout his whole career.”
Three witnesses described Booth as a “predator” or said that he would “prey” on women. One witness said he would “prey” on women who were young and new, who didn’t know how things should not go in the workplace and whom “he could manipulate.”
Another witness said the “mentoring sessions” he had heard about Booth wanting to have with at least four female employees were intended to be sexual encounters.
Four women were warned by colleagues to be careful around Booth, and one was told by a supervisor that he was “targeting” her.
Five women who spoke to the IG said that they had accepted Booth’s invitation to meet him at outside locations such as bars or restaurants, or to bring them to a party. They expected it to be a mentoring session or some kind of team event, the report said.
Instead, the IG said, he propositioned them for sex. One of those women began the sporadic, multi-year sexual relationship with him after such a proposition.
Booth pursued that employee on several work trips, and she sometimes slept with him. She told investigators that she thought ‘Booth was ‘forcing’ her to make official travel ‘fit him'” during one trip, which she believed was the last time they slept together.
“I think it took me that long to realize that he wasn’t helping me and that I was being used,” the employee told investigators. “So I really started pushing away at that time.”
She said that she tried to pull away from Booth several times, but that he “drew” her back in by telling her things like “You can’t go nowhere without me,” and took credit for every good thing that happened in her career.
But while that employee tried to separate herself from Booth, the report said, he continued to make comments in the office hallway about her body and try to touch her legs in his office.
Five women who told investigators that Booth made them uncomfortable said he first behaved professionally around them, and gave them useful career advice.
But several said that at a certain point, the way he interacted with them began to shift, making them uncomfortable.
“Questions started getting a little more familiar,” one witness said.
That witness, a 30-year-old woman, said that in 2009, Booth invited her out for drinks after work to talk about her career. She told investigators she thought it was odd, but that he explained it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to talk about mentoring in the office, with other people around who might get jealous.
He invited her to meet him at the officer’s club at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, which again struck her as unusual, but she continued because other interactions had been professional.
After talking about her job performance and career for a while, she said, the conversation flipped “like a light switch.”
“He said, ‘I don’t know how you feel about this, but I have a room where we can go and be alone,'” the witness said. “I know that my chin had to have been on the floor.”
She immediately left, the report said, and Booth did not try anything physical with her. But, she said, “just the proposition itself was extremely upsetting to me.”
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